Vatican II Diary, Part 1 of 2

My Vatican II Diary, Part 1

Announcing the Council
     In 1959, when Pope John XXIII announced to a meeting of cardinals in Rome that he wanted to call an ecumenical council, he was met with cool silence.  The cardinals, and later the Vatican Curia, the pope's "cabinet," saw no need for a council.  The Protestant Reformers had attacked the papacy and the sacraments and the Council of Trent in the 16th century had fortified the notion of sacraments, and of the monarchical papacy and the central church institution.  In 1870, at the First Vatican Council, the church had defined the infallibility of the pope.  To the Vatican insiders, all possible questions had been settled.  The pope was infallible, and in various ways they had begun to spread the pope's infallibility to include themselves.

Turmoil in Rome
   But in Rome, the years immediately before the council were tumultuous.  Throughout the 19th century, especially because the French Revolution and the Enlightenment had attacked and even ridiculed the faith and said that reason alone would save the world, various popes had condemned democracy, freedom of the press, the separation of church and state, religious freedom, and the modern world in general.  The Curia had suppressed just about every theologian who was trying to bring the church into the 20th century.  Catholic Scripture scholars were still teaching that stories like the six days of creation were literally true.

   In 1948, Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu, that permitted the Scripture scholars to use modern methods to understand the Bible.  At the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, the Jesuit scholars began to teach this new understanding.  But in 1958, when Pius XII died, and Pope John XXIII was elected, the Curia fired the two leading Jesuit scholars.

Learning Teilhard de Chardin's Views in Secret
   In 1962, I was studying for my Doctor's degree in Spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University, across the street from the Biblical Institute.  In those days, our professors lectured in Latin and we spoke to them in Latin.  One day a professor began teaching us a new spirituality that began with the first flaring forth of the universe, and then continued through the evolution of the universe to the birth of the earth and life on earth and then to the rise of humans, the birth of the mind and our evolutionary progress toward an Omega point of love.  He spoke very fast and I could not keep up with him as I tried to take notes.  I asked a Jesuit in the class to ask him to give us notes and reading material. He went and asked him privately.  But the professor refused, saying he was afraid somebody would take his notes to the Vatican, and the Curia would fire him, as they had fired the Scripture scholars. It was not approved in those days to even mention the name of Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit scientist and mystic.

John XXIII's Personal Turmoil
  Later in 1962, just before Vatican II began, our Archbishop from Philadelphia, John Krol, came to Rome to see the pope.  Before he went to the Vatican, he came to the graduate house of the North American College*, on Humility Street, one block from the Trevi fountain, where we lived, and picked up my Philadelphia classmate,  Fr. Bill Leahy.  Together they went to the Vatican, and met the pope in his private study.  (During a prior visit to Rome, Krol had taken me with him to see the pope.)
    *(In Latin, our country is called North America)

  Pope John, jolly and gracious as always, greeted Bill and asked him what he was studying. When Bill answered in Italian, "Sacred Scripture, Holy Father," John instantly became upset, to the point where he almost started crying.  "Oh my!  What are they teaching you over there? [at the Pontifical Biblical Institute where the professors had been fired.]  What are they doing?  They took away Adam and Eve!  Now they're taking away the Magi!  What are we going to teach the children?!"

   Bill was shocked into silence.  When he and Krol left, Krol said to him, "Did you hear what the Holy Father said?!  I don't want you studying those things or teaching those things."  Bill had no answer.  The Curia had not only fired the professors; they had also influenced the Pope against the Institute.  How could Bill not study what he was being taught?

  When he returned to the graduate house, he told me what had happened.  Then he mentioned what I was being taught in secret, and added, "We have to choose what side we're going to be on.  Either we will learn what we're being taught and teach it when we get home, or we will suppress everything we're learning and do nothing."  With palpable trepidation, we decided to move ahead with our studies.

The Council Begins

  Then, in October, 1962, Vatican II opened.  Fr. Bill Leahy and I were in St. Peter's for the historic day: Bill as a secretary or scribe, who would record the Council fathers' speeches, and I as an assistant to the Council fathers.  We were there to hear Pope John XXIII give his now famous speech.  It included: 

          In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen,
     much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are
     not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure.  In these modern
     times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin.  They say that our era,
     in comparison with the past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though
     they have learned nothing from history, which is, nonetheless, the teacher of
     life.  They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a
     full triumph for the Christian idea of life and for proper religious liberty.
           We feel we must disagree with these prophets of gloom, who are always
     forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.

   He then went on to say that we must open the windows of the church and let the Spirit fly in.

    Bill and I remembered how the pope had been so upset, and how I was being taught in secret.  John had changed!  He was now opening windows and letting in fresh air!  It was all right for us to learn what we were being taught.  It was all right for us to return to Philadelphia with the good news of a new era for the church!  Or so we thought.

