Vatican II: A Call to Break Down Barriers
“Finally, may Christ inflame the desires of all men to break through the barriers which divide them, to strengthen the bonds of mutual love, to learn to understand one another, and to pardon those who have done them wrong.”
These words bring the encyclical Pacem in Terris to a monumental conclusion in that Pope John XXIII calls all of us to witness our differences, but more importantly embrace our common commitment to love. It is this very sentence from John XXIII’s famous letter to the world, that captures well my understanding of Catholicism and the universal church. Over the past few months, I’ve been fortunate to encounter many people with regards to the essays I’ve written regarding the Catholic Church and the great love that I have for it. Although others may not always agree with my reflections and observations — as I, too, may disagree with their perspective — the reality is that our common identity as Christians unites us even amid our differences.
Whenever I encounter questions or even doubts regarding my faith, I find great comfort in turning to the words of John XXIII and the fathers of the Second Vatican Council. Consider for instance the following excerpt from Lumen Gentium, “If therefore in the Church everyone does not proceed by the same path, nevertheless all are called to sanctity and have received an equal privilege of faith through the justice of God.” In this, the Council recognized that we all travel a unique path to God in our journey toward peace and justice. Even amid differences, the Council reinforced the singular nature of the human experience of God in Gaudium et Spes:
“For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.”
Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium are only two examples of how the prophetic voice of the Council called the Church out into the world and the world into the Church. In this way, the magnificent love which embodies Catholicism spoke prophetically through the Council’s many sessions and subsequent documents. Still though, for me, the Council’s greatest teachable moment is not found within the confines of a constitution or decree, but rather the dialogue which took place between people of faith from all over the world with starkly different lived experiences. Their willingness to engage in fruitful debate serves as an example for many of us feeling as if we are at a similar juncture in the history of the Church. [More]