Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Roots of the New Evangelization

Second Vatican Council

Our diocesan Office for Worship and the Catechumenate has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium with a brown bag lunch series on different aspects of the document. (We’re using this video resource from Liturgy Training Publications as the basis of our reflection, aided by some wonderful handouts produced by Eliot Kapitan, the director of the sponsoring office.)

The first session began with this brief video clip:

In the course of our discussions I realized something that hadn’t occurred to me before: the roots of the New Evangelization can be found in the four aims of the council as laid out in the opening of Sacrosanctum Concilium:

This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy. (no. 1)

If we break this paragraph down, we see that the council is concerned for

  1. reinvigorating the life of the faithful;
  2. renewing of the structures of the Church;
  3. drawing all Christians to greater unity;
  4. and calling all people into Christ’s Church.

This maps very nicely to the Church’s understanding of the New Evangelization — that it is firstly a self-renewal of all Christians, called to ongoing conversion, who strengthened by their faith in Jesus Christ then turn and invite others to rediscover and share that faith. That the council should echo what we now call the New Evangelization should not be so surprising, since the New Evangelization is itself a restating of the Chruch’s primary mission: to make disciples of all nations.

These themes are echoed throughout the council documents in various ways. As we continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the council we would do well to reflect again on the great challenge presented to us by the council fathers to renew our Christian walk and make Christ known to the world.

Postlude: After I mentioned this insight on Twitter, Timothy O’Malley of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy wrote me to mention that he has a book coming out on just this topic. I’ve put it on my wish list and will be sure to review it once I’ve read it!

New Resource: Sacred Scripture and the Christian Life (A Short Study)

A few weeks ago, while our local Lumen Veritas youth group was gathering, I offered a faith study opportunity for any parents willing to hang around and listen to me drone on for a hour or so.

With the end of the Year of Faith close at hand we thought it would be good to take a look at the role of Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church through the lens of Vatican Council II. To that end I created a “short study” guide with excerpts from Sacrosanctum concilium and Dei Verbum, as well as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and Verbum Domini, and some reflection questions to facilitate the conversation:

I’ve released the study guide under a Creative Commons license, so feel free to print it out, make copies, and adapt it for your own use. Just make sure to credit the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois for its original creation.

Our plan is for me to do similar events for the parents once a month or so; if I create more resources like the one above I’ll be sure to share them here.

The Third Possibility

Presented with a strong challenge to one’s deepest convictions, three basic psychological possibilities present themselves: rejecting the challenge through a tenacious defense of those convictions; recognizing the merits of the challenge, and adjusting one’s ideas and behavior as a result; recognizing the merits of the challenge, and rearticulating one’s convictions in an effort to demonstrate that they satisfy the aspirations of the challenger better than the proposed alternatives.

Applied to the collision between Catholicism and modernity, one could say in extremely broad strokes that the first possibility dominated most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, with the Syllabus of Errors and the anti-modernist campaigns. It was a largely defensive reaction against secularism that still has echoes in influential circles of Catholic thought. The second possibility carried the day at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and has defined the project of Catholic liberalism ever since: the drive to reform the church to better reflect some of the core values of modernity, such as tolerance, pluralism, and democracy.

Much of church politics in the post-Vatican II era, again painting with a very broad brush, can be understood as a clash between these two impulses. To some extent, the third possibility has remained a path not taken, which is what makes the emerging outlines of Benedict’s magisterium especially intriguing.

– John L. Allen, “2007’s neglected story: Benedict XVI and ‘Affirmative Orthodoxy'” (January 3, 2008)

Book Review: The Good Pope

With the 50th anniversary of Vatican Council II just around the corner, now seems an appropriate time to re-examine the council and the figures who led it. (Indeed, with the Year of Faith, the Holy Father has invited us to do just that.) So it was with great interest that I read  The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church — The Story of John XXIII and Vatican II by Greg Tobin.

Unfortunately, anyone looking for a  thorough  treatment of either Bl. John XXIII or Vatican Council II will be  disappointed in  The Good Pope. Mr. Tobin has an almost myopic interest in the political, eschewing the theological or spiritual significance of either John XXIII or the council, and his book is the poorer for it.

