Bishop Anthony B. Taylor presented this recorded audio message at all Masses Oct. 6-7 to kick off the Year of Faith.
Last March I traveled to Rome for my first "ad limina" visit as bishop of Little Rock. The best part of our trip was our audience with the Holy Father, which highlighted for me what a grace the upcoming Year of Faith can be for us.
This Year of Faith begins Oct. 11, 2012 -- the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, in which Pope Benedict himself participated as a theological advisor to Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne. A fresh reading of the documents of Vatican II will help us see that through this council the Holy Spirit has laid a solid foundation for the new evangelization which we so much need today. I decided to speak with you about this through this recorded message because the Lord is giving us, through this Year of Faith, special spiritual resources to draw on to enable us to open our hearts to a deeper, more personal commitment to the Lord.
This Year of Faith has three basic goals: 1) to open our hearts to get to know Jesus better, 2) to open our minds to understand and embrace Jesus' teachings more fully, and 3) then to engage our wills to address today's issues in the light of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Can you imagine what a different world we would be -- indeed, what a different Church we would be -- if all of us (all Catholics and for that matter, all Christians) had a deep, continually nourished, life-giving relationship with Jesus, embraced his teachings fully and then drew on our faith to address contemporary problems?
We do this by spending time with Jesus in prayer daily, and I especially recommend Mass on weekdays in addition to Sunday, and time spent in adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, in which we make the space to encounter him in the intimacy of our own heart. This quiet prayer of listening is essential because it enables us to open our hearts to hear what Jesus wants to say to us on his side of the conversation.
I'm sure all of you have heard much about Vatican II over the course of the last 50 years, but have you ever actually read these documents? Especially Vatican II's four great constitutions on the liturgy, on sacred Scripture, on the Church itself and on our engagement with the world? I very much encourage you to read them -- or re-read them, as the case may be -- and then go back and pray those documents.
Prayer is what enables the knowledge we have acquired in our brain to travel that longest 18 inches from our head to our heart, and thereby moving from abstract thought to produce concrete actions, which is necessary for the teaching of Jesus to make a real difference in our life and in the life of others.
I was in eighth grade when Mass began to be celebrated in English. I had been an altar boy in Latin since fourth grade, so I remember vividly the before, during and after of Vatican II.
It's really hard for young people today to have any concept of the ghetto mentality that pervaded the Church 50 years ago, especially in places like Arkansas where the Catholic Church was a small minority. I remember well what it was like to be discouraged from reading the Bible out of fear of misinterpreting it and to be forbidden to attend practically anything except funerals in a non-Catholic Church out of fear of contagion. This was not exactly official Church teaching, but it was the practical reality in many parts of the United States as well as in many other countries.
The council fathers realized that this is not what Jesus taught and that it was time for us to lay aside our fear of the outside world. Many of those who today seem so gripped with nostalgia for the time before Vatican II have no actual lived experience of what those days were really like.
So as you pray these documents:
1) I invite you to consider what a blessing it is to be able to participate fully in the Mass, which was not the case prior to Vatican II. In the past much of the laity prayed the rosary privately during Mass, especially prior to the introduction of the "dialogue" Latin Mass in the 1950s, and very few people went to Communion on any given Sunday.
In those days it was very much the priest's Mass and only the priest and altar boys had liturgical roles -- and only they could even hear, in Latin, much of what was going on -- because a lot of it was whispered. That was the reason for the bells: to alert people that the priest had reached the consecration and so they should interrupt their rosaries and other devotions and now direct their attention to the altar. So first, I invite you to consider what a blessing it is to be able to participate fully in the Mass thanks to Vatican II.
2) I invite you also to consider what a blessing it is to be able to study the Scriptures ourselves, now provided with the tools of Catholic biblical scholarship especially we who live in the Bible Belt. This is something that we now just take for granted. We Arkansans have reason to be especially proud of our excellent Little Rock Scripture Study, which is used throughout the United States and beyond, and was the first program of its kind for the laity. It was born right here in Little Rock after the council implemented "Dei Verbum," Vatican II's Constitution on Divine Revelation.
3) I invite you also to marvel at how the Holy Spirit inspired the council fathers to use the inclusive, dynamic image of the People of God to express the common ground we share with other believers.
Vatican II enabled us to recognize that as pilgrims on a journey, we should support our fellow non-Catholic believers in our common effort to know and do God's will as best we understand it. This ecumenical approach was the diametrical opposite of what we had been doing up until then -- not to mention the positive new approach the council took regarding our interfaith relationship with Jews, Muslims and other non-Christian religions.
4) And then I invite you to consider the great blessing of the council's desire to foster a positive relationship between the Church and all of society -- thankful for human progress in many fields, despite all of the attendant problems and challenges, and specifically Vatican II's insights regarding how to draw on our faith to address contemporary issues.
Sure, there are funny stories -- and even horror stories -- about aberrations and missteps in the implementation of the reforms of the council, people who acted on what they perceived to be the "spirit of the council" rather than on what the council documents really said, but these were the exception and serve only to cloud the picture.
So that's the second goal of the coming Year of Faith. To really hear what Jesus wants to say to us today, we need to study these documents and pray them -- much like we pray the Bible in addition to studying it. This will help us to open our hearts to embrace Jesus' teachings with love and live his teachings with the spirit he intends, which is far more than just understanding his teaching intellectually.
So every four years the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to which I belong, produces a very balanced document titled "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship": 1) to clarify why the Church teaches about issues affecting public policy, 2) to remind us of the responsibility of the laity to participate in political life and 3) to indicate the role of the Church in helping Catholics address political and social questions. We do this by helping people develop well-formed consciences. We teach people the virtue of prudence, we remind people that we can never support intrinsically evil acts, and we help people make moral choices that promote the common good.
Currently the common good is most threatened in three areas of public policy that will be key issues in the upcoming elections: 1) the right to life and the dignity of the human person, 2) religious liberty and 3) marriage and family life. These are issues about which there should be no controversy for any Catholic.
The bottom line is that a consistent ethic of life is central to the teaching of Jesus, and his teaching should guide all that we do in every area of life, public and private.
So let us thank the Lord for his desire to enter into a deeper, more personal relationship with us. Let us thank him for his great gift of Vatican II, which helps us to understand his teachings better. And let us ask him to show us how best to draw on our faith to give witness to him now in the concrete realities of today's world.
Audio files from Bishop Taylor's homilies are regularly posted in English and Spanish on the diocesan website. Listen to them at www.dolr.org/audio/index.php.
For more Year of Faith resources, visit these pages on the Diocese of Little Rock website:
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