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Links for Learners

by Lynn and Bob Gillen

December 2000

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Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:

    • Religion—role of the papacy; role of the conferences of bishops; Church reform; sacramental life of the Church; social justice
    • History—the role and place of Vatican II; leadership in the Church
Finding Links for Discussion Group Leaders and Participants

Look for connections for use in programs outside the classroom, such as:

  • Parish sacramental preparation programs and CCD classes; young adult discussion programs; seasonal discussion groups; RCIA programs.
  • Parents will also find this material useful in initiating discussion around the dinner table, in home study, at family activities.

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for the key words and terms below as you read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself or from the resource materials cited throughout the Links for Learners. You can also find a list of terms on the glossary page of AmericanCatholicYouth.org.

Second Vatican Council

Christian unity

Catechism

Council documents

Sacraments of Initiation

Bishops' conference

Peritus

Ecumenism

Synod

Apostolic succession

Petrine office

Collegiality

Orthodoxy/Orthodox

Papal primacy

Liturgy reforms

Roman curia

Vatican II: Treasures in the Attic

Calling together all the bishops of the Church, along with hundreds of scholars and theological experts, for a four-year, Church-wide Council was viewed by some to be an incredible act of faith on the part of Pope John XXIII. Pope John had no preconceived agenda or expected outcome. He himself was no theological scholar (though he was a historian). He simply opened his heart—and the heart of the Church—to the fresh air and enlightening breath of the Holy Spirit. In a 1994 interview, George A. Lindbeck, a Lutheran theologian and "delegated observer" at Vatican II, said "John XXIII genuinely believed in the Holy Spirit's guidance of the Council." So much so that he was open to be surprised by the Spirit.

(In a March 2000 address to a conference on implementation of Vatican II, our present Pope John Paul II termed Vatican II "the Spirit's gift to the Church.")

John XXIII's act of faith has had far-reaching consequences. In this month's Links for Learners, we'll explore some of those effects.

In his 1995 book, The Sacraments: How Catholics Pray, Father Thomas Richstatter talks about the "treasures in the attic" that Vatican II brought to light for the Church. Richstatter's four "treasures" are: Baptism, the Bible, Holy Thursday and the world.

1. Baptism. A renewed focus on Baptism and the rites of Christian initiation. All the baptized have a ministry in the Church.

2. The Bible. The increased use of various readings at Sunday and daily liturgies.

3. Holy Thursday. The Eucharist as a sacred meal and a joyous celebration.

4. The world. The Church proclaims the beauty and positive value of the world. Creation is to be treasured and nurtured. In Richstatter's view, the Church has rediscovered the meaning of Incarnation. "For Catholics the Incarnation means that the very stuff of this earth has been taken up into the reign of God."

"The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts." So opens The Church in the Modern World, one of the constitutional documents of Vatican II. (Some people may better appreciate Vatican II by reading document summaries offered by the Christus Rex organization.)

Several years after Richstatter's book, in the 1998 Catholic Update article "Seven Key Trends in the Church Today," Father Jack Wintz describes seven trends in the Church that he has observed since Vatican II.

1. Lay ministry explosion. " …a wide variety of lay men and women who minister and serve the Church as catechists, youth ministers, hospital chaplains, members of bereavement committees, lay administrators of priestless parishes, outreach workers distributing food to the poor."

2. Enriched liturgies. Catholics participate more fully, actively and joyfully in the Eucharist. Development of the RCIA as a process of initiation to the faith.

3. Deeper love of Scripture. Catholic worshippers exposed to wider variety of readings at Sunday Mass. More Scripture readings at other sacramental rituals.

4. Growing hunger for God. A movement toward prayer and contemplation, to finding the quiet places of the heart where contemplation is possible.

5. Broader view of salvation. We seek to save the whole human person, body and soul, and all of creation as well. There is an intimate bond between the yearnings of the Church and those of all humanity.

6. Rise of the social gospel. It is not sufficient to passively await the arrival of God's final kingdom in the next life. We are also called to help make that kingdom present now, by working as God's instruments to remove injustice, discrimination, poverty, disease from our midst.

7. Integration and new growth. A process of consolidation and integration has taken hold of the Church.

And Now: 35 Years After Vatican II

As the year 2000 draws to a close, St. Anthony Messenger interviews Cardinal William Keeler, someone journalists would term a primary source for information on Vatican II. An active participant in the workings of the Council, Keeler is in a privileged position to both recall what the Council participants intended to accomplish and to observe how far the Church has progressed since the Council's close in 1965.

