Vatican II and the Church in the world: Archbishop Chaput challenges Catholics to live council’s vision

.- Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput opened a new lecture series being sponsored by the Archdiocese to a packed house last evening as he reflected on the role and meaning of councils in the Church and the world and the unique vocation of bishops.

Archbishop Chaput’s timely lecture comes as the Church prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council later this fall.

Speaking on the uniqueness of the Christian vocation, the Archbishop said that, “A man born of a Jewish mother is Jewish by virtue of his birth.  He may be very religious, or lukewarm, or an atheist.  But he’s still, in real sense, a Jew.” 

“Being Catholic”, he said, “is a very different kind of experience.  Baptism is necessary to being a Catholic.  But it’s not enough as we grow in age.  As Catholics, we become defined by what we believe, how we worship, and how actively we live our faith in public and in private.”

“It’s not possible”, Archbishop Chaput continued, “to be what some people call a ‘cultural’ Catholic.  Catholic culture comes from an active Catholic faith.  Unless we truly believe and practice our faith, ‘Catholic culture’ is just a dead skin of nostalgia and comfortable habits.”

Councils and the culture

The Archbishop recalled that in its history, the Church has held 21 different ecumenical councils, which are important not just for the Church, but for the whole world.

He summarized the common marks of an ecumenical council saying: “All are either called or confirmed by the Pope.  All involve bishops and other persons entitled to vote from around the world.  And all become part of the content of our faith once the Holy Father approves the results.”

On this, he quoted Blessed Pope John XXIII, who said that all “ecumenical councils, whenever they are assembled, are a solemn celebration of the union of Christ and His Church, and hence lead to the universal radiation of truth.”

The Archbishop went on to discuss the importance of the Second Vatican Council, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of it’s close this fall, saying that “all of us have been shaped by it”, and it will “probably continue to shape Catholics for decades to come.”

Summarizing the main aim of the council, he said that, “the Church in 1945 and the Church in 2005 has exactly the same goal: the proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ for the conversion and salvation of the world, through the truth of the Catholic faith.  The methods and structures may differ.  The mission hasn’t changed.”

On this point, he explained the nature of the Church--a body composed of human beings, but aimed and focused on something higher.

“When people say, ‘we are the Church,’” the Archbishop stressed, “of course that’s true…

But a ‘community of faith’ or a ‘community of the faithful’ implies that there’s Someone and something we have the duty to be faithful to.  We don’t invent the Catholic faith.  Nor do we own it.  We receive it; we live it in community; we witness it to others; and we pass it on fully -- as good stewards -- to our children.  That’s what life in the Church means.”

Citing the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, Archbishop Chaput laid out a vision of what the Church truly is, and truly ought to be in the world--all the way from the roles of laity up to that of priests and the bishops.

Fathers of souls

The Archbishop closed his talk by touching on the vocation of bishops within the Church, a role which Vatican II says is “a call to serve rather than a call to power.”

“Bishops”, he said, “have the same need for redemption as the people to whom they belong.  The only difference is that God will hold bishops even more accountable because of the leadership to which He ordained them, and because of the graces of office that they’ve received.” 

Archbishop Chaput described this vision, borrowing from the wisdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch, as he said: “Every bishop is a successor to the apostles and a pastor of souls.  Every bishop has the duty to safeguard the liturgical life of the local Church.”

“Every bishop”, he continued, “must proclaim the Gospel and teach the true Catholic faith in his diocese.  Every bishop should give an example of personal sanctity in charity, humility and simplicity of life.  Every bishop should help the poor and suffering.  Every bishop has the obligation to sanctify, encourage, correct and govern the local People of God.”

“Above all,” he said, “every bishop needs to do these things with fatherly love and fraternal charity, because the Church is a family of faith.  It’s not a political party or an impersonal institution.  It’s a family – a family of faith…A good father will do almost anything, and bear almost anything, to keep his daughter or son in the family.”

In a time in which many criticize and many more misunderstand the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Chaput said that, ultimately, “whether history judges Vatican II as a success or a failure finally depends on us -- bishops, clergy, religious and laypeople alike – and how zealously we live our faith; how deeply we believe; and how much apostolic courage we show to an unbelieving world that urgently needs Jesus Christ.” 

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