Year of Faith – Realising the Promise of Vatican II?

Year-of-Faith-CoverEarlier this month, the Catholic Church’s ‘Year of Faith’ got underway. It was instigated as a result of the Pope’s Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei and it marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

From my perspective, anything that pushes the Catholic Church towards the vision promised by Vatican II has to be a good thing. As I explained in a previous blog post, the initial presentation of the Catholic Church that I received as an undergraduate at Providence College was of a church moving towards that vision. I even took a theology class that included reading the entire catechism – a book that ran to well over 500 pages! This all made me think that the bogey-man style Catholic Church that I’d been told about as a teenager by some evangelicals was really a thing of the past.

But as I’ve come to discover, especially since moving to Ireland, there are many in the church that despair of the vision of Vatican II ever being realised.

This was one of the central themes I identified when I interviewed Irish Catholics as part of the case studies for my School’s Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism research project. (See my earlier post on ‘The End of Irish Catholicism?’ and my recent post on ‘Ireland’s Troublesome Priests.’)

Here in the Diocese of Down and Connor some aspects of the vision of Vatican II are moving forward.

In his letter marking the beginning of the Year of Faith, Bishop Noel Treanor identifies the Living Church initiative as a mechanism for realising the vision of Vatican II:

‘The Council calls us to renew our love for Christ who lives in the Church. At the same time it urges us to open our hearts with confidence to the world around us. In our diocese we have recently captured this ideal to which we are called in the phrase, ‘Living Church’. The Year of Faith, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, gives impetus to our diocesan project, The Living Church.’

Part of the mission of Living Church is to empower already-existing parish pastoral councils (PPCs) and to assist in the setting up of new ones. I was heartened on Sunday to see that a parish near my own in West Belfast is meeting soon with Living Church personnel to explore setting up a PPC.

PPCs aren’t the only answer to encouraging lay involvement in all aspects of church life, but they have been effective at this in some parishes on this island – again, as explored in my forthcoming Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism research (and published in the May/June 2012 edition of Doctrine and Life).

Down and Connor has also organised a number of events to mark the Year of Faith, which can be found here. These include a series of lectures by Brendan Comerford SJ on ‘The Mystics’, held weekly on Wednesdays between now and 28 November at St Colmcille’s Parish Centre, Ballyhackamore, Belfast, 7.30-9.30 pm.

The first lecture on Julian of Norwich, held last week, attracted 172 people, prompting this comment on the Living Church Facebook page:

Wasn’t it Karl Rahner who said “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or nothing at all,” or words to that effect? It would seem the wise people attending the St Colmcille’s talks share his instinct on this.

The impressive attendance also confirmed another finding from my research – that many Irish Catholics feel that their religious education on the great thinkers and mystics of the church has been lacking, and they desire something more.

During the rest of this week I plan several more posts on the Year of Faith, Living Church, and the empowerment of laypeople promised by these and Vatican II. The blog will also soon feature a series of posts by Rev. Roger Newton, a Lutheran pastor from the United States, whose thoughts on ‘Celtic Inspiration’ and the role of music in the church can add something fruitful to this discussion.

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