28 Ordinary October 14, 2012 – Vatican Two Reinterpreted
The “nones” are back in the news. No, not the “nuns” — the women religious whom we love. Spelled n-o-n-e-s, “nones” are those Americans who do not identify with any religion and their numbers are growing. New research tells us that 20% of the US population (34% of adults under the age of thirty) are religiously unaffiliated. These “nones” believe in God, they seek spiritual lives and they pray. They just do not belong to a religion.
The PEW Forum on Religion in Public Life reports that the “nones” feel organized religion is too concerned with money, rules and politics. They are less convinced that religion strengthens community bonds, helps poor and needy people and protects moral principles. As Catholics we have to ask what is our church doing to reach out to those who feel disenfranchised.
As you know October 11th marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Vatican Two Ecumenical Council. In his opening speech in 1962 (how old were you in 1962?) Pope John 23 expressed his hope that through the Council the church would “gain in spiritual riches and find new sources of energy enabling it to face the future without fear.” The church’s teachings are valuable treasures, said John 23. However, they should not be guarded as rare museum pieces. Instead they should be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms.  The pope understood the line in today’s second reading: “the Word of God is still alive and effective.”
Here is one example of a fresh reformulation. When the Council spoke of the universal call to holiness  it did not negate the hierarchical nature of the church but it did change the perception that the clergy were the only ones responsible for governance, worship, education and ministry in the church.
The updating (aggiornamento) in our church over the past fifty years, especially in the ways we worship and relate to all other religious traditions, has left an indelible mark on the identity of our church and our place in modern society. At the same time many clergy and laity today believe that the teachings of Vatican Two have been misinterpreted. They claim the ways in which the teachings have been implemented lack sufficient continuity (ressourcement) with the long traditions of the church.
Interpretations matter. Everyday we try to interpret all kinds of consumer reports and studies for different viewpoints and facts before buying an appliance, a car, a house or food in market. Today’s gospel is a good example of interpretation. Taken literally, if you are very wealthy the chances of getting into heaven are slim. However, by studying the texts, i.e., analyzing the social and cultural contexts, we might come up with another interpretation.
Scholars offer multiple ways of reading biblical texts. In this example, some suggest the story refers primarily to a life of discipleship rather than the renunciation of riches.  It is what we do with what we have that is important. The young man in the gospel was put on the spot because of his attitude. He did not want to share his wealth with others.  This interpretation helps us read the gospel in fresh terms.
No doubt the world and the church are different from what they were fifty years ago. We too are different. Perhaps what we can learn from Pope John 23 and this gospel text is that what lies ahead for all of us will depend on how we, in his words, “study afresh and reformulate in contemporary terms” what our church can be. That is our responsibility.
1 Pope John XXIII – Address at the Opening of Vatican Council II – 11 October 1962
2 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) 5, 39
3 Reginald H. Fuller. The Word of God for the Church Today The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 357-359.
4 John J. Pilch. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B. The Liturgical Press. 1996. 148-150.