The Division Begins
   At the graduate house the mood was tense.  Because so many American bishops and theologians were alumni of the North American College, it was often referred to as the "West Point of the church."  At the time of Vatican II, young priests at the graduate house included Now Bishop Tom Gumbleton, Now retired Cardinal Justin Rigali, (Phila.), Rev. Charles Curran (fired from Catholic U., now at S.M.U.), Dr. Anthony Padovano (author, married. Founder of CORPUS, for married priests), Dr. Daniel Maguire (fired from Catholic U., Married and now at Marquette), Now retired Bishop Richard Sklba (Milwaukee), Fr. Val Peter (retired Director, Boys & Girls Town, Nebraska), Peter Kearney, Scripture Scholar (married).
   When news of Pope John's speech hit the priests on Humility Street, we all began to take sides.  The College felt like West Point at the start of the Civil War.

Resistance from the Curia
   The Vatican Curia did not want the council.  In the five volume history of Vatican II recently published, author Carlo Falconi writes a section on the various factions existing in the church in 1962.  

   He calls one faction, The Zealots, members of the Curia who believed that they were the "remnants of Israel," i.e., the minority that was the trustee and interpreter of God's will.  Their agenda for the council consisted of these points:
   --prevent any lessening of papal prerogatives
   --avoid a reform of the Curia itself
   --check any increase of the power of the bishops.  
   --be on guard against collegiality, which they saw as a attack on the authority of the Curia.  If the bishops had a share in church government, the pope would have to respect their input and therefore would no longer have real primacy over the whole church
   --resist any meddling by the laity
   --moderate and gradually apply reforms of any kind
   --zeal for the proper and precise formulation of doctrine, specifically its scholastic formulation [the abstract formulations of scholastic theology.] This opposed the desire of John XXIII for a council that would present doctrine pastorally, i.e., in a way the laity and the world at large could understand.
   --an "essentialism," i.e., the predominance of abstract thinking.  [My addition: without considering everyday experience]
   --a deep appreciation of tradition [my addition: without considering the development and evolution of insight into our faith]
   --the definitive and final importance of the Magisterium [my addition: without 
considering the importance of theologians and the discernment of the laity in forming the Magisterium]
   --an ahistoric triumphalism that led them to maintain, "as a cardinal rule, the Curia never acknowledges faults, at least not publicly."
   --an individualism that was seen in their defense of the private celebration of Mass       
   --extreme Papalism, i.e., an intransigent defense of the rights or intangible privileges of the Holy See, which in many cases were simply the rights and privileges of the Curia.

   When the council was in session, Fr. Bill Leahy was working at the Vatican, carrying out his duties as a scribe.  Some of the Curia members around him were talking without fear of who was listening, saying that when the Council Fathers went home, they, the Curia, were going to take back the church.

   If we want to know why the council has never been fully or effectively implemented, especially in its teachings on the full participation of the laity, the collegiality of the bishops, and a true updating of church teaching, with respect for the experience of the People of God, the Curia's agenda gives the answer.  It also helps explain the regressive new translation of the Liturgy.  In a very important way, it really made no difference what the council was voting on.  Pope Paul VI, who succeeded John XXIII, wanted the largest positive vote possible on every document.  The Curia and their allies gave it to him, knowing that they were going to hold everything back.

   Pope John XXIII knew that this agenda was in jeopardy.  I believe that is why, on the opening day of the council, when he entered St. Peter's, carried aloft on the sedia gestatoria, he was crying so hard that the tears were clearly running down his face. The leader of the Curia, and of his opposition, was Cardinal Ottaviani. Gary Wills wrote that when John gave his opening speech, he was looking directly at Ottaviani, as if to say, O. K. Now what are you going to about it."  As I described above, he got his answer.

 Catching up to God in Today's World
   Pope John XXIII is reported to have said that there is a difference between what we believe and how we say what we believe.  Our faith is transcendent.  When it enters into human form it can be expressed with a trustworthy degree of certainty, yet it can never be fully understood and expressed, be it in creeds, dogmas, psalms, hymns, literature, art, church architecture, liturgical formulas, etc.  

   John focused on the historical dimension.  St. Francis of Assisi was a "nature mystic," he saw God's presence and intentions in the sun and moon, birds and animals.  John XXIII was a "history mystic."  He saw God's presence and intentions in history.  In different times God is understood and expressed in different ways.  For example, the Old Testament expressions of God are different from the Gospels, which were further expressed in the philosophical expressions of the early councils, e.,g., "consubstantial.  St. Augustine used Platonic thinking as a "template" for the Gospel; St. Thomas Aquinas used Aristotle, which begot scholastic philosophy and theology.  Later, in reaction to the Reformation, the Council of Trent took a tone of "triumphalism," saying that the Catholic Church had the truth and if anyone disagreed with its teachings, Anathema sit!, which is a fancy way of saying, "Let him go to hell!"

