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Father Muench Says...

An unexpected evening of enrichment

April 17, 2013

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Jesuit Father John O’Malley is a historian who has written extensively on the history of the Catholic Church.  I have quoted him often in this column, especially concerning the Second Vatican Council.  One of his recent books is about the Council – this is entitled, “What happened at Vatican II.”  The book is a wonderful, factual account of the Council.

A few weeks ago, just after Easter, I traveled to Syracuse to visit.  My brother, Tom, who is in the Admissions Department at LeMoyne  College, invited me and our cousin, Father Tom McGrath, a priest of the Syracuse Diocese, to lunch at the college. Father Bill Dolan, a Jesuit at LeMoyne, made certain we would visit the priests at the Jesuit Residence on the campus.  I did renew my acquaintance with some of my Jesuit friends there. 
I also met Father O’Malley, who was visiting the campus.  I then learned that he was to give a lecture on the Vatican Council that very evening so I decided to stay over one more day and attend the lecture. His presentation was sort of an overview of the Second Vatican Council.  I was interested to see what he would consider the more important results of the Council.

He began with Pope John XXIII – and the surprise of his calling of the Council.  He did emphasize that Pope John was a good, even brilliant theologian.  The calling of a Council was very important to him. Father O’Malley stressed the Council’s theme of the Call to Universal Holiness. 

The Fifth Chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) is entitled and concerned with The Call to Holiness.  Holiness, the Council says, is what the Church is all about.  This then set an agenda for the entire Council – the call to holiness became a theme that runs throughout the council – it comes up in several of the other documents – the call for holiness for Bishops, for priests, for seminarians – and in a rather unique way for the laity.  No previous council had ever explicitly asserted this idea.

Father O’Malley mentioned the importance of the document on the Sacred Liturgy and the changes that resulted from the Councils discussions.  This document urged the full and active participation of all the people in the Church’s liturgy – clergy and laity. Father O’Malley gave great importance to the Council’s emphasis on Ecumenism. 

The Council urged the Church to establish new and better relationships with the other Christian Churches.
Personally, I remember how this influenced my own ministry after the Council.  To this day, I have enjoyed good relations with ministers and people of other Churches.  Often, as I was assigned to a new parish – the first to welcome me to the parish were pastors of the neighboring Protestant parishes.  Father O’Malley also reminded us of the Council’s concern for reaching out to those who have no religion or no beliefs.

Finally, Father O’Malley chose to recall the Council’s Statement on Religious Liberty – a subject that was discussed long and hard at the Council. Religious Liberty the Council emphasized as the right of a human person to the free exercise of their religion according to the dictates of their conscience.  The Council stated that religious liberty is a part of the Catholic tradition.  The fundamental point was that human beings, created in the image and likeness of God are called by that very fact to seek and follow the will of God in their lives as that is made manifest to them through their conscience.

So – meeting Father O’Malley stirred up my interest to again dig into more reading on the Second Vatican Council, especially since I was recently given the Journal of the Council by the great theologian, Father Yves Congar.

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