The Year of Mercy – Part 2

FeaturedAs I explained last week, I am repeating pieces of the blog series that I wrote in the spring of 2015 on the “Year of Mercy.” While it may be a little repetitive, my hope that it will help us to refocus what this “Year of Mercy” is all about.

The opening of the “Jubilee of Mercy” on December 8, 2015 was the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. This is of great significance. It is a clear indication of Pope Francis to continue the work begun by the Second Vatican Council. In today’s blog I’ll be offering a few observations about that Council and the obvious impact that it has had on the life and ministry of Pope Francis.

“Nowadays, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnation.” Sounds like something Pope Francis would say, doesn’t it? But those are not his words. They are taken from the speech that Saint John XXIII delivered at the opening of the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962.

More than 2,500 bishops from around the world attended the four sessions of that Council. It would produce 16 official documents; bringing up to date the church’s teaching on, among other things, scripture, worship, church governance, religious freedom and relations with non-Catholics. Saint John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council – and Blessed Paul VI would conclude it on December 8, 1965.

Every pope since that Council has insisted on its faithful implementation in the life and ministry of the Church. Popes John Paul and Benedict actually played key roles at the Council. Jorge Bergoglio enthusiastically following the proceedings that were taking place in Rome, while he was studying to be a priest in the Jesuit order in Argentina. Pope Francis, as we now know Jorge Bergoglio, was ordained four years after the Council ended. His entire priestly ministry has been exercised after the Council had concluded. He is the first Pope who was ordained a priest after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.

“It usually takes half a century for a council to begin to sink in,” says Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. “Now we have a pope who says, ‘Look, we just had five decades of internal debates and controversy about the meaning of Vatican II, and now it is time to do it.’ And that is exactly what he is doing.”

Pope Francis provided a glimpse of this approach to the Church’s life and ministry at All Saints Church, located in one of Rome’s working-class neighborhoods. On March 7, 2015 he went there to celebrate Mass. That was the church where Blessed Paul VI had gone to celebrate the first papal Mass in Italian rather than Latin 50 years earlier. After celebrating Mass he told the people there that allowing Catholics to pray in their local languages “was truly a courageous act by the Church to draw closer to the people of God. This is important for us, to follow the Mass in this way. And we cannot go back, we must always go forward, and whoever goes back is mistaken.” A clear indication of his view of the vernacular Mass, one of the most visible changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council and still a source tension for some folks.

But this wasn’t the first time Pope Francis has spoken in this manner. In April of 2016, he talked about the resistance on the part of some to the movement of the Holy Spirit and the impact of the Second Vatican Council on the life of the Church. “Everybody seems happy about the presence of the Holy Spirit but it’s not really the case and there is still the temptation to resist it.” He then cited a resistance to the Second Vatican Council, which he called, “A beautiful work of the Holy Spirit.” Then he asked, “Have we done everything the Holy Spirit was asking us to do during the Council? No. We celebrate its anniversary, we put up a monument but we don’t want it to upset us. We don’t want to change and what’s more there are those who wish to turn back the clock.” Then he added this telling comment, “This is called stubbornness and wanting to tame the Holy Spirit, this is called becoming fools and slow of heart.”

So it seems to me that in connecting this “Jubilee of Mercy” with the anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis is calling all of us to a deeper awareness and appreciation of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives and in the life of the Church. As Pope Francis writes in the Bull of Indiction, “In this Jubilee Year, let us allow God to surprise us. He never tires of throwing open the doors of his heart and repeats that he loves us and want to share his love with us.” My prayer is that all of us will receive the surprises to come with open hearts and minds.

Question – How have you been surprised by the Holy Spirit in your life, and in the life of the Church?

January 20th, 2016 |