   In the 1960's John wanted the faith expressed in terms of the new era that was dawning, with its new challenges and opportunities.  He wanted aggiornamento, i.e., he wanted the church to "catch up" to the modern world and meet its challenges and opportunities.  He wanted the church to re-envision and reform herself (the council did so, as the "People of God"), to find peace with the Protestants and Jews, and even people of other faiths and no faith, and enter into a healthy, spirit-filled, humble, listening-learning-teaching dialogue with the everyday world.

          ...The church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times
     and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.  Thus, in language intelligible
     to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which people   
     ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationships of 
     one to the other.  We must therefore recognize and understand the world in 
     which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic 

          ....Today, the human race is involved in a new stage of history.
                                                                            The Church in the Modern World, No. 4

   The Council ended in 1965.  Back in 1945, as the atom bomb exploded over Hiroshima, Albert Einstein had prophetically said, "Everything has changed, except our way of thinking."  Some twenty years earlier, poet W. B. Yeats had foreseen the dying of the Modern World, when he wrote  "...Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold...  The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."  Looking forward, he added, "Surely some new revelation is at hand."  In 1965, many of us were sure that Vatican II was a major part of the "new way of thinking," and "new revelation."

   Through the 1950's the sacrifices of World War II had given way to an economic and birthing boom.  Catholics still lived mostly in the big cities, in "Catholic islands" that provided almost all their religious, educational and social needs--for the most part, they left only to go to work.  And the boys still married "the girl down the street."  In the late 60's that culture gave way to an ever growing relocation to the suburbs, the civil rights movement and the new social consciousness that the "blowing in the wind."  Powerful Viet Nam opposition arose.  Students revolted on campuses, Hippies went "on the road" and lived in communes, and Woodstock became an iconic cultural moment. 

   Vatican II could have given the church a way to see into all this upheaval and help restructure our society and culture in a spiritually clear, strong and promising way.  But many Catholics were not ready for the council's teachings.  The hierarchy's "top-down" power structure was too firmly set in place, and the laity's "pay-pray-and-obey" was so strongly ingrained that one writer later described it as "genetically encoded."  Some Catholics began blaming Vatican II for the problems the church began to experience.  Rough times lay ahead for the church.           

Progressives vs. Conservatives

   On October 13, 1962, Vatican II started its official work.  The day was short and dramatic.
The council fathers took their assigned places in the "grandstands" that ran the length of St. Peter's, facing each other across the marble floor like the stands of a football stadium.
But where was Pope John XXIII?  Word quickly got around that the pope was in his apartment watching the council on closed-circuit TV.  His message to the council fathers was clear:  it's your church, do something about it, and then report back to me.    

   The session started with a Mass, as it would every day thereafter. Council fathers then took turns making announcements in the various languages of the world.  One of them was my archbishop, John Krol, of Philadelphia.  One morning, while he was standing in the pulpit, which stood at the altar-end of the grandstands, I happened to walk by in front of him.  He looked down and gestured, "Look at me, I can't believe I'm up here at this momentous event."

   The fathers had been provided with documents, one of which had spaces for them to vote for members of the council's commissions, whose highly influential job it would be to move the council debates forward toward passage of the council documents.  The papers also contained the names of council fathers who had served on the preparatory committees.  Most of them were members of the Curia or Curia followers.  The fathers were asked to start voting.  Immediately, the "progressives" started spreading the word that the list and the rush to vote smacked of a conspiracy.

   Some fathers obediently started to vote but stopped when a voice came over the speakers.  Cardinal Lienart of Lille, France, was calling for a delay in the vote so the fathers could inform themselves of the best candidates for the commissions, meaning, of course, other than those listed.  Cardinal Frings, of Cologne, quickly supported Lienart.  Despite the council rules that no public displays were permitted, applause broke out from what was to become the progressive majority.  Cardinal Tisserant, the presider for the day, instead of quieting the applause, announced that the proposal had been accepted and the council would adjourn for three days to allow the fathers to inform themselves. The first meeting had taken 50 minutes.  That day, the Holy Spirit spoke abruptly!

   Throughout the next three days, the fathers met, got to know one another, discussed, argued and politicked.     

   Then the Spirit laughed.  When the fathers finally did vote, I joined the other council assistants and tried to decipher the handwriting of 2500 men from all over the world who wrote thousands of names into little spaces.  Finally, the commissions were set up, with members from "both sides."  The council was ready to take up its first order of business, the liturgy.

A Theologians' Council

   The council fathers had been given the preparatory commission's document on the liturgy and they now had the opportunity to speak--for ten minutes--and propose additions, changes, etc.  It quickly became clear that many of the fathers could not understand the spoken Latin.  Business at the two coffee bars under the stands became brisk.  The main work of the council took place in small meetings held in the afternoons and evenings.