1. Ecumenism/interfaith dialogue. In Keeler's firsthand experience, interfaith dialogue has been well received by the post-Vatican II Church, and long strides have been made toward Christian unity and Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

2. Liturgical reform. Changes in the way we celebrate the liturgy have been well received, Keeler believes. Liturgical reform had the most visible impact, especially in moving to the language of the people.

3. Scripture. Catholics' knowledge of Scripture is a disappointment. Surveys conducted in 1985 indicate that Catholics know even less about the Scriptures than they did prior to the Council. Keeler feels this is still true today.

Compare Cardinal Keeler's comments on our knowledge of the Scriptures to those of Richstatter and Wintz above. How would you explain the different perceptions? Do you agree with his conviction that we teach the Scriptures even less now than we did 35 years ago? How often do you read or study the Scriptures? Do you appreciate the varied readings in the sacramental liturgies?

4. The Church. Cardinal Keeler observes that two of the major documents of Vatican II, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and The Church Today have been less than successfully implemented or fulfilled. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church, however, has helped familiarize many with the Church's teaching.

5. Collegiality. Keeler does find encouragement in the stronger role of conferences of bishops in leading the Church. Keeler stresses that "…people don't appreciate how much has been delegated to conferences of bishops and individual bishops that once was reserved to Rome." Keeler refers to a "… much vaster pool of experience in pastoral wisdom" supporting Rome in the development of policies. (This development may be far less visible to the average person than, say, the liturgical reforms.)

Note George Lindbeck's perceptions in his 1994 interview on how the Church functioned organizationally. While he and other non-Catholic observers at the Council agreed that the Church was not a monolith, with commands obeyed from the top down, he realized that he still fully expected conciliar changes to occur smoothly with direction from Rome. Lindbeck admits that this was a naïve (and unhistorical) perception. All councils, he says, have been followed by disturbance as the Church struggles to understand and implement change.

For an example of a bishop's conference acting in a teaching role, see the Los Angeles Times (or other major news publications) of November 15, 2000. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops called for widespread changes in America's criminal justice system and condemned the Supreme Court's ruling on late-term abortions.

Leaders in the Church worry about its teachings being perceived as fuzzy. Do you perceive Church teaching to be unclear? If so, what specific items do you find unclear? What resources do you use to clarify your perceptions/thoughts?

At Youth Day 2000 in Rome, Cardinal Francis Stafford reminded the attendees of the last words uttered by Vatican II as it closed in 1965. These words were addressed to youth. "We exhort you to open your hearts to the dimensions of the world, to heed the appeal of your brothers, to place your youthful energies at their service… Fight against all egoism. Refuse to give free course to the instincts of violence and hatred which beget wars and all their train of miseries. Be generous, pure, respectful and sincere, and build in enthusiasm a better world than your elders had."

Just as the older generations of women athletes at the 2000 Olympics in Australia passed the torch forward to younger athletes to light the giant flame, the Council's elders offer the light of Christ to the Church's younger generations to light up the world.

As a parent or teacher, how do you pass the torch to your children? As a young person in today's Church, does anyone challenge you to carry the torch of Christ's light? How do you respond?

Are you open to being surprised by the Spirit?

Additional Print and Internet Resources for This Article

"Seven Key Trends in the Church Today," Catholic Update (CO198), Jack Wintz, O.F.M., St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1997.

"Interreligious Dialogue Since Vatican II: The Monastic Contemplative Dimension," Wayne Teasdale, Spirituality Today, Summer 1991.

The Sacraments: How Catholics Pray, Father Thomas Richstatter, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1995, Cincinnati, Ohio.

"Re-viewing Vatican II: An Interview with George A. Lindbeck," FIRSTTHINGS, the Journal of Religion and Public Life. A 1994 interview with a leading Lutheran theologian who was a "delegated observer" at Vatican II.

The Rhine Flows Into the Sea, Father Ralph Wiltgen. A history of Vatican II.

The Archdiocese of Denver offers an online course on the history and the documents of Vatican II.

Research Resources
Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.
Pathfinder - Access site to a number of online news publications
People magazine
The Close Up FoundationWashington, D.C.-based organization

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church

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