Anyone unfamiliar with the “Good Pope” will find some interesting information and anecdotes. Tobin does a good job of portraying Angelo’s humble beginnings and steady rise through the Church’s ranks, focusing on his diplomatic appointments in Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, and France. Yet of all these instances in the pope’s life it was the account of John XXIII’s passing that I found especially moving. Surrounded by family and staff, the pope endured great pain in his final days, the result of the stomach cancer which took his life. Speaking to those present before receiving the Last Rites he was heard to say

The secret of my ministry is that crucifix you see opposite my bed. It’s there so that I can see it in my first waking moments and before going to sleep. It’s there, also, so that I can talk to it during the long evening hours. Look at it, see it as I see it. Those open arms have been the program of my pontificate: they say that Christ died for all, for all. No one is excluded from his love, from his forgiveness…

Unfortunately this probing of John’s spirituality comes only at the end of his life. While providing a good overview of some of the pope’s encyclicals, Mr. Tobin picks and chooses only those with a focus on political or social issues. I would have enjoyed seeing a treatment of Paenitentiam Agere (John XXIII’s encyclical on penance) or Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia (on St. Jean Vianny and the priesthood). Looking at these lesser-known encyclicals would have helped fill in some of the gaps of John’s faith.

This focus on the political extends to the chapters on Vatican Council II; Mr. Tobin seems less interested with the results of the council than with the maneuverings of the various personalities and factions at the council. (I don’t recall any direct quotes from the council documents, but plenty from diaries and interviews of those in attendance.) This leaves the impression that the council was less about the end results than about the feelings and intrigues of its participants. This does little to help readers understand the council’s impact on the life of the Church and subsequent reforms.

Another major shortcoming is the lack of direct reference to Mr. Tobin’s sources. While a list of sources is provided at the end of the book, no inline citations or footnotes are provided. An especially egregious example is on page 236, in which an unidentified source claims that progressive forces at the council “correctly deduced that John wanted a wholesale reform.” This unattributed assertion is not backed with any evidence and serves only to bolster Mr. Tobin’s own conclusions.

The Good Pope is, ultimately, less than the sum of its parts, failing as both biography and history. While it contains some interesting tidbits, in the end I can’t say that I understand either John XXIII or Vatican Council II any better. Given the wide selection of books about the council and the Good Pope, I cannot recommend this title to anyone wanting more than a political view of either.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from TLC Book Tours.

Original image by Pivari / WikiCommons

Talked to Any Young Catholics Lately?

I read with some bemusement this morning an editorial by Ken Trainor at US Catholic about young Catholics and the “Spirit of Vatican II”:

World Youth Day, I suspect, attracts, inspires and/or meets the spiritual needs of those young people looking for a highly structured, hierarchical, institutionalized approach to spirituality, which is what the official version of the Catholic Church currently offers.

It does not reach the many young people, Catholic and non-Catholic, who define themselves as “spiritual,” but are suspicious of institutional religion, often with good reason. This generation has frequently been praised for their strong service values. Their hearts are in the right place.

The church of John Paul II and Benedict XVI will not reach these young people, no matter how many worldwide rallies they hold. The church of John XXIII and Vatican II, however, is tailor-made for them. It’s too bad the current Catholic Church has been trying its best to sweep that church under a rug.

I wonder if Mr. Trainor has actually talked to any young Catholics lately. From reading this piece I don’t get the sense that he has.

Young Catholics live in a Vatican II Church. It’s what we were raised and formed in; it is all we have known. (I include myself, having been born 13 years after the close of the council.) It would be impossible for us to live out the faith in any other context.

That some of us embrace more “traditional” devotional and liturgical practices is not an indication that we have been hoodwinked by some faceless institution or that we want to roll back the calendar to 1960. Rather, we approach these things with a sense of rediscovery and reappropriation in light of the council. In a very real sense today’s young Catholics are fulfilling Bl. John XIII’s call to the youth to re-imagine and re-articulate the great treasury of our faith in light of the modern world:

The Church looks to you with confidence and with love. Rich with a long past ever living in her, and marching on toward human perfection in time and the ultimate destinies of history and of life, the Church is the real youth of the world.

That Mr. Trainor wants to halt the march in 1962 says more about him, I think, than about young Catholics or the wider Church.

How Young Catholics Will Save the Church

Last night I had the pleasure to present a Theology on Tap talk at St. Boniface parish in Edwardsville, IL. Entitled “How Young Catholics Will Save the Church,” it was my own thoughts on the gifts young Catholics bring to the Church and how those gifts will help the process of renewal in the Church. While I didn’t have an opportunity to make a video recording of the talk (I forgot my tripod!) I did have an audio recorder going.

As I warned the group last night, these thoughts are in no way systematically laid out; they are closer to an extended  reflection  based on my own experiences as a young adult Catholic and what I have gleaned from other sources. I welcome any critique or correction to these thoughts.

