My theme for a while is going to be: “Keeping the spirit of Vatican II alive by recognizing that the world is totally different now.”
It is only in the Christian message that modern man can find the answer to his questions and the energy for his commitment to human solidarity. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, paragraph 3)
These are the words of Blessed Pope Paul VI, from forty years ago. They are beautiful, and also painful to read.
Pope Paul had the idea that modern man was committed to human solidarity. And he had good reason to think so.
Yes, the 20th century saw the most brutal wars of all time, with more casualties than all the other centuries combined. But also, during the 20th century: mankind officially recognized that everyone has fundamental human rights; that racism is a bad thing, and colonial exploitation bad; that we as the human race should work together, for the common good of all, communicating with each other honestly and thoughtfully, giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
Above all: That we should care about each other’s welfare and have the courage to make sacrifices for the sake of my neighbor’s human rights.
“Modern man,” Pope Paul believed, had a commitment to this vision of the world, a vision that could hardly be expressed any more beautifully than Isaiah 29:17-24 (which we read today at Holy Mass). A human race that understands itself to be united and intimately concerned in the health and spiritual peace of all.
“Modern man,” however, has become a thing of the past. To understand Vatican II, fifty years later, we need to keep that in mind.
The idea of human solidarity, I think we can say, has faded from the public consciousness. The idea of the dignity of the human person has faded. These two go hand-in-hand, of course: We each have a unique dignity, and we all bear the burden of standing up for that dignity in every instance.
So I think we have to update and re-phrase what Blessed Pope Paul said. I think, in 2014, we have to put it like this: “It is only in the Christian message that post-modern man can find the idea of human dignity and the image of a united world, a world of human solidarity.”
Some of us can remember how the Church of the 1960’s and 70’s saw Herself as a partner with the better angels of our human nature, with a human spirit which was working for a better future for everyone.
But we need to recognize that now, a generation later, we have to propose Christ as the reason to believe that mankind can have a better future. Because post-modern man does not believe that. We have to propose Christ as the bond that can unite us as a human family. Because post-modern man has never experienced the desire to buy the whole world a Coke.
If you missed our first Evangelii-Nuntiandi study-session this past Sunday, here’s a highlight:
Even in the face of natural religious expressions most worthy of esteem, the Church finds support in the fact that the religion of Jesus, which she proclaims through evangelization, objectively places man in relation with the plan of God, with His living presence and with His action… [Evangelization] thus causes an encounter with the mystery of divine paternity that bends over towards humanity. In other words, our religion effectively establishes with God an authentic and living relationship which the other religions do not succeed in doing, even though they have, as it were, their arms stretched out towards heaven.
This is why the Church keeps her missionary spirit alive, and even wishes to intensify it in the moment of history in which we are living. She feels responsible before entire peoples. She has no rest so long as she has not done her best to proclaim the Good News of Jesus the Savior. She is always preparing new generations of apostles. Let us state this fact with joy at a time when there are not lacking those who think and even say that ardor and the apostolic spirit are exhausted, and that the time of the missions is now past…The missionary proclamation never ceases, and the Church will always be striving for the fulfillment of this proclamation. (EN 53)
…As you can gather, we started with Chapter 5. This Sunday afternoon, we will go back and cover chapters 2 and 3.