Following a recent letter to many of the Australian Bishops in which I invited them to submit any commentaries they might have from time to time that might be of interest to the readership of Catholica Australia, Bishop Pat Power sent in a copy of this address he gave two weeks ago at Chevalier College, Bowral. It is a powerful address effectively making a call for the entire Church to get back "on message" to the vision of the Second Vatican Council which was outlined in the Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes. …Brian Coyne, Editor
OUR JOY AND OUR HOPE…
It is nearly fifty years since I sat in the classrooms here at Chevalier College preparing for the Leaving Certificate. It was 1958 and our religion teacher was Father Bill McCormack MSC. Mac, as we affectionately called him, was a humble and in some ways rather old-fashioned priest, but in other ways he was a great pastor ahead of his times. In the pre-Vatican II world where the Catholic Church was rather cautious about its drawing on the Scriptures, Fr Mac guided us through St Luke's Gospel which, I believe, brings out most strikingly the humanity of Jesus. He also opened up new worlds for us by introducing us to the social teaching of the Church, pointing out that the importance of capital was not to overshadow that of labour. He showed us how the dignity of the human person was promoted by a series of papal encyclicals, going back to Leo XIII's Rerum novarum in 1891. I am sure that he would be smiling proudly from heaven today as I try to share some insights into Gaudium et spes — the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
The Second Vatican Council was the gift of a similarly unpretentious pastor, Pope John XXIII. On 25 January 1959, only two months after his election as Pope, John XXIII surprised the world by announcing the Council "to give the Church the possibility to contribute more efficaciously to the solution of the problems of the modern age…. The joyful echo brought about by its announcement … as well as the lively interest on the part of non-Catholics and even non-Christians, proved in the most eloquent manner that the historical importance of the event has not escaped anyone." [Decree of Convocation]
In his opening speech to the Council in 1962, the Pope gave expression to what many of us are feeling all these years later. "In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much 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 if they have learned nothing from history, which is nonetheless the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was as a full triumph for Christian ideals. We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand."
The Pope expressed confidence in the way ahead. "In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which by our human efforts and even beyond our expectations, we are directed towards the fulfilment of God's superior and inscrutable designs." As I prepared for this talk and was struck by the positive tone of the words of John XXIII, I was reminded of Peter Ingham's inauguration as Bishop of Wollongong in 2001. A wonderful liturgy and Bishop Peter's outreach and spirit of inclusiveness were so reflective of Vatican II and the hopes of Pope John XXIII.
Given the positive and pastoral background out of which the Council emerged, it is somewhat surprising that Gaudium et spes was an unplanned baby. It is the only one of the Council's sixteen documents which did not come out of a preparatory commission. Instead, it arose out of a direct intervention from the floor of the Council towards the end of the first session, by the Belgian Cardinal Suenens. He was supported by Cardinal Montini who would be Pope Paul VI, by the beginning of the Council's next session. Cardinal Suenens argued that the Church should be doing more than just looking in on itself but must look to its relationship with the world around it. Another future Pope, Bishop Wojtyla drew attention to issues such as hunger, poverty, war and peace and it was his suggestion that the word "pastoral" be inserted into the Constitution's title.
THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD…
The powerful opening words of The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World set the tone for the whole document and are arguably the most significant to come out of this epoch-making ecumenical council. "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are in any way poor or afflicted, these too are the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts." [N1]
Like a good parent, the Church reaches out with love, expressing "its solidarity with the whole human family". "Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but one solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ himself under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served." [N3]
Those of you who were involved with the Young Christian Workers' movement will recognise the influence of Joseph Cardijn, the founder of the YCW, on Gaudium et spes. The YCW method of "see, judge and act" begins by taking people "where they are at", helps them to reflect on their lives in the light of the Gospel, enabling them with the support of their peers to take what actions are appropriate. The starting point for Gaudium et spes is not some kind of utopia but the real world with all its joys and sorrows.
THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES…
"Reading the signs of the times" was a favourite expression of Pope John XXIII. It becomes a directive in our Constitution. Like the young people in the YCW, "we must recognise and understand the world in which we live, its expectations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics." Times of change, social and cultural transformation and growth all bring about their challenges. As members of the one human family we are reminded of the great disparity between the "haves and the have nots" and the obscenity of whole populations living with hunger, poverty and illiteracy. We are warned about ideologies gone wrong and about searching for a better world while neglecting our own inner life. The notion of the Pilgrim Church, spelt out in Lumen Gentium — The Constitution on the Church, helps us to see that our membership of the Church is not something static, but we must move with the times while always critiquing what is going on around us and within us. Adjustment and change are often painful, yet I am consoled by the wisdom Cardinal Newman: "In a higher order it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often."
