Fruits of the Council: Two retiring bishops recall careers animated by Vatican II
On Feb. 13, 2013, Bishops Matthew H. Clark and Howard Hubbard were honored for their long episcopal service in upstate New York with the presidential medal from Fordham University. In his introductory remarks, President Joseph McShane, S.J., lauded Bishops Clark and Hubbard for affirming “a vision of the church in which the laity are fully empowered to serve the Gospel through their diverse talents. Each in his own way has helped ensure that the Good News truly comes alive in the world today.
“Together, these remarkable men have been tireless promoters of the Second Vatican Council’s call to the laity to take up vocations that ‘harmonize with the general good of the human race’ and ‘unhesitatingly devise new enterprises’ capable of repairing a world broken by sin.”
Here are excerpts from the bishops’ remarks.
Prayers for the Church
My overarching awareness of the experience of 50 years of priesthood and 34 years of episcopal service is that it all began at the same time that Vatican II began. That realization leaves me deeply and abidingly grateful for the wonderful fruits of the council. It also makes me aware that there is much yet to be done. It has been my privilege all these years to walk with people whose faith and generosity make the Kingdom come every day. The lay faithful, women and men religious, our priests and deacons in great number really do get it, that they are gifted by and called to holiness, that they are to participate fully, actively and consciously in the life of the church; that they are to be salt and light for others.
They know that we are in this together. They know that we embrace Christ most lovingly when we embrace the poor, the lonely and the dispossessed. They know that we are part of a faith community which is poorer than God wants us to be without the gifts of all. Such people do continually inspire me, and I believe that God’s gracious providence has contributed to my ongoing, continuing human and ministerial formation through all the years. Shifting into this new phase of my life, I welcome the opportunity to pray in gratitude for the people among whom I have served, and for their continued growth. I shall be praying, as well, that God will inspire us to continuing, ongoing conversion.
Among the prayers and hopes I have for our beloved church are these: the revival of a genuine experience of subsidiarity in the church, so that people at every level are free to do what they do best and what they generally can do better than anyone else; and a fresh realization that pastoral authority is meant to serve freedom and communion, not only by setting legitimate limits but by listening and learning from those it serves. To grow in genuine communion, we need much more honest, respectful, even tough conversation in our church, especially around matters that are disputed. Such conversations need to center more on seeking the Truth than on who holds the power.
I pray, too, that we will strive always to translate into appropriate structures and significant decisions what our pastoral statements say about women in the church; that we will widen the pastoral embrace of the church to welcome more fully and affectionately our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers; that we will rejoice that God touches the hearts of our laity with a call to pastoral ministry, not seeing that call as in competition with priesthood; that we will be especially attentive and open to the faith experience of people who show every sign of being devoted disciples of the Lord, but who say all too frequently, “I am finding it very difficult to remain a Roman Catholic.”
I conclude by telling you that the beginning of the emeritus life has been wonderful. It allows a continued opportunity for apostolic ministry; it has opened the door for more prayer, study and thought about our pilgrimage together. Even at this stage of looking back over the years, I am profoundly encouraged by what has happened. I am also aware that growth is not always linear or uninterrupted, that we always stand in need of reform. But, my friends, I do believe and know at the very core of my being that the good work our loving God has begun in us, God will one day bring to completion.
(Most Rev.) Matthew H. Clark
A Defense of the Council
I am delighted to be able to receive this honor tonight together with my good friend Bishop Clark, who, for over 50 years, has been for me a role model, a mentor and a source of inspiration. He and I had not talked about what we would share tonight. If this sounds like an echo, it is because of our 50 years of friendship.
I was very privileged to study in Rome, living at the North American College from 1960 to 1964, and matriculating at the Pontifical Gregorian University sponsored by the Society of Jesus. I had extraordinary teachers like Fathers Bernard Lonergan, Francis Sullivan, Josef Fuchs, René Latourelle, all of whom were sharing with us in the classroom so much of the theology, ecclesiology and Scripture that was to inform the deliberations of the Council Fathers.
