Vatican II: The Optimism of John XXIII

Blessed Pope John XXIII

Fifty years ago today, one of the most momentous events in the life of the Catholic Church took place.  Attentive to the “signs of the times” as he was, Pope John XXIII officially opened the Second Vatican Council.  Others more astute than I have commented at length about the importance of this day and the event that so deeply affected the experience of millions of Catholics around the world. Nonetheless, there is no Catholic alive today who hasn’t felt the impact — whether he/she is aware of it or not — of that Council.

Pope John’s complete opening remarks are worth reading and absorbing.  Parts of those remarks  somehow sound even more relevant to the Church in 2012 as they must have sounded to the Church in 1962.

In the daily exercise of Our pastoral office, it sometimes happens that We hear certain opinions which disturb Us—opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events. They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church’s rightful liberty were concerned.

We feel that We must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand.

786 Years Ago Today

Francis of Assisi died.  Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone was 45 years old (b. 1181; d. Oct. 3, 1226).  His view of himself and the world is an utterly Christian, incarnational view, seeing in all creation the wonderful and sustaining presence of the Divine.  The sun and the moon, the earth and the mountains, vegetation and animals and all humanity are bursting with the Spirit of God.

Perhaps this is why Francis and the orders of friars and sisters who bear his name today are so appealing to God’s LGBT children.  Having been told by others with a more dualistic outlook that our bodies and desires are merely sources of sin, LGBT people (and all people, really) experience in the flesh the untruth of such assertions. What Francis knew almost eight centuries ago so many of us, our fellow Christians, and especially our Church leaders are still learning.

Franciscan Father Richard Rohr puts it this way (reblogged from his Daily Meditation):

Richard's Daily Meditations

St. Francis of Assisi by Nancy Earle, SMIC.


In most paintings of people waiting for the Holy Spirit they are looking upward, with their hands outstretched or raised up, the assumption being that the Holy Spirit will descend from “up” above. In the Great Basilica in Assisi where St. Francis is buried, there’s a bronze statue of him honoring the Holy Spirit. His posture and perspective are completely different from what we have come to expect. He’s looking down into the earth with expectation and desire! This is the change of perspective that became our alternative orthodoxy—although it should have been mainline orthodoxy! He was merely following the movement of the Incarnation, since Christians believe that the Eternal Word became “flesh” (John 1:14), and it is in the material world that God and the holy are to be found.

Francis recognized and took to the logical conclusion the implications of the Incarnation. If God became flesh in Jesus, then it is in the world, the physical, the animal, in the natural elements, in human sexuality that God must be found. Speak of embodiment, physicality, and the world—use whatever words you want—these are the hiding places and the revelation places of God. This is how Christianity was supposed to change everything. Most of us just kept looking up, when God in Jesus had, in fact, come down. (This is the foundation of Franciscan mysticism.) On this day in 1226, Francis died at sunset and asked to lie naked and exposed on the earth as he died. The friars were embarrassed, but conceded to his wish. Now you know that it made total sense.

From an unpublished talk in Assisi, Italy, May 2012

When Students Become Teachers: LGBT students, Catholic University, and the cost of discipleship

LGBT students at the Catholic University of America (CUA), one of my alma maters, continue to struggle for even simple recognition of their organized group to foster greater awareness and understanding on campus.  This brief film documents that struggle of CUAllies, the unofficial “gay-straight alliance.”  We should all be proud of efforts like this — efforts in which young Catholic Christians stand in respectful opposition to institutional practices that fall short of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

At about 5 minutes in can be seen several members from Dignity/Washington (including me) who joined in a prayerful vigil last spring in support of these efforts.

The Right, the Left, and Bible as “alternative history”

I don’t think I ever knew the origins for “right” and “left” in terms of politics, but it’s interesting how the original meanings of some terms give insight into current usage!

Also, what fundamentalist preacher would describe the Bible as “alternative history from the side of the enslaved, the dominated, the oppressed, and the poor…”???

Silence, Not Pushing, and the Stillness of God

Silence is the necessary space around things that allows them to develop and flourish without my pushing. God takes it from there, and there is not much point in comparing who is better, right, higher or lower, or supposedly saved.

(from Silence, by Richard Rohr)

One of my many Achilles’ heels is the tendency to push, to poke, to analyze, to discuss, to pull-apart a situation until there’s nothing left. Today I pray for the gift of allowing this dimension of Silence to surround all my work, my relationships, and my encounters with others.

As Fr. Rohr says, let us listen to Stillness, the language  of God.

Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

Loves Urgent Longings …

“Love’s urgent longings …” — this phrase from The Dark Night by St. John of the Cross has been echoing in my mind and resounding in my heart today. Would that every human heart knew the love of which the Spanish saint writes, and that laying our face on our beloved, we might leave our cares among the lilies!

Stanzas Of The Soul

One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
– ah, the sheer grace! –
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
– ah, the sheer grace! –
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
– him I knew so well –
there in a place where no one appeared.

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and “Letting go”

Yesterday, in reflecting on some particular aspects of my life over the past few years, I found myself meditating on the difference between Reconciliation and Forgiveness.

Fr Rohr’s daily meditation is timely:

“The religious word for this letting go is forgiveness. You see the imperfect moment for what it is, and you hand it over to God. You refuse to let any negative storyline or self-serving agenda define your life.”

To let go isn’t always easy, especially when there is the need for forgiveness without the possibility of reconciliation. Reconciliation with another means both must be involved; both must actively be seeking to mend that which has been injured or broken. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is something I can (and often must) do on my own. When we find ourselves in situations where, for whatever reasons, the cooperative work of reconciliation isn’t possible, we must still work to find the ability to forgive, lest we allow some past hurt or injury to keep us from being who we are called to be.

And, as Fr. Rohr points out, letting go of something doesn’t mean simply ignoring it, denying it, or tossing it away with the morning trash. It means handing it over to God, trusting that God will do with it whatever is best to bring about full healing in ways we can’t even imagine.

Benedict XVI on Poverty, Wealth and the Responsibilities of States

Pope Benedict XVI

Earlier today (May 4, 2012) in his address welcoming several new ambassadors to the Holy See, Pope Benedict stated:

“When poverty coexists with enormous wealth, a sense of injustice arises … Therefore it is necessary for States to ensure that legislation does not increase social inequality and that people can live dignified lives.”

I wonder how much this principle is kept in mind around the world as governments debate and pass legislation? How many Members of Congress, and their staffs, consider the growing disparity not only between the rich and the poor, but even between the majority in the middle and the extremes of either end?

How often do legislators ask this question when considering the many bills and motions and amendments that come before them in their work: “Will this legislation help people lead more dignified lives?”