Canonizing the Council

A few years ago I had a discussion with a colleague about the spirit of Vatican II. He noted:

“Perhaps they should admit that this wasn’t an ecumenical council. It was just a local council and therefore the changes that the council prescribed do not have to be followed?”

Now this person stated it as a question, but he was technically giving ascent to the idea.

The announcement yesterday that Pope Francis will canonize both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII is clearly an attempt to not merely canonize these two men but also to get beyond the different factions that resulted after the council and to promote the need for us to continue to live in dynamic tension with each other.

The NY Times said:

Alberto Melloni, the director of the John XXIII Center in Bologna, Italy, said Francis was holding to the pattern of promoting John, popular among liberals, by pairing him with a pope more popular among conservatives. Mr. Melloni said soon after John’s death in 1963, a campaign to have him acclaimed a saint during the Vatican Council was countered by the conservative wing of the church, which soon after opened the canonization process for Pius XII, a staunch anti-Communist who led the church during World War II.

“John XXIII is the father of Vatican II, and to canonize him is to canonize the council as such and its intention of renewal and unity,” Mr. Melloni said. “But the Vatican is also taking into consideration the tension and sometimes harsh debate that arose around the council, and so they have remained faithful to the idea of linking John XXIII with someone else.” Pairing the popes “also balances a very long canonization process with an incredibly accelerated procedure,” he added. John Paul II will become a saint only nine years after his death.

Pope Francis is indeed trying to provide “a little something for everyone” or in this case perhaps a big something. But I think he’s also trying to remind those who might disagree that Vatican II is legitimate.

And that it’s not going away. And that many reforms of Vatican II have not yet been realized.

And that the two most prominent Popes of the Second Vatican Council are now saints–that seems to speak volumes about the council.

I’m just a bit too young to understand the widespread change that formed in the church as a result of Vatican II. But I have seen the divisive factions that form as a result of this. It reminds me a lot of Isaac and Ishmael.

“They came together to bury their father.”

And now we must come together to honor the saints, to honor those people who built our history. And for better or for worse, we honor those who we sometimes disagree with, who didn’t always get things right but who were determined to stay the course and to work through differences in love for the church, the people of God.

The canonization of both Popes is just one more call to mercy from Pope Francis. It is a call to factions to release resentments that they hold against each other and to come together to celebrate the church’s rich history since the council. It was started by a liberalizing reformer and it was led post council for a long time by a doctrinal conservative.

And yet, the church lives! It may be a bit battered and bruised at times, but it doesn’t quite ever sleep. It celebrates it’s dedication to justice as it critiques itself from time to time and calls on others to inform the church of where she’s got it wrong and more importantly, where it is doing things right.

The Pope hopes to call all of us into a new way of being church, one that is not liberal or conservative, but rather merciful. Mercy calls each one of us to remember that we indeed need to love those whom we don’t always care for because they are just as likely to be saints as we are. Most people’s hearts are in the right place. No matter where we stand on any number of issues. Highlighting that mercy, brings us into the peace that God offers to us.

So let’s pray for peace and compromise and for love of one another. So that we in our desire to love can too become servants of God and ultimately be called into the beauty of God’s kingdom. Amen

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