Giovanni da Gaeta, Mater Misericordiae (1448)
This is the title of a lecture I was due to give in Clifton Cathedral this evening, which has unfortunately been cancelled. I was going to talk on Lumen Gentium and Mary in the Church. In a nutshell, I would have said that the Second Vatican Council was not an event but the beginning of a process. Inevitably, that process involves a painful birthing of new ways of being in the world, a letting go of old familiar practices and habits, and an opening up to the God of the future who is always coming to meet us just ahead of where we are.
My lecture will be published along with others in the series in a forthcoming book, but I offer here some passing ideas and reflections which I thought I might use in my talk.
The Council opened the windows of the Church to let a fresh wind blow through the dusty corridors and neglected corners of this ancient tradition, but we are still on a journey of discovery. We need wisdom, prayer and patience if we are to know what needs to be kept and what needs to be renewed. Today, we might compare what's happening to the experience of a family moving into a Victorian house which was renovated in the 1960s: the corniced ceilings were removed, the fireplaces were ripped out, the sash windows were replaced with plastic double-glazing. This family might want to restore the beauty and interest of some of these features which were prey to excessive modernising enthusiasm, but in the task of restoring the house, surely they will keep the modern plumbing and the central heating?
We need discernment to know what to keep and what to restore, in order to make the Church fit for human habitation. The doctrines of our faith are like the structure and architecture of that old house. They mark out our space of existence and offer us room in which to live together as a community which shares certain fundamental bonds, but we face challenging questions about how to interpret these doctrinal bonds in the context of our lives and experiences. This is particularly true for those of us living in modern western democracies, where the Christian world view is fragmenting and changing, and we have to ask what it means to be Catholic in the context of the debates and issues of our time.
In the Council, the Church embraced her vocation to read the signs of the times and to incarnate the eternal truths entrusted to her in ways that would be relevant to the different contexts and cultures within which she finds herself. She refused to be an other-worldly ghetto for pure souls, but rather sought to become a space of messy encounter between the transcendent and eternal wisdom of God, and the embodied realities of the human condition in all its complexity, grace and muddle. This is the meaning of incarnation and sacramentality.
To read more of Professor Beattie's lecture, visit her blog Marginal Musings: