Wednesday of this week, October 11th is the 61st anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. I was a seminary student at the time, a college junior.
I had just arrived at the Saint Paul Seminary in September of that year. I was just getting acclimated to a new campus and new classmates and teachers. Yet, there was no doubt about it, everyone’s attention was drawn to the opening of the Council.
Classes were suspended for the day and students huddled around the black and white TV sets in the lounge of each of the residences.
The high drama of 2,500 bishops processing into the basilica was captivating. Pope John the XXIII walked the length of the basilica as the last person in the procession of bishops – the Pope is a bishop, in fact his most important title is “Bishop of Rome.”
Pope John was the first to speak, and in this inaugural address he laid out clearly the purpose, direction and spirit of the Council. He said:
“In the daily exercise of my ministry, I sometimes have to listen, much to my regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life.
I feel I must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.
The Church has always opposed errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations.
In the present order of things, the Holy Spirit is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by own efforts and even beyond our expectations, are directed toward the fulfillment of God’s designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.”
This call to view the world with the eyes of mercy rather than condemnation is fundamental to the attitude of the Council. The work of the Council was to witness to men and women of the world the gracious compassion and mercy of God revealed in Jesus.
This Wednesday, the anniversary of the opening of the Council, is the Feast of Saint John XXIII. On Wednesday, please pray to John for the assistance we need to be the kind of Church the Holy Spirit called us to in the Council.
Fr. Steve Adrian