Click to Play: How Young Catholics will Save the Church

Upcoming Events — Councils, Discipleship, and Beer

UPDATED (January 25): The Spirituality and Discipleship for Catholic Teachers course has been canceled; instead I will be offering the Second Vatican Council at the same place and times.

I have a number of catechetical engagements coming up that you might be interested in:

  • The Second Vatican Council: Its History and Its Documents
    9a-2:30p, February 12 & 19, 2011 – Blessed Sacrament Parish (Quincy, Illinois)

    Bring your lunch as we explore the Second Vatican Council! This adult enrichment course, held on two consecutive Saturdays, looks at the events leading up to the council, the documents produced by the bishops, and the legacy of the council 40+ years after its conclusion. Materials for the course cost $15; contact Ann Gage at 217-222-2759 to register.
  • The Second Vatican Council: Its History and Its Documents
    3:30p-5:30p, March 2, 9, 16; April 6, 13, 2011 – St. Aloysius School (Springfield, Illinois)
    This catechist formation course for Catholic school teachers in the Springfield, IL, area looks at the events leading up to the council, the documents produced by the bishops, and the legacy of the council 40+ years after its conclusion. Materials for the course cost $15; contact Cindy Callan at 217-698-8500 to register.
  • Spirituality and Discipleship for Catholic Teachers
    3:30p-5:30p, March 2, 9, 16; April 6, 13, 2011 – St. Aloysius School (Springfield, Illinois)

    This 5-week catechist formation course for teachers in the Springfield area will help participants understand conversion and recognize challenges to conversion; reflect on the gifts and qualities of discipleship; and learn how involvement in education may be a means of conversion and transformation. Materials for the course cost $15; contact Cindy Callan at 217-698-8500 to register.
  • St. Boniface Young Adult Ministry’s Theology on Tap
    7p, March 31, 2011 – St. Boniface Church (Edwardsville, Illinois)

    I will be speaking on “How Young Catholics will Save the Church”: As the Baby Boomers prepare for retirement, Generation X and the Millennials are poised to take on new roles as leaders in the Church. What gifts do they bring? How will they continue the work of the Church to make disciples and serve the poor? And what pitfalls await them? Bring your head, your heart, and your own experience as a young “ or not so young “ Catholic!

I’ve also added a new page to this site; click on “Calendar” above for more information on public events or formation opportunities I will be participating in.

Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part III – The Prophetic Ministry of Christ

No Communication | Photo by Leonard John Matthews/flickerCC

(Missed the beginning of this series? Check out Part I and Part II.)

Of Christ’s prophetic ministry, Pope John Paul II says

Through their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, “who proclaimed the kingdom of his Father by the testimony of his life and by the power of his world,” the lay faithful are given the ability and responsibility to accept the gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed, without hesitating to courageously identify and denounce evil. United to Christ, the “great prophet” (Lk 7:16), and in the Spirit made “witnesses” of the Risen Christ, the lay faithful are made sharers in the appreciation of the Church’s supernatural faith, that “cannot err in matters of belief” and sharers as well in the grace of the word (cf. Acts 2:17-18; Rev 19:10). They are also called to allow the newness and the power of the gospel to shine out everyday in their family and social life, as well as to express patiently and courageously in the contradictions of the present age their hope of future glory even “through the framework of their secular life” (Christifideles Laici, 14).

The prophetic ministry calls us to give witness to the Gospel in word and in deed. I don’t think we have much problem accepting the latter. In fact, if anything I think we are too comfortable with the idea of evangelizing through our lives: we tend to over-quote the famous admonition (attributed to St. Francis) to “Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words.” This can lead to the (false) idea that words are never necessary, which in turns leads to complacency about naming the reason we live as we do in the world.

The role of the prophet is to speak the truth. In the Old Testament, the prophets called the Chosen People, who had turned from the proper worship of God to follow idols and false teachers, to return to a proper relationship with the God of Israel. They did this with a firm love, without watering down God’s call.

So, too, in administration. Our role, as partakers in the prophetic ministry, is to speak truthfully to those who work for us. We do this, first and foremost, by the feedback we give.

Unfortunately, for many people, this probably just means an annual review, but I don’t find them particularly helpful. Annual reviews aren’t frequent enough to allow employees to learn from mistakes, enjoy praise for a job well done, or grow in their roles. Taking a cue from the Manager Tools podcast, I’ve instituted 30-minute one-on-one meetings every other week with the directors who report to me. This allows for better communication, more immediate feedback, and better oversight of what is going on in the department I oversee.

Honest, forthright feedback is how we encourage good employees and help mediocre employees improve. Unfortunately their are times when all the feedback in a world won’t improve someone’s performance or attitude. At those times, as a VP for mission I worked with once said, we need to “invite people to live out their passions elsewhere.” Or, as Jim Collins puts it, we need to get the wrong people off the bus.

