Vatican II, Synod on the Family … two Popes

And Guadium et Spes  or The Church in the Modern World. (document of Vatican II).  

Three months after his election,  Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli,  the new Pope John XXIII surprised the world by convoking the Second Vatican Council.

There had not been a Council in nearly 100 years … and this was to be an Ecumenical Council with  the Bishops of the universal church in attendance, not just European and Italian prelates.

His famous words open these windows and let the fresh air in’,  were a prelude to the historic event that has been  pivotal for the Catholic Church.

Opening the windows would no doubt raise the dust of centuries that had settled on the Church. There was, as can be expected, opposition and prophets of doom!

Prophets of Doom

Despite all naysayers, this great visionary inspired the Universal Church to reflect on how she could build and strengthen the faith in the cultural changes following two World Wars. The Council Fathers were inspired by two principles:

aggiornamento (Italian for “updating”) and ressourcement (French for “going back to the sources”).   So the reforms either returned to more ancient practices or took on modern practices and approaches.

The deep introspection and sharing that was the spirit of Vatican II, led to many changes in religious practices so that the light of Christ could shine out visibly.  The pot in which the seed of faith had been transplanted from Rome to distant lands was broken so that the seed could germinate, be in-culturated in,  and draw its nourishment from the local soil

In essence, St. John XXIII believed in the sacramental nature of the church as a sign and instrument of communion with God and unity amongst all men.

It is the same spirit and belief which our beloved Pope Francis carries vocally and visibly in his core message :

“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. … And you have to start from the ground up “

I pray that the Spirit that led to the convening of this Synod, and the declaration of a Year of Mercy, will continue to guide all Bishops in their decisions.

On this October 11 anniversary of the commencement of the Council, also declared as the Feast of St. John XXIII,  I wish to honour his memory by recalling his words as he lay dying on his bed in May 1963 :

Today more than ever, we are called to serve mankind as such, and not merely Catholics; to defend above all and everywhere, the rights of the human person and not merely those of the Catholic Church…’

‘It is not that the Gospel has changed: it is that we have begun to understand it better … the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead. “

Thank you beloved Papa John XXIII  for giving us Vatican II   … and thank you Papa Francesco for the Synod on the Family.  May the Spirit continue to lead you in steering  the barque of the Church into Kingdom waters.

Opening - Synod on the Family 

Synod on the Family, Rome October, 2015.  Source : www:catholicnewsagency.com

Thinking with my heart!

Retreat with Pope John XXIII

Jesus living wisdom

Shorten the distance between my head and my heart.

Teach me how to THINK WITH MY HEART

so that all my thoughts are filled with love.

Show me that wisdom is truth tasted in all its beauty.

Walk with me as I learn from life how wisdom becomes my friend.

 

Mary, Wise woman, pray for me

that  I may receive the gift of wisdom

and the love which makes it possible.

Holy Spirit, your first gift is wisdom.

Breathe on me, breath of God, and immerse me in this gift.

Take away my fear and fill me with love.

Show me that courage is a heart that acts,

Which is a way of saying that WISDOM 

FLOWS FROM THE HEART

Opening prayer from A Retreat with John XXIII .

 

WHY THE CROSS?

"The Son of Man came ... to give his life as a ransom for many."  Mark 10:45.

“The Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

With all thy getting, get an understanding  (Proverbs 4:7)

 On his death bed, Pope John XXIII (whose vision convened Vatican II) had stated:

“It’s not the Gospel that has changed, it is just that we can understand it better.” 

I find this statement so comforting when I grapple with questions like the meaning and purpose of the Cross – for I am a Doubting Thomas by nature.   I could not accept a+ b = c in Algebra without questioning why a or b etc. .. so it is no surprise I had difficulty accepting the statement of faith that Jesus died to save us from our sins: that he gave his life as a ransom for many that so many Christians accept without question.

Sure, I accepted it as a child.  But when the age of  so called reason hit me, what was black and white became grey, cloudy, and foggy. I realized I could not give a proper explanation if a non-Christian asked me how Christ’s death on the cross saved us from our sins  – and why God wanted such a sacrifice from his Son. I found myself fumbling to explain what I did not understand.