ENGAGEMENT WITH THE WORLD…
Engaging with contemporary culture was one of the great challenges taken up by Gaudium et spes. For the first 150 years after white settlement in Australia, for the most part Catholics saw themselves as a beleaguered minority. Coming largely from a convict Irish background, they tended to be more working class people and naturally gravitated to trade unions and the Australian Labor Party. Here they sometimes found themselves in positions of power even rising to the position of Prime Minister. They saw a separate school system as an important means of preserving Catholic values and identity and made great sacrifices to build and maintain their own schools. In this climate, other Churches were often viewed with suspicion and the Knights of the Southern Cross were formed to counteract the influence of the Masons who were seen as a threat to Catholics in the work-force.
It would be over-simplifying to say that we lived in a Catholic ghetto in those days, but those of us old enough to remember will recall that we saw ourselves as Catholics as "a people set apart". The expression "outside the Church there is no salvation" was interpreted in a way which cast doubts on the vocation of other Christians. While Catholics often enjoyed good neighbourly and community relations with others, somehow or other we saw ourselves as being different. What then brought about the change of climate to which we are now accustomed? The Council's teaching on ecumenism and Pope John XXIII's appeal to many people outside the ranks of the Catholic Church helped to break down many barriers. John XXIII's quest for Christian unity, his brotherly meeting with other Church leaders and his reminder that what unites us as Christians is greater than what divides us, all helped Catholics and non-Catholics alike to see that we are all part of the one family of God. Yet if the Church is to be the "sacrament of salvation" to the world, its reach must be beyond Christians and its language must be such that it is able to communicate with the whole human family.
Gaudium et spes spoke confidently about the relationship of the Church to the world based on the dignity of the human person and the community of the human family. "That the earthly and the heavenly city penetrate each other is a fact accessible to faith alone…. Pursuing the saving purpose which is proper to her, the Church not only communicates divine life to people, but in some way casts the reflected light of that life over the entire earth. This she does most of all by her healing and elevating impact on the dignity of the human person." [N40] The message of Jesus is proclaimed in such manner as being of benefit to the whole of society, not just to a narrow group of believers. "The gospel has a sacred reverence for the dignity of conscience and its freedom of choice, constantly advises that all human talents be employed in the service of God and of humanity and finally, commends all to the charity of all." [N41]
In the closing paragraphs of Part 1 of the Constitution, a hope-filled scenario is presented where the Church and the modern world enrich and enlighten one another. Absent is any suggestion of superiority or paternalism with the Church depicting itself as having all the answers and having nothing to learn from anyone else. "This Council looks with great respect upon all the true, good, and just elements found in the very wide variety of institutions which the human race has established for itself and continues to establish." [N42] Church members are reminded that their duties extend far beyond the confines of the Church itself. "This Council exhorts Christians as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the gospel spirit….The split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age…Let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other." [N43]
The Council Fathers unashamedly acknowledge the debt owed to the wider world. "Just as it is in the world's interest to acknowledge the Church as an historical reality, and to recognise her good influence, so the Church herself knows how richly she has profited by the history and development of humanity. Thanks to the experience of past ages, the progress of the sciences, and the treasures hidden in various forms of human culture, the nature of humanity itself is more clearly revealed and new roads to truth are opened. These benefits profit the Church, too, for, from the beginning of her history, she has learned to express the message of Christ with the help of contemporary wisdom." The Constitution goes on to state how the Church needs to allow each nation to express the message of Christ in its own way. For this to happen, there needs to be an exchange between the Church and the diverse cultures of peoples. Where this occurs the Church will more effectively proclaim its message in a way which is real to the lives of its people.
