‘A call to ‘holy conversation:’ Theologian says that’s what we need 50 years after Vatican II


By Barb Arland-Fye

Theologian Richard Gaillardetz spoke about Vatican II at St. Ambrose University in Davenport Oct. 21. The event was sponsored by the Catholic Sisters of the Upper Mississippi River Valley.

DAVENPORT — Just four years old when the Second Vatican Council opened in 1962, theologian Richard Gaillardetz later discovered in his studies how close the council came to becoming a disaster. What transformed Vatican II into the most important event in Roman Catholicism since the Reformation?
Through his quest for answers, Gaillardetz has become a sought-after professor, lecturer and author who shared his insights Oct. 21 with an audience of several hundred people at St. Ambrose University in Dav­enport.
During that talk, sponsored by the Catholic Sisters of the Upper Mississippi River Valley, the Boston College professor described Vatican II as a significant, yet unfinished building and offered suggestions for completing it. Theologian Hermann Pottmeyer, from whom Gaillardetz borrowed the unfinished building metaphor, compared Vatican II to the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in 16th century Rome where the old edifice still existed. How does one incorporate the best of both edifices?
The Church of the Reformation era had served its purpose but, in the minds of many people, it was no longer adequate to meet the pastoral demands of the Church in the era in which Vatican II took place, Gaillardetz said.  Papal monarchism — with its pomp and pageantry and trickle-down approach to being Church was in need of change.
Gaillardetz identified the foundational columns for the “new edifice” that Vatican II started:
• A shift toward a personalist and Trinitarian theology of revelation; God shares God’s very self with people through Jesus Christ. “Dogma draws our gaze to the beauty of God revealed in Christ our savior,” Gaillardetz said.
• Dialogical engagement. Dialogue replaces condemnation and should occur within the Church, with other Christians and with the world.
• The Church’s recovery of the theology of baptism. Whether clergy or laity, the primary identity of Catholics is baptism.
• Renewed emphasis on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guides the Church in the way of truth and bestows upon it different hierarchic and charismatic gifts. Gaillardetz observed that “what we need to find are people who are able to recognize and celebrate the gifts of other people.”
• Episcopal collegiality.  Vatican II recognized and affirmed the teachings of Vatican I about papal authority and infallibility, but envisioned the bishops, with the pope, sharing universal leadership over the whole Church, Gaillardetz explained. However, the council provided no steps for implementation.
• Humility proper to a pilgrim Church. Perfection will come to the Church only in the consummation of history. The Catholic Church is eschatological, meaning that its believers view one’s life with God after death of primary importance. Catholics are pilgrims on a journey. They know where they are going, but have not yet arrived.
Completing the edifice that Vatican II started requires Catholics to take additional challenging steps, Gaillardetz said:
• Be open to what he calls “holy conversation,” a respectful, intentional form of conversation that allows the faithful to view their own beliefs with new eyes.
• Practice eschatological humility, which means being a disciple of Jesus without the smug attitude of thinking you have all of the truth in your back pocket.
Much of what Gaillardetz calls for requires a willingness to listen to others with different viewpoints and to reflect on the Word of God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The capacity for listening becomes all the more crucial in a culture that divides itself along the lines of “First Things” readers and “National Catholic Reporter” readers, none of whom would dare to read the other’s publication.  “We are aping the worst of our (secular) culture,” Gaillardetz said.
During the question and answer session, an audience member asked how Vatican II would have been different if women had been allowed a voice on the council.  Gaillardetz turned the question on its head, acknowledging the impoverishment of the council because of the lack of voices of many groups of people. Catholics forget that the council was a product of the times in which it occurred, he noted.
Catholics in the U.S., whether liberal, conservative or in between, need to acknowledge other voices in the Church. Significant growth in Catholicism in such places as the Philippines requires a paradigm shift in what it means to be a global Church, Gaillardetz added.
For those hoping for Vatican III, Gaillardetz suggests a “Manila I” council ought to be held to receive input about the faith from Catholics in the Philippines and from countries in the southern hemisphere where Catholicism is growing.
Mike Schmidt, 31, an engineer and member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, was among the youngest members of the audience, along with Claire Russell, 25, a student at Palmer College of Chi­ropractic in Davenport. Schmidt said he attended because he wanted a better understanding of a significant event in Church history that happened before he was born. Russell, who accompanied Schmidt, said she appreciated the analogy about the old and new edifice and learning “what we’re trying to do as a Church.”
Joyce and Art Ollie, Lutherans from Clinton, also attended the talk. “I remember the excitement (of Vatican II),” Joyce said. “It was like the Catholic Church was opening up to dialogue.” It seemed as if a wall that separated Catholics and Lutherans was being torn down, added Joyce, a Clinton Franciscans associate who also serves on the board of Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat near Wheatland. “I want to take Franciscan values to my home church by learning,” she said.

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