I was born in 1967, a few years after the Vatican II last convened, but it’s effect was still felt by the churches that I attended while I was growing up. I was a navy brat, but eventually my family settled in California, and we began attending Our Lady of Peace church in Santa Clara. I had a post Vatican II childhood, so my church had guitars for worship, English masses, and lots of “Peace be with you” handshakes. My mom would make us sit in the front of the church, and I remember one time when we attended a Stations of the Cross, the altar boys didn’t show up and my brothers and I were coralled by the priest into holding the cross and candles. It was a nice memory. Father Sweeney and Father Shesheeta were nice priests, even though they always looked rather exhausted, I suspect from too few priests trying to minister to too many people.
When I took my CCD classes to get confirmed, I began to read a lot of books on the Church and that’s when I first discovered Pope John XXIII and Vatican II. As a fellow Angelo, I immediately grew fond of the Pope John XXIII (formerly Angelo Roncalli) that I read about, his kindness and respect to all the people he met, the humor he showed, and his willingness to visit prisoners and look upon even communists as fellow creations of God. He seemed real to me in ways that the Pope at the time, John Paul II, didn’t. I later changed my mind about John Paul II and grew to admire him, but it is still John XXIII that I most like. One of my favorite quotes was from him: “Christianity is not that complex system of oppressive rules which the unbeliever describes; it is peace, joy, love, and a life which is continually renewed, like the mysterious pulse of nature at the beginning of Spring. We must assert this truth as confidently as the Apostles did, and you… must be convinced of it, for it is your greatest treasure, which alone can give meaning and serenity to your daily life.”
This is the Christianity that I wanted in my life. Vatican II represented for me the personality of Pope John XXIII and his vision of a joyous Catholic Church. I loved reading about the opening of the church that Vatican II promised, our opening up to Protestants and a creating of new relationships with Jews and Muslims and those the Church once looked down. It was a church that would look back on its traditions and find those that would help it reach out to the ordinary people in the pews. It reflected on the role of the Pope in relation to his Cardinals, and looked on ways for the Church to relate to the Modern World. One of my favorite books was “Observer in Rome” by Robert McAfee Brown, about a Presbyterian who was invited by the Catholic Church to Rome to observe the Vatican II proceedings. A few years ago, the library discarded the book and I immediately bought it from the library for myself.
Of the many good things that came out of Vatican II, one of the most important was the document Nostra Aetate. It gave the Church a new relationship with nonchrisitan religions, and it was the first step in a reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism and Islam. I’m not sure if ecumenism started with this document or whether Protestant denominations also were doing ecumenical things, but it influenced my view of looking at other religions in a positive light, rather than seeing them as enemies. It wrote:
“Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing “ways,” comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.(4)
The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.”
Nostra Aetate is for me a reflection on the qualities of Vatican II that I most admire: a reaching out and an attempt to understand peoples of diverse experiences and cultures, a willingness to see the God in all peoples, a grounding of all relationships in God’s love. This for me is the Roman Catholic Church at its best, and I feel that’s when it most lives up to its name of being a Catholic, or Universal, Church. I’ll end this post with another quote from Nostra Aetate:
“We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man’s relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: “He who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:8).
No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.
The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to “maintain good fellowship among the nations” (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men,(14) so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.(15)”
If you want to read Nostra Aetate, go to http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents…