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Change isn’t simple within the Catholic Church, whether or not Vatican II or Pope Francis

(RNS) — Sixty years in the past, a couple of month after I entered the Jesuit novitiate in Los Gatos, California, the Second Vatican Council opened in Rome. Nobody bothered to inform the novices about it. The council went on for 3 years, throughout which I took vows and studied Latin and Greek with out understanding what was occurring on the council.

In these pre-Vatican II days, the novitiate was what sociologists name a “complete establishment,” fully remoted from the remainder of the world, with no entry to newspapers, radio or tv. Besides once I went to the dentist, I didn’t speak to a lady exterior my household for 4 years. The concept was to insulate us from the world so we might dedicate ourselves to our Jesuit formation.

For instance, we had been on retreat throughout the Cuban missile disaster, and nobody bothered to inform us what was occurring. Throughout one break in our research, I discovered a discarded copy of U.S. Information & World Report and browse it from cowl to cowl earlier than I noticed it was a 12 months previous.

In some way, I don’t keep in mind how, I heard the council had issued paperwork. Along with a classmate, I went to the rector of the home and requested if we might have copies of the paperwork of Vatican II. He mentioned he would have to consider it and seek the advice of with among the college.

They lastly determined the 2 of us might have copies of the paperwork, however they’d not be made typically obtainable to our classmates. A month later, they had been necessary studying for everybody.


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The rector was an exquisite man and a Shakespearian scholar who might recite a whole bunch of strains of Shakespeare from reminiscence. The school had been Latin and Greek students. They had been completely out of contact with the fashionable world.

I relate this historical past to point out how unprepared even many Jesuits had been for the adjustments that will come due to the council. We had spent 4 years going to every day Mass in Latin and by no means anticipated to see the Mass in English. We had been taught the church was good and didn’t want to alter.

After 4 years of isolation in Los Gatos, I went to St. Louis College to check philosophy, and all hell broke free. The Mass went into English, and we started receiving from the cup. In the meantime the world was in chaos with warfare in Vietnam and racial battle at dwelling. Being on campus, we might not be remoted from the world.

These in command of Jesuit formation supplied little steerage as a result of they didn’t perceive what was occurring both. It grew to become tough to see superiors because the voice of God once they had been so clearly out of it.

After about 5 years, issues finally settled down; superiors had been appointed who understood Vatican II. However the transition was powerful. You felt such as you had been holding on to your vocation along with your fingernails and with no security internet under. Many left.

Spiritual orders embraced Vatican II quicker than did many dioceses. Spiritual orders are extra adaptable to alter than are dioceses. Bishops are appointed and keep in workplace till they’re 75 years of age. Spiritual superiors are elected for set phrases. In secular phrases, you would possibly say that non secular orders are entrepreneurial, whereas dioceses are like state bureaucracies. Traditionally, change and reform come from non secular orders not from the hierarchy.

I relate this historical past as a result of, sadly, many seminarians and younger clergymen have been going by the identical transition once more. Throughout the papacies of John Paul and Benedict, diocesan seminaries returned to the pre-Vatican II mannequin of isolation from the world. They had been once more advised the church had all of the solutions, and it was their job once they grew to become clergymen to whip the laity into form. They’ve even been taught to like the previous Latin Mass.

Then Francis got here alongside and, like John XXIII, opened the home windows to let contemporary air into the church. Sadly, the individuals operating the diocesan seminaries had been as unprepared for Francis as mine had been for Vatican II. Their bishops had been as out of it as had been my superiors.

As soon as once more, non secular orders had been faster to embrace change beneath Francis than had been dioceses. 


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My coronary heart goes out to the diocesan seminarians and younger clergymen who’re going by the present trauma of change beneath Pope Francis. I can sympathize with them as a result of “been there, completed that.”

Based mostly alone expertise, my suggestion to seminarians and younger clergymen is to belief within the Spirit. Pay attention and attempt to perceive the place Francis is coming from and the place he’s attempting to take the church. Examine the Scriptures and the historical past of the church. They’ll train you that pluralism and alter are constants within the church.

Don’t be afraid of ambiguity and uncertainty. Maintain on by your fingernails. God is devoted. Jesus is compassionate and loving. 

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