0 n January 25 we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope John XXIII's convocation of the Second
There is a story I'd like to recount that conveys something of the frame of mind that existed before the Council among some English bishops.
Canon Oliver Kelly, my predecessor as Administrator of Westminster Cathedral, was in a meeting with Cardinal William Godfrey, Archbishop of Westminster (19561963).
Cardinal Godfrey, waxing eloquently about the purpose of the future Council, walked over to his bookcase and picked out one of the 12 bound volumes containing the draft schemas prepared for debate by the Council Fathers. Fondling the book in his hands, Cardinal Godfrey declared the schemas marvellous and suggested that nothing could possibly be added to them. "It will all be over in three months!" he said.
However, the reality of the Council was very different.
In November 1962, after heated debate about the sources of Revelation, the pre-prepared schema De Fontibus Revelationis was rejected by the Council Fathers, later to be replaced by the wonderful Dogmatic Constitution on Revelation, Dei Verbum.
This willingness not to be constrained by the pre-prepared schema set the precedent for a farreaching and creative debate among the Council Fathers, lasting three years and producing a body of documents that are a Magna Carta of the Holy Spirit for the modem Church. If we truly lived by the decisions of Vatican H we would know how to balance continuity and change, ressourcement and aggiornamento.
Looking back across the years we are prone to forget, or dismiss as naive, the sheer energy and hope of the Sixties, a decade that saw the rise of the modem world from the wreckage of the Second World War. It was the age of President John F Kennedy, the first manned space flights, the Third World's green revolution in agriculture, the civil rights movement, and women's rights.
The Council Fathers judged rightly that it was time for the Church to fmd a new language to speak the eternal truths of Faith to modern men and women. I remember the excitement when people heard the Church speaking in a way that was straightforward, biblical, personal, and pastoral.
As I wrote in Fit for Mission? Church: "It was as if we were in Galilee again during those heady days when the apostles walked with the Lord, hearing the liberating truth of His words and seeing His love, bringing miracles to all wounded by sin, sickness and doubt. And the world flocked to Him, knowing that He spoke with power and authority. And the world flocked to Rome — through the media — during the Council knowing that something wonderful was happening, Christ was speaking His words of hope and healing with authority to the peoples of our times."
I really hope that in 2009 we all return to the documents of the Council, especially the four Constitutions, because they are our direct link to a time in the life of the Church dramatically blessed by the Holy Spirit.
I have little sympathy with those who argue that we should somehow get past the documents of the Council — which they say are fatally flawed by compromise and politics — and try to re-construct the "event" of the Council in order to know the. "true" intentions of the Council Fathers and periti [theological advisers].
Just as many scripture scholars involved in the historical search for Jesus created a "Jesus" that merely reflected themselves, there is the danger that those involved in the historical search for the Council will create a picture of the "Council" that reflects their own likes and dislikes.
If Catholics really knew the documents of the Council there would not be so much confusion about what they actually say:
■ Catholics could not continue to live lives focused on their own prosperity if they truly knew that Gaudium et Spes 69 teaches, among other things, that we must "feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him, you have killed him".
■ Catholics could not say that Paul VI's prophetic encyclical, Humane Vitae, went against Vatican II if they knew that Gaudium et Spes 51 teaches that couples "may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law".
■ Catholics would not mock the Mass of Paul VI if they accepted that Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 teaches that "the use df the vernacular... may frequently be of great advantage to the people".
■ Catholics would not say that Pope Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum went against Vatican II if they knew that Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 teaches that "the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rite".
Looking back at the ages of the saints, such as St Francis, St Clare and St Dominic, it's tempting to think: "Wouldn't it have been wonderful to have lived during that golden age, when the Church was young and creative?"
It is time for us to wake up to the fact that during and after the Council, giants have walked among us: Blessed John XXIII, Blessed Mother Teresa, Servant of God Pope John Paul H, Servant of God Pope Paul VI, Cardinal Henri de Lubac, Fr Karl Rahner SJ, Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Brother Roger of Taize, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Chiara Lubich, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Pope Benedict XVI, and many more.
I suspect that future generations will look back and say: "Oh, to have lived in times so blessed by the Holy Spirit!"