John XXIII
John XXIII

One of my favorite Popes is John XXIII followed by Paul III and Leo XIII. He was an interim Pope after the long reign of Pius XII. The little, affable and pudgy Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, Archbishop of Venice would be a place-holder until a more autocratic administrator could be found, someplace. Shortly after his election he began to suggest that the Catholic Church needed a council which would breathe fresh air into a musty ancient place. He called the Council but he didn’t live long enough to see his idea to completion. For the rest of us, Vatican II has turned the Church upside down. And is still doing so.  All the initial changes came in a rush and there are some today who would like to “have things the way they were” before the Council. Hopey-changey things are upsetting especially to those who would like the status quo maintained.

The Scripture reading for the First Sunday in Lent comes from the intimate Gospel of Luke. In this reading Luke talks about Jesus going into the desert to pray and renew himself and the temptations that sometimes get in the way of clear thinking and vision.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.

(Luke 4:1-2)

Doubts about the future are always abundant but Pope John was willing to forge ahead. He was a visionary, and in my opinion filled with the Spirit.

In many ways the Council was (is) like taking a road trip a trip where you really know where you are going because “We’ve always gone this way.” The Church had been in this mode for centuries. On the freeway there are stops for gas, a bite to eat and maybe to change drivers, but always getting back on the same familiar road.

Vatican II was more like traveling along the freeway and then changing routes, not knowing exactly where the route would take you. You are not absolutely sure where the other freeway is but have a feeling you are going in the right direction. You know that “its over that way someplace” and you start out on some back roads trying to get “there.” On the way you run into some detours, dead-ends and other mix ups.

The people in the car with you are frustrated and argue and someone is bound to say, “Let’s go back to the road we were on. At least we knew where we were going.”

The state of the Church for the past 50 years has been something like that. The Council decided that there was a better road into the future and we are trying to find our way to the new one. Going backward is not an option. The Second Vatican Council was John XXIII’s legacy and through fits and starts, backtracking and forward movement, the Church is lurching forward. The car is old, but most of the passengers are young. There is hope we are going in the right direction.

I cannot prove this but I think since John XXIII gave permission to question the ancient views of an ancient organization’s authority he also gave us the permission to question age-old positions of government and policies. This, I believe, gave us the boost for the anti-war movement of the ’60s and beyond.

and so it goes…