  1. He gave himself as the perfect sacrifice as a ransom for many. 
 I wondered if was just and fair.  Did God really want this sacrifice ?
  1. We are “saved” by his death. 
How exactly can his death ‘save’ us?  I sincerely wanted explanations. Could we not have been “saved” another way?  
  1. What is my sin that deserved such a death?
I don’t  think I commit any big sins that warrant Jesus dying on the cross for me. Maybe that alone makes me a sinner! 

Like the Jews, I too had  questions on the scandal of the cross, (1 Cor. 1.18-21) so I dug deep for answers.

  • I learned about the Jewish/Old Covenant tradition of sacrificial atonement, the unblemished lamb and the scapegoat tradition linked with the Passover.
  • I understood much more the beautiful connection to the Paschal mystery of the New Covenant.
  • I realised that the Hebrew people, though saved from death by the cross marked in blood on the lintel of the  doorpost (Exodus 12.7),  still had to journey to the Promised Land.
  • I accept that we too,  even though marked by the blood of the Cross of Jesus, still have to undertake our own Exodus from this life to the next.
  • I am also now closer to understanding that it was not only by Christ’s death on the Cross that we have been saved but by his whole life and works. His passion and death was a culmination of his life and mission.

I believe we could have been saved even without a death on the Cross if we had accepted Him and His message.  But fickle human beings that we are, we may not have accepted his message of ETERNAL LIFE or more importantly, believed in the resurrection from the dead, unless we witnessed it for ourselves.  So his very visible death was for those like me  -like Thomas -who loudly, arrogantly  proclaim that we have to ‘see’ to believe.

The consolation is that He my creator, knows our weaknesses and he gently invites us to probe deeper into Him,  to put our distrusting fingers in his wounds as he responded  to Thomas  … “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe !! ” 

"You have believed because you have seen.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."  John 20:29

“You have believed because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” John 20:29

And I also believe that His suffering and ignominious death  underscored His fundamental message – the paradox of  ‘death for life’:

 “Most assuredly I say to you … unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:23-25)

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

The Cross underscores the message of giving up to your life to find new life with the Father  “… for what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his own soul?” (Mark..36)   and is thus the ultimate and perfect symbol of :

  • Standing up for truth and justice –  for GOD –  even at cost of your life.
  • Moving away from the things that separate us from goodness and moving towards the source of all goodness
  • Restoring lives created in the image and likeness of God,
  • Exchanging a shallow living for eternal abundant life – DIVINE EXCHANGE .

His detractors thought they could quell his message by his death ….  yet even his death, Jesus’ message was the paradox of LIFE – for he lives amongst us still:

“Saul Saul .. why do you persecute ME”  Acts 9:4

No room for doubt here. He lives amongst his people. 

——————————-

So I found some answers to my question … “Why the Cross?   I can’t say that I have found all the answers, but I have found enough to embrace  – to wrap my arms around, to cling to that precious Cross.

What then of the answer taught in catechism that “he died to save us from our sins” ?

I would respond it is a doctrinal answer given – the wondrous paschal mystery explained in a brief dogma,  until you can find the answer and the meaning of the Cross for yourself.

And when you do, chances are you too will give the same answer  …  for there are few words that can capture the glorious essence of the saving power of the Cross.  

I would like to invite you to share your experience, love and hope in the Cross with other believers to strengthen and help fellow travellers.

Reflections on the Cross of Christ from the early church fathers
What Happened on the Cross, by John Damascene
A Few Drops of Blood Renew the Whole World, by Gregory Nazianzen
What We Behold on the Cross, by Augustine
Contemplating the Lord’s Passion by Leo the Great
The Lamb that was Slain by Melito of Sardis
The Power of the Blood of Christ by John Chrysostom
By One Death and Resurrection the World Was Saved by Basil
The Life-giving Cross of Christ by Theodore the Studite
Let us too glory in the Cross by Augustine
The Cross of Christ by Leo the Great
The Body of Christ Gives Life to Those Who Receive It, by Cyril of Alexandria
The Death of Death by Augustine

Photo credit:  The Cross – divinemercychurch.com.

Doubting Thomas – numerous sites; source unknown.

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