"Living in various circumstances during the course of time, the Church has used in her preaching the discoveries of different cultures to spread and explain the message of Christ to all nations, to probe it and more deeply understand it, and to give it better expression in liturgical celebrations and in the life of the diversified community of the faithful….Faithful to her own tradition and at the same time conscious of her universal mission, the Church can enter into communion with various cultural modes to her own enrichment and theirs as well." [N58]
Enculturation is an important part of the life of the Church, not only in Africa, South America and among Australia's indigenous people, but in every situation. The Church has had to renegotiate its place in countries which were previously under Communism. It is currently attempting to do likewise in China. Its life and role within Islamic countries is a huge issue. Even within the confines of a particular diocese there will be a be a variety of cultural circumstances which are to be addressed. Life in Ulladulla may be quite different to what is happening here in Bowral, not to mention Wollongong itself, Port Kembla, Campbelltown or the Abbey at Jamberoo. If such factors are not recognised and embraced, the dichotomy between faith and life will weaken the impact of the Incarnation on the followers of Christ and those to whom we are meant to be the sacrament of salvation. So John XXIII's plea to read the "signs of the times" becomes an imperative. It means, too, that unity is not to be equated with uniformity and we are continually challenged to find unity in diversity.
I would like to think that the influence of the Second Vatican Council and especially the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World has been one of the important factors in enabling Australian Catholics today to engage with the contemporary culture in ways which are mutually beneficial. We can all think of numerous Catholic people who have made outstanding contributions to Australian public life in recent years. The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Catholic Social Services Australia, Catholic Earthcare Australia and Catholic Health Australia are just some of the very respected Catholic voices in Australian society. It remains a challenge for Bishops and other religious leaders to proclaim Catholic principles in a way which makes good sense to the wider society in which we live. I would question how effective purely dogmatic proclamations are even within the domestic life of the Church; certainly in reaching out to the wider world, Catholic social principles need to be enunciated in a manner which appeals to the best of human values. Rather than just "socking it to them", the Council calls on us to "establish dialogue with the world and with people of all shades of opinion." [N43]
The Second Vatican Council itself was largely an exercise in dialogue: the bishops listening to the Holy Spirit and to one another. For the successful implementation of the Council, dialogue at all levels would be crucial. Just prior to the commencement of the third session of the Council in 1964, Pope Paul VI issued his first encyclical Ecclesiam suam, a major part of which was devoted to dialogue. The Pope sees the Gospel message being proclaimed as a conversation between Christ and his people, where God reveals something of himself, of the mystery of his own life, especially as a Trinity of persons into whose life we are all called to share. We are invited into a dialogue of salvation, a dialogue of love "which must be nothing other than ardent and sincere." It is a dialogue which is devoid of pressure or coercion and one which is accessible to all. Our exercise of the apostolate is to be carried out in a way which reflects the relationship into which we have been called as disciples of Christ. Pope Paul lists the characteristics of such dialogue.
The Pope urges such dialogue to be conducted with all people of good will, both inside and outside the Church. "The Church can regard no one as excluded from its motherly embrace, no one as outside the scope of its motherly care. It has no enemies except those who wish to make themselves such. Its catholicity is no idle boast. It is not for nothing that it received its mission to foster love, unity and peace among all people." [Ecclesiam suam 94]
Where do these ideals feature in some of the extreme voices in the Church which began appearing about twenty years ago and are becoming more strident and aggressive as time goes on? Where is the love of Jesus in the zealotry of the prophets of gloom about whom we were warned by Pope John XXIII? Sometimes building bridges within the Church itself can appear a more difficult challenge than dialogue with those outside the Catholic fold.
Social commentators such as Hugh Mackay point to the need for listening in any healthy society and successful communicators and politicians are those who engage their audience in a way which lets them know they are truly valued. Leadership within the Church which is constantly saying in one way or another that "father knows best" without calling on the gifts of all the people of God is being untrue both to Gospel values and to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. I know how grateful are the people of the Diocese of Wollongong in having as your chief pastor, a Bishop who is constantly trying to attune himself to the voices and needs of his people.
In a climate where listening is so important, it is regrettable that women's voices and talents are given such limited scope within the life of the Catholic Church. Even prescinding from the question of the ordination of women, there surely needs to be many more ways of bringing the special gifts of women into the service of all God's people. The 1997 hearings on the participation of women in the Church in Australia heard many moderate and reasonable voices, both male and female, calling for a more significant contribution from Catholic women across the country. The fact that the question of the ordination of women is officially off the agenda for public discussion surely raises serious credibility issues for a Church committed to dialogue.
