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Papa on VCII

Ratzinger finishes the book (yes, I’m finally done) with an Epilogue on the state of the Church after Vatican II. The Epilogue was written in 1975, ten years after the close of the Council, but much of what he writes is still very much valid today. Since this is a subject that seems on the tips of everyone’s tongue, I’ve extracted several tidbits from this Epilogue.

I must say, before I go on, this book is an absolute don’t-miss for anyone with a serious interest in their faith or even those who just want a better view into the thinking of the man who is now Pope Benedict XVI. There are sections of the book not for the faint-hearted neophyte, but if one can make his or her way through them the struggle is certainly worth it. I heartily recommend this as reading for anyone who wishes to sentire cum ecclesia. There I go again with that phrase… Anyway, on with the quotes (emphasis mine)!

…The return of the old prosperity in the sixties brought with it a similar change in thinking. The new wealth and the bad conscience that accompanied it fostered that remarkable mixture of liberalism and Marxist dogmatism that we have all experienced. We should not, therefore, exaggerate the part played by Vatican Council II in the most recent developments; Protestant Christianity underwent a similar crisis without any council, and political parties have also had to deal with a phenomenon of like origin. Nevertheless, the Council was one of the factors that shared in the development of world history. When an institution as deeply rooted in souls as is the Catholic Church is shaken to its very roots, the earthquake extends to all mankind.

The Council understood itself as a great examination of conscience by the Catholic Church; it wanted ultimately to be an act of penance, of conversion. This is apparent in the confessions of guilt, in the intensity of the self-accusations that were not only directed to the more sensitive areas, such as the Reformation and the trial of Galileo, but were also heightened into the concept of a Church that was sinful in a general and fundamental way and that feared as triumphalism whatever might be interpreted as satisfaction with what she had become or what she still was. Linked with this excruciating plumbing of her own depths was an almost painful willingness to take seriously the whole arsenal of complaints against the Church, to omit none of them. That implied as well a careful effort not to incur new guilt with respect to the other, to learn from him wherever possible and to seek to see only the good that was in him. Such a radical interpretation of the fundamental biblical call for conversion and love of neighbor led not only to uncertainty about the Church’s own identity, which is always being questioned, but especially to a deep rift in her relationship to her own history, which seemed to be everywhere sullied.[me: Someone tell me this doesn’t echo the exact state the Church finds herself in now, after the sex abuse scandal. As Father Corapi described it once, the Church finds herself like a boxer with a cut over the eye, and her opponent is relentlessly going after that wound, that perceived weakness. I consider a renewal of pride in what we are, in what the Church is, at our very core to be the primal step that must be taken, not unto triumphalism of a distorted sort, but to the willingness to acknowledge in word and deed that we are a part of the Mystical Body of Christ and the willingness to bring that light out from the bushel of shame it has been pushed under that it might again (and still) be the light that leads to the Light of the World.]

The real content of Christianity is not the discussion of its Christian content and of ways of realizing it: the content of Christianity is the community of word, sacrament and love of neighbor to which justice and truth bear a fundamental relationship. The dream of making one’s whole life a series of discussions, which, for a time, brought even our universities to the brink of paralysis, also exercised an influence on the Church under the label of the conciliar idea. If a council becomes the model of Christianity per se then the constant discussion of Christian themes comes to be considered the content of Christianity itself; but precisely there lies the failure to recognize the true meaning of Christianity. [me: I take this to suggest that dialogue is good, but dialog for its own sake cannot be presumed to take the place of the act of a valid, thorough Christian life.]

Whether or not the Council becomes a positive force in the history of the Church depends only indirectly on texts and organizations; the crucial question is whether there are individuals – saints – who, by their personal willingness, which cannot be forced, are ready to effect something new and living. the ultimate decision about the historical significance of Vatican Council II depends on whether or not there are individuals prepared to experience in themselves the drama of the separation of the wheat from the cockle and thus to give to the whole a singleness of meaning that it cannot gain from words alone.

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