Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pope Francis, the Second Vatican Council and Authentic Spirit Led Renewal

By Deacon Keith Fournier
April 22nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

As the days of the pontificate of Francis unfold, I am convinced he has been sent to help us to understand the treasures of the Church old and new, and to implement and appropriate the proper teaching of the Second Vatican Council. I believe he is a gift sent to lead an authentic Spirit Led Renewal of the Catholic Church because such a renewed Church can lead a new missionary age.

VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - On April 16, 2013, during his homily at Mass, Pope Francis spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit. Using the story of the martyrdom of Stephen from the first reading as an example, he warned of the danger of resisting the Holy Spirit, when we do not want to change. Vatican Radio reported on his homily.

He said that at times, 'the Holy Spirit upsets us because it moves us, it makes us walk, it pushes the Church forward.' He also said we sometimes want to 'calm down the Holy Spirit, we want to tame it and this is wrong, because the Holy Spirit is the strength of God, it's what gives us the strength to go forward'. He used as one example of resisting the Holy Spirit, some approaches to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council which he called "a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit."

He asked, 'have we done everything the Holy Spirit was asking us to do during the Council?' He said the answer is 'No. We celebrate this anniversary, we put up a monument but we don't want it to upset us. We don't want to change and what's more there are those who wish to turn the clock back. This is called stubbornness and wanting to tame the Holy Spirit.'

The Pope said that the same thing can easily happen in our personal lives. 'The Spirit pushes us to take a more evangelical path but we resist this.' Of course, he is right. He urged us not to resist the pull of the Holy Spirit but to 'Submit to the Holy Spirit, which comes from within us and makes go forward along the path of holiness.'

This is a Pope who believes that the power of the Holy Spirit is available today for all believers just as it was in the early Church. He has a dynamic relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and is deeply committed to the New Evangelization. He was a major contributor to the Latin American bishops' 2007 "Aparecida Document" which called for placing the New Evangelization at the forefront of the mission of the Church.

So, what does this all mean for the direction of the Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope Francis? Well, we are soon going to find out. Watch for the interpretations of his messages to be very different depending upon the perspective of the hearer.

There are those who are hoping that what this Pope is going to be what they call a 'progressive, a political term which has been applied by some in the Church to refer to breaking with the past in a kind of rupture. I do not agree with them. Let me give you a recent example of such an approach from my own experience.

Last year I attended a forum where a theology Professor gave an address on Vatican II. It was meant to be a tribute, in light of the Councils' fiftieth anniversary, to the importance of the Council. Some of his thoughts were insightful and well presented. However, in the question and answer session which followed his talk something emerged which points to a real challenge faced by the Catholic Church as she engages her mission. 

The phrase New Evangelization refers, among other things, to the evangelistic and catechetical work desperately needed within the Catholic Church. It acknowledges the fact that many people in the pews need to encounter the Risen Lord personally and make the faith their own. They need to hear the fullness of the Gospel - as taught authentically and authoritatively by the teaching office (the magisterium) of the Catholic Church, and embrace that teaching in a way which is reflected in a unity of life.

Sadly, we must acknowledge that there are sacramentalized Catholics who have not been fully evangelized. Further, there are many Catholics who do not really even know what their own Church teaches. Much of our catechesis - instruction in the faith- since the Second Vatican Council - has been inadequate. As pope Francis recently tweeted, "Being a Christian is not just about following commandments: it is about letting Christ take possession of our lives and transform them."

This is why the Catholic Church has committed its resources to reawakening the faithful through promoting this kind of life changing encounter with the Risen Jesus Christ. The New Evangelization seeks to re-evangelize and re-catechize the faithful so that that they can consciously choose to live their lives as Catholic Christians in the heart of the Church, for the sake of the world. As members of Christ's Body they have a mission.

The expression New Evangelization was coined by Blessed John Paul II, embraced as a foundation for the papacy of Benedict XVI and, I maintain, is clearly at the forefront of the mission of Pope Francis since he stepped out on the Loggia on the night he was announced as the successor of the Apostle Peter. I believe he is an evangelical Catholic Pope.

