14 Oct 2012
Homily for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time – October 14, 2012
By Father J. Daniel Atkins, Holy Family Catholic Church, New Albany, Indiana
Sisters and brothers, I have been thinking about this day for at least two full years – this golden anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. What will it be like, I wondered? How will the Church celebrate such a great moment in our Catholic history? What will I, should I say about the council and what it means to me and to all of us. I must confess that lately I wondered if anything would be said at all. There are not a few people who would like us to forget what happened at the Council; would like the Church to turn back the clock and pretend that the Holy Spirit did not move in power over the hearts and minds of the bishops assembled in Rome during those autumns of 1962-1965. Indeed there are still some Catholics who refused to come to the Eucharistic table where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated in the language of the people, where lay people read the scriptures and help with the distribution of Holy Communion. The Second Vatican Council is still a stumbling block for some, just as it was for many who watched it happened and took part in it.
In this year of faith which our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has declared I hope to revisit with you the teachings which came from the heart of the Church during the Council. Its declarations are the highest form of church teaching since they came from the successors of the apostles from all over the world at the time united under the Vicar of Christ, the pope. There are no higher teachings than the decrees of an ecumenical council.
But first, today, I want to say something about the instrument that God used to bring about this amazing event: his servant, Blessed Pope John XXIII. It is no secret that not much was expected of him. He was elected because he was advanced in years – 77; he would not be around long enough – many thought – to do much. He would just mind the store. He was born Angelo Roncalli and was the fourth of thirteen children born in a small Italian village to sharecroppers. He was ordained a priest in 1904. Even though he was later made a bishop and a cardinal, early in his priesthood he was investigated by the Vatican along with his bishop for their support of workers’ rights during the labor unrest of the 1940’s in Italy. He served in various posts throughout the world including Bulgaria during World War II and in France, as the papal nuncio, after the war. It is a matter of public record that he did much to help Jews during the Holocaust.
In his address to the bishops at the opening session of the Council – the only one that he attended; he watched the sessions from his room by closed circuit TV because he felt his presence might intimidate the bishops and interfere with free discussion – in his open address he said that the idea of calling a Council “came completely unexpected, like a flash of heavenly light.” If it was a surprise to Pope John it was a shock to the Sacred College of Cardinals. It is well-known that a number of the cardinals in the Curia did everything they could to sabotage the Council.
What was the intention of Pope John in calling the Second Vatican Council? Again, in his opening address, after reminding the council fathers that “The greatest concern of (an) Ecumenical Council is that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously,” he went on to say that:
“…at the same time (the Church) must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world, which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate.” Pope John said it more simply in his spiritual diary: “We are not here to guard a museum, but to tend a flourishing garden of life.” He said, “It is time to open up a window and let in some fresh air.”
The Second Vatican Council was not just an event: it was a movement of the Holy Spirit which continues even today wherever Catholics are open to new ways of bringing the gospel into the world, into their workplace, into their relationships. It is that movement of the Spirit that I hope we will celebrate during this year of faith. May each of us open the window of our heart, let in the fresh air of God’s Holy Spirit, and experience anew the grace of conversion.