The Second Vatican Council opened on this day in 1962, and ran until 1965, producing sixteen documents, four of them ‘constitutions’, which have profoundly shaped the Church in the modern world (the title of one of the aforementioned constitutions). This is also the day chosen by the Church to commemorate the pontiff who called and opened the Council, Pope Saint John XXIII, who died on June 3rd of 1963, whose incorrupt body lies in the crypt of the Popes under Saint Peter’s basilica.
Good Pope John, as he was affectionately known, did not therefore live to see most of the Council, in which he held such hopes,. As he put it in his opening address at the Council all those years ago:
Illuminated by the light of this Council, the Church — we confidently trust — will become greater in spiritual riches and gaining the strength of new energies therefrom, she will look to the future without fear. In fact, by bringing herself up to date where required, and by the wise organization of mutual co-operation, the Church will make men, families, and peoples really turn their minds to heavenly things.
Hmm. One wonders. Pope John, of course, only saw the post-conciliar years from his abode in heavenly beatitude, perhaps somewhat quizzically and with some surprise, one might suppose, if such is possible as one sees God face-to-face. There have been many good fruits of the Council; as one priest mentioned recently, the numbers of Catholics has doubled. And, I would posit, many of the problems we have had are in good part a result of people not reading, or at least not following through, on what the Council itself asked (and I mean in the original and official Latin; the translations are in some rather significant ways, shall we say, tendentious and insufficient).
And problems there have been, too many to count:: widespread and entrenched ignorance, disobediences, rebellions, factions, divisions, liturgical abuses, scandals galore, and now we have widespread confusion and ambiguity about the very nature of the marital bond and sexuality itself.
Yet, the truth stands clear for those ‘with eyes to see, and ears to hear’. Even in the midst of what seems a quagmire, we should have the optimism of Pope John, in the sense that God always wills what is ‘best’ for us, for the Church, for the world. The Holy Father confessed that he had little trouble sleeping, saying to God as he dozed off, and I paraphrase from memory: “It’s your Church; keep care of her while I rest”.
Well, God is always ‘taking care’ of His Church, even if at times the winnowing and disciplining seem unpleasant. In the end, as Bd. Julian of Norwich would say, ‘all manner of things shall be well’, following Saint Paul, that ‘all things work for the good for those who love God’.
And it is that love of God that kept Pope John unperturbed in life, and, we might assume, as a special gift and motiva credibilitatis from that same God, incorrupt in death.
Pope Saint John, ora pro nobis!