I now regularly use the phrase New Missionary Age to refer to the unchangeable task of the Catholic Church, through her members, to bring the whole world into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. That is meant to lead to incorporation into the Church, which is His Body.  The Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued in 2000 and entitled "Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church"  stated this with simple clarity and no compromise.

Here is just one sentence: "It must therefore be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith that the universal salvific will of the One and Triune God is offered and accomplished once for all in the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God." 

The Prefect of that Congregation and author of this document was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. He went on to become Pope Benedict XVI. His continual reminder to the faithful of the missionary vocation of the Church ad extra was one of the hallmarks of his papal Magisterium. The theology professor and I had an interesting discussion concerning the importance of that letter and what it really said.

He used the term "aggiornamento" often when he referred the Second Vatican Council. The word was used by Blessed John XXIII as he charged the Council Fathers in their important work at the beginning of the Council. Loosely translated, the word means to bring something up to date. We would both agree on the interpretation of the word. 

However, as to what that term means as it relates to the teaching of that Council in the light of the two millennia of Church history - its relationship to the teachings of past Councils - and the future of the Catholic Church - now that is where my discussion with the professor revealed a major disagreement. 

It also led to a lively discussion and debate. He rejected the claim of Dominus Jesus as to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. In fact, he openly asserted that the Second Vatican Council represented a rupture with the past and presented an entirely new teaching on salvation. 

This leads me to an important theological term, hermeneutic. A hermeneutic is a lens through which we view or interpret something of importance. In discussing the Second Vatican Council much has been made about the difference between those who view that Council and its teaching through either a hermeneutic of continuity, seeing proper reform in light of that continuity, or a hermeneutic of rupture.

In other words, was the Second Vatican Council a break with past teaching, something entirely new in the sense of overturning the past, or was it a continuation, a freshening, of the trajectory of the truth as taught by the Church from its beginnings? Clearly, on many issues related to this hermeneutic, the speaker and I held very different positions.

It became even clearer as specific hot button issues were discussed in that forum that the professor and I saw the Council through a very different lens. Since that session I have thought a lot about that professor. I am sure he is among those who are interpreting Pope Francis and his comments on the Second Vatican Council as confirming his claim that the Council was a rupture with the past. I strongly disagree.

Since he assumed his office, Pope Francis has preached - by word and deed - the dynamically orthodox Catholic faith. He has done so in a way which shows a continuity which is enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit always calls the Church to authentic renewal. His comments in the homily with which I began this article point to his commitment to the need for such an authentic renewal in the Holy Spirit in our age.

Before they were called Christians in Antioch, the early followers of Jesus were referred to as the Way (Acts 19, 9, 23). Their living faith was expressed in the way they lived their real daily lives in the midst of the world of their age. They were missionaries. So are we - no matter what our state in life or specific vocation.

We cannot give away what we do not have. We need living faith. We can't pretend to have it. We need to know the Lord, and not just know about Him. We need the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Evangelical Pope Francis calls us to an encounter with the Risen Lord in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. He is challenging us to live the ancient but ever new Christian faith for the Third Millennium. 

There is one final word which came up in that encounter with the theology professor. This one is a French word, ressourcement. It means a return to the sources. I told my colleague that I believed that the Second Vatican Council, as properly understood, should also be seen as a return to the sources - the Scriptures, the Patristic writings and past Councils - in order to update the trajectory of truth.

I offered an opinion to the professor that the task of a contemporary Catholic theologian is beautifully explained in a passage from Matthew's Gospel, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."  (Matt. 13:52)

Well, my colleague who viewed himself as a progressive viewed me, his interlocutor, as what he called a traditionalist. I told him I prefer the noun 'Catholic' without any descriptive labels. I am not a traditionalist - though I do love the Tradition. I added that if he wanted to use adjectives, he could just call me a dynamically orthodox, happy to be Catholic, Christian.

As the days of the pontificate of Francis unfold, I am convinced he has been sent to help us to understand the treasures of the Church old and new, and to implement and appropriate the proper teaching of the Second Vatican Council. I believe he is a gift sent to lead an authentic Spirit Led Renewal of the Catholic Church because such a renewed Church can lead a new missionary age.

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)