I recently finished teaching a five-week course on the history and documents of the Second Vatican Council. The course ended with a discussion on the ramifications and conflicting interpretations for the council in the 40+ years since its close. As I reflected on the intervening years I recalled the widely-cited convention that it takes at least 40 years for a council to really come into its own. If that’s true, we are just now at the point where we can begin to implement the documents of Vatican II.
This, in turn, prompted further reflections on Dr. Ed Stetzer’s thoughts on the future of denominations in the life of the Church. If, as he states, denominations need to be focused on their mission in the world as opposed to looking internally at their institutional structures, then it may well be right to say that our 40-years of navel-gazing after the council are up and, rather than look at how the council affected the Church (spiritually, institutionally, theologically, etc.) it is time to re-read the documents in light of what it means to be a Church in the world.
A lot of time and energy has been put into catechizing the People of God about the implications of the council and calling them to greater participation in the life of the Church. But I’m not convinced that, apart from the ecumenical movement, a lot has been done to point out the significance of the council for the work of the Church in the broader human community.
Too often Bl. Pope John XXIII’s call to “open the windows” of the Church has been interpreted as an invitation to let the influences of secularism into the Church. I would argue that the purpose of opening the windows was to let the Church out into the world! Christ called us to be the light of the world; how can we be light to the world while huddled in the safe confines of our churches — physically or psychologically?
The council highlighted many important truths about the nature of the Church and reminded us that we are the People of God. But we are people sent on a mission. It’s time to stop thinking about how we organize that mission and time to start putting it into practice.