A Day Made Possible by Vatican II

By Devett O’Brien, Secretary-General of the International Young Christian Students reporting from the Synod in Rome

Devett O'Brien

Tomorrow will see massive celebrations in Rome and around the world to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Opening of the Second Vatican Council. As majestic as the celebrations may be, the events in the Synod in the last 24 hours emphasise the impact of the Council, the seemingly commonplace things that would not have been possible before Vatican II.

The good news coming out of the Synod from last night and today was an increasing focus on hearing the voice of the laity.

Cardinal Ouellet presented yesterday evening on the reception by the Church of “Verbum Domini,” the outcome document of the last General Synod which was on the Word of God. In his closing summary last night he was reportedly extremely animated in saying that many Priests were not effective in their preaching and that to improve this they should not only look to preaching aids and other Priests but more importantly to ask the lay people to tell them how to improve.

Archbishop Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict XVI meet at the Synod

A number of Bishops referred to lay people in their talks and the need for Bishops to let themselves be evangelised by lay people, especially the poor. We also have reports of some Cardinals expressing the sentiment that “we’re not just here to listen to more Bishops” and urging the lay auditors and particularly women to be vocal inside the working groups.

This evening’s session included the historic address of Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Anglican Communion. Giving the first ever address by an Anglican Bishop to a Synod in Rome, his reflection centred around the importance of contemplation.

To take quotes out of it feels like hacking into a Da Vinci masterpiece with a butter knife. But I will highlight two of them below to encourage you to read the whole text:

“And we seek this not because we are in search of some private ‘religious experience’ that will make us feel secure or holy. We seek it because in this self-forgetting gazing towards the light of God in Christ we learn how to look at one another and at the whole of God’s creation.”

“To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.”

I think this is the best and dare I say it the most Catholic presentation of the Synod so far! Please have a read of the whole text at www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2645/

These three occasions of the day would each have been unimaginable 50 years ago. They shine a spotlight on both how far we’ve come and how far we have to go as a Church. For full participation of lay people, for involvement of women in Church leadership and for Ecumenism we see that we are still at the early stages of newly evangelizing the Church itself. I will steal the closing words of Australian Archbishop Tim Costelloe SDB in his presentation last night which I think apply well to this moment:
“the greatest challenge facing the Church today is to return the Church to Christ and to return Christ to the Church – not to become other than we are but to become more fully who and what we are.”