The Beginning of The Year of Faith

This Thursday, October 11, will mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, known to most people as Vatican II. It was the most important religious event of the 20th Century: it drew the attention of the world’s media and it led to sweeping changes both in the way Catholics experienced their faith and in the way non-Catholics thought of the Catholic Church.

The Council was announced in January 1959 by Pope John XXIII, to the great astonishment of the small group of cardinals to whom he was speaking that day. No one expected that the newly elected and rather elderly Pope would call the first ecumenical council since 1871. But he did it. In the fall of 1962 the Council Fathers (the bishops of the world) arrived in Rome by ship and train – probably very few by airplane. Vatican II was a real event. Its first day – October 11 was also a Thursday that year – began with a procession of the 2400 bishops into the Basilica of St. Peter. It had rained during the night, but the sun had come out and the cobblestones were almost dry by the time the long procession ended with Pope John, who was carried in on the portable throne called the sedia gestatoria. When the Holy Father reached the altar, he prayed and then all sang the Veni, Creator Spiritus (Come, Creator Spirit) to begin the Second Vatican Council.

I have gone into this detail in order to make it plain that the great event which was Vatican II was a real series of meetings attended by real people. It took place in four sessions that were each about two months long, in the autumns of 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1965. As people of faith, we strongly believe the Council was guided by the Holy Spirit. And I am writing because we are people of faith, who have been called to give that faith special attention in the year that stretches out before us.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed a Year of Faith. It will begin on Thursday with a Mass in St. Peter’s Square celebrated by the Holy Father, and will continue until the Solemnity of Christ the King on November 24, 2013. Because the Catechism of the Catholic Church – itself a fruit of the Council – was officially published on the 30th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, October 11 also marks the 20th anniversary of that great compilation of Church teaching that has made the faith so much more accessible. Thus the Year of Faith is occasioned by a twofold anniversary. The Holy Father last year wrote an apostolic letter called Porta Fidei (“Door of Faith”) to prepare the Church for the Year of Faith. In the letter, he states:

It seemed to me that timing the launch of the Year of Faith to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council would provide a good opportunity to help people understand that the texts bequeathed by the Council Fathers, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church’s Tradition … I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.” I would also like to emphasize strongly what I had occasion to say concerning the Council a few months after my election as Successor of Peter: “if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church” (Porta Fidei 5).

 Later in the letter, Pope Benedict uses the example of Lydia, the woman who heard St. Paul preach shortly after his arrival on the continent of Europe. Lydia opened her heart to hear what St. Paul was saying, as recounted in Acts 16:14, and her life was changed. She became a disciple. Pope Benedict tells us it’s not enough to know the content of the faith – the facts. We need to allow God’s grace to open our hearts to the realization that what we hear proclaimed is actually the Word of God. When we realize that, we can never think of belief as a private act. Once we understand our faith, we need to commit to it publicly. The Year of Faith will be a time to explore what that means in the life of each of us.

Here in the parish, we are going to mark the Year of Faith in several ways. I want to invite you to attend one or all of the sessions on Vatican II that will be led by Lisa Amos between the morning Masses on the five Sundays from October 14 through November 11. We will be looking at the question, “What does Vatican II mean for you, a Catholic in the world today?” I also want to encourage you to read Archbishop Nienstedt’s pastoral letter that was included in the latest issue of the Catholic Spirit newspaper. He mentions one way the Archdiocese will be helping us grow in faith this year: our parish happens to be the host of the kickoff meetings next month of the Rediscover Initiative. Every parish will be distributing a free book at all of the Christmas Masses, so we won’t miss anyone, and we will have opportunities in each parish to discuss what is in this book that has already proven so popular around the world. Please keep watching for more about the Year of Faith!

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