More than 100 parish leaders gathered at San Pedro Center last month to learn more about the upcoming Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI which begins on October 11. The date coincides with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council II (Vatican II).
“Vatican II gives us many tools to help us understand who we are as a Church,” said Father Ben Berinti, of the San Pedro Spiritual Development Center speaking before the group. “The Year of Faith invites us to take a look at the tools that are central to our faith and renew our efforts in prayer and spirituality and to encounter or deepen our relationship with the person of Christ. “
Father Berinti gave an overview of the events leading up to Vatican II and some of the Council’s important initiatives that have shaped the Church of today.
As the world recovered from World War II, the Catholic Church continued to grow in numbers and influence. “Catholic theology was not very creative, but it was orthodox. There was almost no public disagreement. Catholics knew who they were. They were proud of their Church and had a clear sense of identity,” Father Berinti said.
However, despite its outward strength, inwardly the Church was deeply suspicious of the modern world and was on the defensive. Still, the seeds of Vatican II were beginning to take root, as lay movements began to emerge and many scholars attempted to return to the sources of Catholicism – Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy and philosophy.
“In the midst of this tumultuous time, a remarkable thing happened,” Father Berinti said. “The Holy Spirit came forth in a unique and powerful way to enlighten the minds of humanity and to provide hope for the future. As it happened, a little more than half-way through the century, the world witnessed an event that had only occurred 20 other times in the past 2,000 years -- an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church.”
For the next 50 years, guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church blossomed to its modern-day glory.
Father Berinti said as we look back on this “New Pentecost,” Catholics can draw on many insights and inspirations of living in Vatican II. He presented a few of the gifts and tasks of Vatican II as they pertain to the people of the Church today.
- The Church’s Identity and Mission – Openness to the World: Catholics are called to be a Sacramental Church, engaging in God’s presence in real, living and tangible ways, using all of our senses. “While we must not yield in the face of the all-too-present faces of evil today, neither can we close our eyes to the signals of grace always present where humans seek justice and truth and ask the great questions about life’s meaning and ultimate significance,” Father Berinti said.
- The Role of Lay Women and Men: Through their baptisms, lay women and men are intimately joined to the triple mission of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King and are called by Christ to be his witnesses of the Gospel, especially and uniquely in the secular culture.
- Enrichment of our Faith: We must not only be effective in teaching, spreading and living the Gospel, utilizing the sources of our faith – Sacred Scripture, tradition and the Sacraments, but we must also go out in the world and share the dialogue of faith.
- Dialogue and Learning: The Second Vatican Council reminds us of the Christian obligation to respectful conversation with people whose views may differ markedly from our own. We learn and share by interacting with others who can offer different insights, different experiences and, perhaps most importantly, different questions.
As we prepare for the Year of Faith, we are reminded that Vatican II was and is about bringing each person into a deeper communion with Christ, Father Berinti said. “Any attempts at reform and renewal, whether within our parishes; the church at large; the circles of life within which we move and the multiple relationships we share; or in the very depths of our own souls—will remain doctrinally unsound, emotionally empty, and largely ineffective and irrelevant unless we draw inspiration from Christ and the Holy Spirit. Nothing happens without this on-going encounter with Christ and an on-going radical conversion to him.”