Recalling the glory days of Vatican Council II

In this Year of Faith marking the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, there’s no shortage of articles featuring quotes from those surviving bishops, priests and others who were present in Rome for some, or all, of the Council sessions.  

“A comprehensive experience… The part of my life that has been the most unforgettable… Transformational… “

Most of the recollections of this sort that I’ve read suggest a tendency to over-glorify the Council on the part of its participants; you know, kind of like the quasi-canonizations that people sometimes offer when sharing fond memories of long since deceased loved ones that no one really liked (and for damned good reason) back when they were alive.

In any case, it seems to me that the event known as Vatican II looms so very large in the personal history of its now-elderly participants, that many of them imagine that the significance of their very lives is directly tied to the legacy of the Council itself.

In other words, the more magnificently the Council is perceived and the more beneficially meaningful its impact on Catholic life is imagined, the more likely they are to pass from this world comforted by the peace that comes from having rendered a service to the Church to the enduring betterment of future generations.

This being the case, the tendency to over-glorify Vatican II from the standpoint of personal experience often gives rise to unrealistic ruminations about the blessed fruit of the Council in the lives of others as well.

“The beginning of a new springtime for the Church… A leap forward… A wealth of doctrine, of spirituality and of holiness…”

So commonplace are such hyper-inflated assessments that many of us, it seems, simply accept them in spite of our own personal experiences to the contrary; e.g., bankrupt dioceses, parish closings, widespread public dissent, the priest shortage, etc. 

For example, I recently read the Holy Father’s Message for the World Day of Peace in which he mentioned the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which, he said, “helped to strengthen the Church’s mission in the world…”

Now, I know that some of my good Catholic friends shudder at the mere thought of anyone questioning anything that comes from the pen of the pope, and to them I say, brace yourself:

Vatican II? Strengthen the Church’s mission in the world? Really?

Someone far wiser than I am once said (and I regret to say that I don’t recall whom), the Church won’t begin to undertake a realistic evaluation of Vatican II and its proper place in the life of the Church until those who were present at the event are no longer with us.