The documents produced by the Second Vatican Council, and the education I received at the Gregorian University, have been the most profound influence in my life’s journey. The "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church" declares that the church is no longer to proceed as a perfect institution, symbolized by a triangle—with a pope at the top—but as a collection of people, men, women and children, ordained, vowed and lay, who are the living stones that build up the Temple of God in our midst.
The council’s document on Divine Revelation restore sacred Scripture to its rightful place in the life of the church, and points out that the purpose of reading and proclaiming Scripture is not to force an ancient document upon a modern community, a stale missive from the sterile archives of the past. But, rather, the purpose of reading and proclaiming God’s Word is to understand that God’s Word is active and present, creating a ferment within the community, for God’s Word is a living word, which brings about what it proclaims.
The documents on the liturgy restore the vernacular as the ordinary way in which we celebrate the rituals of the church and call for the full, active participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments. The "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" asks us to appreciate the signs of the time, to understand that the church is not a spiritual oasis or island, immune from the world and the challenges, but the church is to engage the world, to listen to the world, to learn from the world. And the sparkling opening sentence of that constitution points out that “the joys and sorrows, the hopes and disappointments of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to find an echo in our hearts.”
The decree on the laity reminds us that all the members of the church, by virtue of baptism, are called to holiness in ministry, and that the prime role of the laity in marriage and family life, in labor and management, in the arts and the sciences, in healthcare and technology is to transform our world by living in it, with the values and ideas of Jesus Christ.
The decree on ecumenism is one of the most startling decrees to emerge from the council. Most of the council Fathers entered that great deliberative body with the vision that the goal of ecumenism would be to heal the schism with the orthodox churches and to have the reformed Protestant congregations return to the Catholic Church. But in the course of their deliberations on the biblical, patristic and historical understanding of the church, the Council fathers came to recognize that there is a spiritual union that exists among all of us who are baptized into Christ Jesus, and that the bonds that unite us are much stronger than the historical and documental differences which have tended to separate us; and that, together, we must work diligently and tirelessly to bring about that unity for which Christ prayed so fervently on the night before He suffered and died.
The decree "Nostra Aetate" celebrated all that is good and holy in all of the great religions of the world, and, in a special way, told of that deep relationship that we have with God’s chosen people, the Jewish community. It repudiated the charge of deicide, which had led to the anti-Semitism that existed in the church for nearly 2,000 years, as evidenced in the Crusades, in the Inquisition, in the pogroms and in the soil that gave root to the insidious and unspeakable Shoah. And then the "Declaration on Religious Liberty," crafted by the great American Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, who took the experience of Catholicism in our United States, of Catholics living in a pluralistic society, and brought it to bear on the church universal. These constitutions, decrees and declarations have been the motivating, animating and sustaining influence in my near-50 years of priesthood and 36 years of episcopal ministry.
There are some today who would maintain that the vision of Vatican II has failed, that it has resulted in the loss of members, in the decline of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and apathy and indifference regarding the celebration of Mass and the sacraments in religious literacy; in a washed-down pan-Christianity, in the diminution of the role of religion in the public square and in succumbing to the secularism, individualism, narcissism, consumerism and moral relativism that are so pervasive in our contemporary society and world.
However, it should be noted that the orthodox churches and the Protestant communities did not have the Second Vatican Council, yet they are experiencing similar if not even greater problems that we are having in the Roman Catholic Church, and, indeed, our problems today are all too evident for people to behold. But I would submit that, without the Second Vatican Council, the contemporary challenges we face in the church would be even more exacerbated. And I would also contend that it is not so much that Vatican II has been tried and failed but, rather, we have not tapped and unleashed fully its rich potential.
Certainly, the teachings of the council need to be nuanced and updated in light of a half-century of experience of erroneous interpretations from both the left and the right, and of new pastoral, theological and social issues that have arisen since the 1960s. But I am convinced that the Second Vatican Council provides us with a sound and trustworthy framework for appreciating the expectation of Christ in order to fulfill His Mission in this third millennium of the Christian era.
(Most Rev.) Howard Hubbard