Homily by Rev Prof Brendan Leahy at Year of Faith Opening Ceremony
Kildare & Leighlin Diocese, Carlow Cathedral, October 11, 2012
Fifty years ago exactly on this day, nearly three thousand bishops filed into St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome for the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. Little could they have imagined what was beginning. Yves Congar, one of the theologians at the Council commented that something happened at it, our way of seeing the Church changed.
It’s not that the Council decided to redefine the Church! That can’t be done – the Church comes to us as a gift. But we can and always need to take a new look at the Church. Perhaps I can put it this way. Imagine you are viewing an object or landscape. It takes just a short movement of a few centimetres to have a new perspective on that object or landscape. It isn’t that the object we are looking at changes but our perspective enables us to see it anew.
Likewise, the Council got us to see the Church from a new perspective, that of unity, communion with Christ and with one another, as the recent Eucharistic Congress reminded us. Yves Congar comments that the phrase of Mt 18:20 “where two or three are united in my name, I am there among them” is the sentence that summarises the Council.
To let Jesus be seen, heard, touched, encountered in today’s world – that was the Council’s agenda. It wanted to remind us that the Church is a sign and symbol pointing towards, and communicating in a way that can be recognised by others, the presence of Jesus who brings the Kingdom of God.
That is the great task that emerged with Vatican II. To journey alongside our brothers and sisters, sharing their joys and griefs, questions and anxieties, witnessing that the Church can be a prophecy of a new humanity, where genuine, profound relationships are lived out according to Jesus’ New Commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. We have just listened to the Letter of St. Peter speak of this mutual love (1 Peter 3:8-9).
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that in the very opening words of the Council’s document on the nature of the Church, Lumen Gentium, the focus is on Jesus Christ and the unity he desires for the Church:
Christ is the Light of nations… and the Church is in Christ like a… sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race…
The great vision of the Council inspired and enthused many. I remember at school we sang new kinds of songs, dedicated to the Holy Spirit: “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord… And we pray that all unity may one day be restored… And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
It’s true that some have felt the vision of the Council got lost along the way. And yet, all the Popes since the Council continue to say it’s the “compass” that guides us still. Recently, I read of a letter written by Pope John Paul I when he was created cardinal by the then Pope, Paul VI, thanking the Pope for his “untiring effort to bring about the spirit and decrees of the Second Vatican Council… especially when it is said here and there that that the First Vatican Council has many followers and likewise the Third Vatican Council, but few followers of the Second Vatican Council”.
There is truth in this. The Second Vatican Council is a gift and a task, still fully to be taken up. We cannot go back. Nor can we rush forward without taking the steps required of us now. As we gather this evening, perhaps we can take up three points to guide us as we enter the Year of Faith that begins today on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council….