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Father Muench Says...
My place as a priest became clearer

Sept. 12, 2012

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I want to continue sharing with you my journey as a priest, a journey that was profoundly influenced by the Second Vatican Council in my days as a young priest. The Second Vatican Council began 50 years ago, three years after my ordination as a priest. 

This October, as the Catholic Church celebrates that anniversary, you will often see that spectacular picture of the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica filled with more than 2,000 Bishops from every country in the world. Those Bishops – the Council Fathers – were to promulgate 16 documents, which were to profoundly influence our Catholic Church – and me – influencing how the Church communicates itself to the world.  This Second Vatican Council continues to guide and form our Church that you and I know today.

The Council formed two documents concerning the Church, answering what the Catholic Church is all about.  There was so much discussion and investigation by the Bishops that two documents on this subject of the Church were necessary.  There is the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – “Lumen Gentium”  from the first words of the document. 

The other – concerned with practical matters is “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.”  There was much open discussion, even debating, concerning these documents but, both documents were approved almost unanimously.

During my seminary days I had studied and read much about the traditional teaching concerning the Church.  The First Vatican Council had discussed much about the Church but, for various reasons, had not completed its work in this regard. 

Then, at the Second Vatican Council, the Bishops, the Council Fathers, working together to form the Council pronouncements, saw a need of setting a different vision of the Church. This vision was more Biblical, more historical, more vital and dynamic – a Church in the world,  yet, not of it. You can’t imagine how this teaching touched my life. I saw my role as a priest changing as the Council showed us just what the Church was about.
Previously, the Catholic teaching on Church – a teaching I was formed in during seminary – placed an emphasis on the hierarchical (where does everyone fit in the Church from Pope to people?)  and the juridical (what are the rules and laws?)

Now, the Council calls upon the Church to be more pastoral in character, a spirit that has formed the Church and continues to form the Church today.  The Church should be a “loving Mother of all,” spreading Christian charity everywhere,  says the Council.  The Church should continue the work of the Good Shepherd who came to serve and not to be served, who did not hesitate to lay down his life for his sheep.  This image has dominated my priesthood and I pray will continue to dominate the Catholic Church.

I pray that our Church will always witness to this. I hope you see how wonderful the Council touched our Church, even changed the vision of us all toward our Church, all of us, Bishops, priests and people. I love the Church. I find my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, coming alive for us all in the Church.  This Second Vatican Council led me to a new love, a continuing love for the Catholic Church.

My place as a priest in the Church became clearer after the Council.  I saw and understood my place as a pastor: to reach out like the Good Shepherd to those in need.  I found myself more united in a more wonderful way with the people I worshiped with, with the people I lived with in the parish and also with my Bishop.

There is so much more to tell about how the Second Vatican Council guides and forms me and our Church... stay tuned for next week’s column!


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