The truth is that bad employees are toxic to the work environment. If allowed to remain for too long they will demoralize teams and actually drive good employees to find work elsewhere. By participating in the prophetic ministry of Christ — by speaking truthfully and with authority — we can avoid sabotaging our work by ensuring that people know what the expectations are and that they are consistent across the organization.

Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part II “ The Priestly Ministry of Christ

Photo by Prakhar Amba / flickerCC

(Missed the first part of this series? Start at Part I)

The three-fold ministry of Christ is beautifully summarized in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Christifideles Laici. Of the priestly ministry the pontiff says:

The lay faithful are sharers in the priestly mission, for which Jesus offered himself on the cross and continues to be offered in the celebration of the Eucharist for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity. Incorporated in Jesus Christ, the baptized are united to him and to his sacrifice in the offering they make of themselves and their daily activities (cf. Rom 12:1, 2). Speaking of the lay faithful the Council says: “For their work, prayers and apostolic endeavours, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labour, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life if patiently borne-all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2:5). During the celebration of the Eucharist these sacrifices are most lovingly offered to the Father along with the Lord’s body. Thus as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the lay faithful consecrate the world itself to God. (14)

So the faithful participate in the priestly ministry through prayer; offering up their work to God; and through their participation in the Holy Eucharist.

I am convinced that, as administrators, the most important thing we can do for those who work under us is to pray “ first, for ourselves! “ that we may be given the wisdom, discernment, and patience to do our jobs well. But we also need to pray for those who work for us, that they may be given those same gifts. (Especially that they will have the patience to deal with us!)

In the Church we also have the privilege and responsibility to pray with our co-workers. Hopefully we all pray before meetings, but time should also be taken for more extended times of prayer, such as days of reflection and retreat. We must also remember to pray together when significant events occur in the lives of our coworkers, such as the births of children or the deaths of spouses.

In addition to prayer we participate in the priestly ministry of Christ when we engage in and encourage others in their formation as disciples of Christ. This, too, is a type of prayer! (Don’t believe me? The Order of Preachers actually has a tradition of study as prayer, such that a Dominican friar may skip communal prayer if in the middle of studying.)

As our bishop said in his homily during Sunday’s Morning Prayer, faith formation is a life-long process. We didn’t graduate at Confirmation! God is mystery, and the depths of that mystery are never plumbed. We grow in our faith by participating in programs of formation, by readings spiritual works, by studying Sacred Scripture “ all for the purpose of our own sanctification and to better enter into communion with God, his Church, and one anther.

Photo: Prakhar Amba / Flickr

Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part I “ Introduction

Priest, Prophet, King / photo by Br. Lawrence Lew, OP / Flickr

This past weekend I offered a breakout session at my diocese’s biennial adult enrichment conference entitled “Administration as Service: Practicing Leadership in the Light of Christ.” I had planned to record the talk; unfortunately my laptop zonked out on me the day before and, while dealing with an unfamiliar machine, I forgot to start my audio recorder.

Instead of recording the talk in my office, I’ve decided to offer the major talking points as a series of posts.

I began the presentation by offering a story told to me by Barb Rossman, the first CEO I worked with in Catholic healthcare. Like many other hospital administrators, Barb started as a nurse. She enjoyed having her “hands on patients,” helping them to get better. She eventually became a manager and finally entered administration.

When she became an administrator, however, she had a difficult time understanding how her role fit into the mission of the hospital. As a nurse it was clear: her job was to help treat patients in a very direct way. How did her new role contribute to the health of patients? She no longer had her “hands on patients”; what was her new role about?

What she eventually came to realize is that, while she was no longer a direct caretaker, her role was now to be a “caretaker to the caretakers.” Her role was to ensure that those working for her had the tools, resources, and knowledge to do their jobs well.   This was the spirit that Barb took to her role: to help those who help the patients.

Barb’s story is a perfect example of Christ’s admonition in the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel: “[T]hose who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mk 10:42-45)

In fact, this sort of leadership can lead us to holiness! As the Council Fathers stated at the Second Vatican Council:

[I]n the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification.’ However, this holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others. (Lumen Gentium 39)

In other words, no matter what your station in life, you are called to live it out in holiness!

As those baptized into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we do this by participating in the three-fold ministry of Christ: priest, prophet, and king. In the next three parts I will outline how administrators participate in these ministries through their work as leaders of their organizations.

Photo: Br. Lawrence Lew, OP / Flickr