Sunday, January 19, 2014

seeing light with the heart


The train station, after all, is the spot where, on the one hand, worlds meet, where proximity and distance mesh; it is the place of encounter, the transition point between here and there. But of course at the same time it is also the place of unfamiliarity, anonymity, mobility.
---Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, on the beauty found at the crossroads

Here is the thing about the Second Vatican Council.
I know all of you woke up today thinking: "the second vatican council. How 'bout that thing. What was that thing's deal, ya know?"
You may breathe easy, because I wrote this blogpost specifically for you.


To begin: one of the legendary stories of Vatican II is the story of the document "Gaudium et Spes," which was a big deal. ("A big deal" is what all the rad theologians call it, a technical theological term, you know).
Besides being a big deal, Gaudium et Spes was also the Council's sort of, well, diagnostic of the modern world (their diagnostic being that it was going to shit) and what sort of attitude one ought to have towards it (like, hope, I guess?).
One can hardly blame them. As our elevated colleges in the ivory tower, the historians, will tell you, the world is in a constant state of going to shit. ("Going to shit," a technical historian term, dontcha know.)
But, one can imagine how, after a few dozen wars, two of which encompassed the entire NorthWestern world, a persistent and annoying Iron Curtain (as opposed to an Ironed Curtain, which isn't annoying at all. An ironed curtain is quite cheerful and domestic. It does wonders for a room. This is not quite the case with the Iron Curtain), and a lot of depression, recessions, bombs, and other sundry putrid happenstances, the Cardinals must have looked at each other and said: Eia! Hoc est pessimum. [They spoke in Latin, because it was pre-Vatican II. The rough translation is: Wow! This sucks. ]
But instead of sitting comfortably in their churches behind their pulpits, telling their congregations: the world out there? You know the one; the one that you just walked out of, that you're going to have to back into after you leave your blessed hour of rest? Yeah, that one. It's going to shit. Good luck to you trying to have to deal with it. 

Instead, they wrote this constitution.
Originally, the opening words of this constitution were: 'The grief and the anxieties of the men of this age...' which is a much nicer way of talking about the pains of the modern world than saying "going to shit." 
The Cardinals have a more refined vocabulary than I, apparently.
 But, before the final draft of this document was released, in front of those sad words they inserted the phrase: "the joys and the hopes." 
And so their defining document on the role of the Church in the modern world, which Vatican II sought to address, began with Joy. It began with hope.
The Church acknowledged the grief and the anguish, because they are inescapable.
But these Cardinals were primarily men with hope to bring.
'The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age.'   
The world, it seems, no matter how full of anguish, and pain and horrors and seemingly unending sadnesses, still leaves room for joy in the human heart and for hope of the sun rising in the East in the morning.

Hence this Second Vatican Council [...] now addresses itself without hesitation, not only to the sons of the Church and to all who invoke the name of Christ, but to the whole of humanity.
We are not going to keep our churches warm and safe, while winter reigns in the rest of the world.
There is something here, in the warmth of the churches, which those left out in the cold crave, desire, yearn for. 
It is summer.
We will not keep the summer to ourselves, we will share it with the world.
There will be no catacomb church hidden safe in the ground, while those outside brave the elements alone.
We will not hide in the darkness.
For, in fact, there is no darkness.
There is already light. 
It lives inside each human heart, they have only to uncover it.
The darkness of winter will melt into the sweet light of a new springtime.
The world has lived in winter long enough.
It is time for spring.


 There are saints who are ready to effect something new and living.
--John Paul II

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