THE SEARCH FOR PEACE…
Vatican II's call to dialogue also found expression in its Decree on Ecumenism and its Declarations on Relations with non-Christians and on Religious Freedom. The principles expounded in these documents especially the call for humility, tolerance and understanding are desperately needed in today's world. It is often pointed out that here in Australia where we are blessed with a relatively tolerant environment, we are in a good position to model such dialogue for the rest of the world. The efforts to promote inter-faith dialogue especially with Muslims are to be applauded. At a time when the popular media can be guilty of inflaming race and religious fear and prejudice, moderate voices have a vital role in promoting harmony and peace. Much of this can happen through dialogue and people simply getting to know and better understand one another.
In September 2001, I took part in a seminar in Canberra devoted to peace. It had been planned many months earlier, but in fact took place just days after the September 11 attacks in the United States. Four of us were asked to speak about peace coming out of our traditions as Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Aborigines. It was fascinating to hear very different starting points leading to a common quest for peace which was the heart-felt goal of everyone present.
Gaudium et spes spoke extensively about peace. Successive Popes have taken up its mantra that there can be no true peace without underlying justice. The situation in Palestine is a case in point. Only when the human dignity and rights of all people are recognised can there take place the dialogue and negotiations which bring about peace. "Christians are urgently summoned to practise the truth in love and to join with all true peace-makers appealing for peace and working to achieve it … We cannot fail to express our admiration for those who renounce the use of violence to vindicate their rights." The search for peace goes to very basic levels: "Peace-making efforts will be fruitless as long as hostility, contempt and distrust as well as racial hatred and uncompromising ideologies continue to divide people and put them into opposing camps…Every one of us needs a change of heart; we must keep in mind the needs of the whole world and see what tasks we can all perform together in order to bring about the improvement of humanity." [N82] It is to Pope John Paul II's eternal credit that he strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq, pleading for a peaceful solution to the problems to be achieved through diplomacy and dialogue.
As part of the lead-up to The Great Jubilee and its celebration in 2000, John Paul consistently brought to our attention that we belong to one human family and as such are bound to share the resources of our world. He called for a mitigation of the international debt which is crippling the economies and the very life of the poorest countries. I have often said in the present climate, that a war against poverty makes much more sense than a war against terror. With all the rhetoric of recent years it is obvious that terrorism is now a much greater threat because the divide between "them and us" has grown far greater. The notion that one side can be beaten into submission by the other is a recipe for conflict rather than peace. Gaudium et spes points to the scandal of rich countries which are predominantly Christian refusing to adequately care for developing countries. Aid agencies including Caritas have an important role both in drawing attention to areas of injustice and poverty and enabling such disparity to be reduced if not completely eliminated. The adage "Live simply so that others can simply live" needs to be taken up by societies such as ours.
Gaudium et spes covers a vast expanse of the Church's hopes for itself and for the world. Even in a comparatively long talk, I have only covered some of the more important issues raised by this ground-breaking Constitution. Further discussion, reading and study will uncover many more treasures which will enrich our individual and communal faith lives.
I would like to finish with a parable taken from real life. Many of you will be acquainted with The Choir of Hard Knocks. When Jonathan Welch, a singer with Opera Australia, decided to gather together a group of homeless people, he did more than get them singing. There were poor people, many struggling with mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction; some were feeling lost after broken relationships. All of them in one way or another were marginalised from mainstream society. But they could all sing. Some sang well, others not so well. They began to enjoy coming together. It was heart-warming to see them gradually learning to believe in themselves. There were goals to achieve: to raise some seed money through busking, but then to prepare for bigger things such as a splendid concert in the Melbourne Town Hall. The whole venture was not without its risks and disappointments. There were personality clashes, the collapse of good resolutions and sundry upheavals. But overall, there developed a great sense of working together and often for the first time in ages a sense of joy and of seeing themselves as people of worth. I don't know what Jonathan Welch's religious background is but as the story unfolded he appeared to me as a truly Jesus figure: reaching out to people discarded by the rest of society; forming those people into a genuine community; enabling them to forgive themselves and make a new start in life; helping them to recognise their intrinsic worth; teaching them to love one another and put aside their petty differences; challenging them to discover and to realise their true potential; teaching them to love life and to live it to the full.
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of The Choir of Hard Knocks brought tears to my eyes as well Jonathan's.
(Bishop) Pat Power
What are your thoughts on this commentary?