Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Year of Faith--Vatican II after 50 Years, Part II

Singing with the ecumenical choir in Eagle River, WI
   As promised I will continue my reflections on Vatican II as we begin this Year of Faith. I want to stress that these are my personal thoughts. I do not present myself as an expert, nor do I pretend that this is an in depth analysis of the council, but simply thoughts that come from my own personal experience.

  In this reflection I would like to name 3 important things that have emerged in the Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council.  The first is ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue.

  I was riding in a car recently with someone who said, "I'm glad the days of ecumenism are over."  I was stunned by this and pointed out that they've only just begun.  It is true that in recent years the leaders of our church have warned against relativism, thinking that we're all the same when it comes to religion, and have pointed out areas where we are still not in agreement with other Christian churches.  That having been said though one should note that the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople and the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury were present at the opening of the Year of Faith in Rome. Likewise it is true that both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have met on many occasions with leaders of other churches and other religions.

   I remember when we were forbidden to enter Protestant Churches.  That has changed.  The council encouraged open and honest dialogue with other churches and collaboration with them in areas where we agree.  I have placed a picture above which show me singing in an ecumenical choir, something a priest would have been in deep trouble for doing years ago.  The ecumenism promoted by the Church is one which seeks to find common ground while honestly acknowledging our differences, but always striving toward the unity which Jesus prayed for in John's Gospel. (See John: 17,1),  It does seem at times that we have come to a certain point and stopped.  Some of the other churches seem hardly open to ecumenical activity as well.  We need to pray to the Holy Spirit to move us beyond this impasse.

   Some may not realize this but the word ecumenical applies only to interaction between Christians.  The term inter-religious dialogue is used for dealings with Jews, Muslims and other religions.  The council document Nostra Aetate dealt wonderfully with that and opened up a whole era of improved relations with our Jewish brethren, something for which Pope John Paul II deserves a great deal of credit.  Pope Benedict has continued that openness.  For  me I always remember my parents having Jewish friends and I worked at the soda fountain in the drugstore of a wonderful Jewish man when I was a teenager.  There was plenty of antisemitism around me though and we still have to work in society in that area even though we have come a long way.  Over the years I have had the privilege of participating in the Seder in  Jewish home and having wonderful discussions with several rabbis. Among other things the Seder or Passover celebration made me more aware of the Jewish roots of our Catholic Mass.

   As for dealings with Muslims this is a must for us today.  As we deal with Islamic terrorists who distort that faith we need, in the spirit of St. Francis who met and prayed with the Sultan during the fifth crusade, to engage our Muslim sisters and brothers in dialogue.   I am not talking about dialogue with political leaders but with religious ones.  We need to discover the common ground between us and honestly ask them about aspects of Islam that would seem to encourage violence.  Did you know that Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus and see him as a prophet?  Did you know that the Franciscans and Dominicans who traveled with the crusaders were so impressed with the Muslim prayer beads and their practice of praying 5 times daily that they created the Rosary and the Angelus (prayed three times daily).

   Well folks, I began this reflection desiring to point out three  things of importance that came from the council.  The other two are lay involvement and liturgical reform.  This is enough writing however for one blog entry so I will take up the other two in my next post.

Pope John XXIII


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