Everyone remembers the image of Pope John’s smiling face and two outstretched arms embracing the whole world. How many people were won over by his simplicity of heart, combined with a broad experience of people and things! The breath of newness he brought certainly did not concern doctrine, but rather the way to explain it; his style of speaking and acting was new, as was his friendly approach to ordinary people and to the powerful of the world. It was in this spirit that he called the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, thereby turning a new page in the Church’s history: Christians heard themselves called to proclaim the Gospel with renewed courage and greater attentiveness to the signs of the times. The Council was a truly prophetic insight of this elderly Pontiff who, even amid many difficulties, opened a season of hope for Christians and for humanity.
(Sept. 3, 2000. Homily of Pope John Paul II, when he declared his predecessor John XXIII to be among the Blessed.)
Today we solemnly remember St. John XXIII at the altar. We do not do so on the anniversary of his death, even though mostly we keep saints’ memorials on their death days. Nor do we remember John XXIII on the anniversary of his becoming pope, which we often do—when it comes to pope-saints. We keep the Memorial of St. John XXIII on the anniversary of… the opening of… Vatican II.
Remember how we kept a “Year of Faith” to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II? I gave a three-month series of homilies on the Council documents.
My basic thesis about Vatican II: The original Apostles went out into a confused, semi-organized pagan world, to proclaim the Gospel and communicate the grace of Christ. We face a fundamentally similar task. The Fathers of Vatican II recognized this, with stunningly clear insight.
Now, little did any of us know how much morale-crushing filth still lay hidden under the hierarchy’s rug—back in the fall of 2012, when we celebrated fifty years since Vatican II, on October 11. Pope Benedict actually resigned during the vaunted Year of Faith. His abdication, and its chaotic aftermath, have served to pull back the curtain on the catastrophic misgovernment of the Church—a nightmare we still find ourselves living through.
So we find it almost impossible to reconnect spiritually with the hopefulness of October 11, 1962. With the hopefulness of St. John XXIII, as he smiled upon the bishops gathered from the four corners of the earth. Gathered at the Vatican, to find a way to give the modern world the Gospel.
Almost impossible. To recover that hopefulness. After the hierarchy has managed to pile betrayal upon betrayal.
But not completely impossible. Because the actual teachings of Vatican II still shimmer with beauty and truth. Yes, the Fathers did forget that original sin affects everyone, including bishops and popes. Original sin actually seems to affect bishops and popes more than anyone else. The Church used to know that perfectly well. But at Vatican II, they experienced amnesia about that particular fact, with dire consequences for us.
But: Even with all the body blows we have suffered, I still think we can hold to my Vatican II thesis. The original Apostles went out into a confused, semi-organized pagan world, to proclaim the Gospel and communicate the grace of Christ. We Catholics of 2019 have basically the same task in front of us.