Pope John XXIII said, in his opening address to the bishops and cardinals convened in Rome at the start of the second Vatican council, “The council now beginning rises in the Church like daybreak, a forerunner of most splendid light. It is now only dawn. And already at this first announcement of the rising day, how much sweetness fills our heart.” My parents were young Catholics in the years that followed Vatican II, heady years in which anything seemed possible and in which, too often, old and good devotions were thrown out in favor of modernizing the Church. I grew up in milieu of the “spirit of Vatican II”, one in which I was certain that God loved me but not terribly sure of much else. With little doctrinal formation, I entered my young adult years confused and, not until my university studies did I encounter the riches of Catholic teaching.
Because of my childhood experience of “post-Vatican II” Catholicism, I resented what I thought was the council, namely a demysticizing, desacralizing, and deconstructing ruckus. Only in recent years have I encountered the actual documents of the council, documents that proclaim the beauty and freedom of life lived in Christ. The Second Vatican Council issued an invitation to the lay faithful that is only beginning to be answered. Gaudium Et Spes, as well as Lumen Gentium, are filled with wonderful statements about the universal call to holiness and the lovely duty of the laity to evangelize the world, statements that, the more fully they are answered, will truly bring about the “springtime of the Church” that our beloved John Paul II so often heralded.
This call to the laity has been on my mind often lately, as Devin and I talk and dream about a monastic neighborhood. We so much want to offer our lives in service to Christ and wonder just what part we will play in salvation history. We see the many lay initiatives springing up among young Catholics, ministries as far reaching as the fashion industry, Hollywood’s bright lights, the football field, and so forth. And, we become excited. Because, we want to be part of this massive movement of re-evangelizing the West, and we wonder if we might be part of a “neighborhood” apostolate that helps soothe the terrible loneliness wearying human hearts.
A young Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in 1970, “We are living at a tremendous turning point in the evolution of mankind, at a turning point compared with which the transition from Middle Ages to modern times seems as nothing…the city of man is beginning to strike terror into our hearts.” (Faith in the Future; pgs. 80, 85) If this is so, and I believe that he saw clearly, then only God knows where the turning point will take us. It seems to me that one can choose to see cause for bleak despair or great hope in our age; as for me and my family, we look with great wonder at the beauty of the rising day.