   It was at these meetings that the theologians made their influence felt.  Many of them had been suppressed and silenced for trying to bring the church into the 20th century.  Pope John XXIII invited them to participate in the council.  They included Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Yves Congar, and Jean Danielou.  Later, American Jesuit John Courtney Murray, who had also been silenced, was invited.  He played a major role in forming the council's document on religious liberty, based in part on the American experience with freedom of religion.

Some American Politics
   Two occasions during the Liturgy debate especially mark my memory.  
One.  Archbishop Paul Hallinan of Atlanta, presided over one of the sub-committees working on the vernacular for the liturgy.  He was a progressive, who befriended progressives like young Hans Kung, who served as a theological expert for the German bishops, (along with another young progressive, Joseph Ratzinger), and Cardinal Leo Seunens, a leading advocate for aggiornamento, ecumenism and dialogue with the everyday world.  Hallinan's sub-committee was scheduled to take an important vote that afternoon, and he wanted to make sure he had the progressive votes in hand before the meeting took place.

   He handed me a list containing the names of 13 bishops on his committee and said, "Find out where they're sitting and get them to sign this paper."   He smiled and added, "Just a little old American politicking."  I went to the computer room under the grandstands and got a technician to print out the locations.  Then I went out into the basilica and started making the rounds--up and down the aisles, here and there.  Very quickly, the council fathers began to follow me, noting where I was going and to whom I was handing the paper.  I found my targets and got the signatures.  That afternoon, Hallinan got his vote.  The next morning, the announcers announced in all the languages of the world, "Would the assistants refrain from moving among the council fathers during the session."  In all the history of the 21 ecumenical councils of the church, I wonder how many assistants had announcements directly personally at them!

The African Mass
   Two:  At first, the Mass that opened each session was a Latin Mass.  Then a few Eastern Rite Masses were celebrated.  All were celebrated at the main altar.  One morning, a small, plain altar was set up in the middle of the basilica, on the floor between the facing grandstands.  Directly behind it was arranged a semi-circle of plain benches.  An announcer said in Latin that an African Rite Mass would be celebrated.

   The massive doors of the basilica opened and a double row of very tall, either Watusi or Masai men started walking in.  They were wearing floor length, flowing white robes with very short sleeves, so that their black arms formed a stark contrast with their robes.  They carried drums of various sizes.  Behind them came three priests, wearing vestments that reflected every color of the rainbow.

    They entered silently.  The white robed men sat on the benches.  For another moment or so, more silence.  Pregnant silence.  Then, ever so very softly, a slow, rhythmic, sound caught everyone's attention.  The beat was very soft and very far away.  As far away as Africa.  As rhythmic as the heartbeat of Africa itself.  Slowly, hypnotically, the beat continued.  Then it grew louder.  The pace quickened and the rhythm grew more and more intense.  Everyone in the basilica not only heard it but felt it.  The fathers' feet began to move and tap along with the rhythm.  Then their bodies joined in and they began to move rhythmically in their seats.  Some caught themselves and laughed in embarrassment.  Most just went with the beat. 

   The celebrant began praying in his own language.  Behind him, the men became a chorus and chanted in soft accompaniment as they continued beating their drums.  Mesmerized, the fathers' followed the Mass.  When the time came for the Gospel, one priest changed the Missal from one side of the altar to the other.  The chorus rose, and as the celebrant chanted the Gospel, they danced around the altar, chanting and beating their drums.  The announcer said, "Behold the joy of Africa at having received the Good News of Jesus Christ!"  At that, the almost 2200 council fathers began to applaud and cheer.

   I remembered hearing an African Cardinal, who spoke to a group of us before the council started.  He said, "We Africans have come to Rome to say, 'Stop building your Gothic cathedrals in the middle of our jungles!  We have our own churches and our own way of praying!'"

   Despite the reluctance of the traditionalists, the liturgy document was accepted, 2147 to 4.

Truth Speaks to Power

  Every Monday afternoon, the American bishops met at the North American College on the Janiculum Hill to hear an expert bring them up to date on theology and Scripture studies.  The Janiculum, one of Rome's seven hills, rises immediately to the south of St. Peter's Square.  The College, which is the residence for American seminarians, was built just after World War II, and is a modern, stone and glass monument to America.  

  One Monday, a Scripture scholar was scheduled to speak, and Bill Leahy, who was in the process of becoming a Scripture scholar himself, decided that he and I should go listen to him.  I objected that it was not our place to be there.  Bill disagreed, arguing that we were an official part of Vatican II, albeit a minor part.  So we went.  Having lived there ourselves for four years, we knew how to safely sneak upstairs into the balcony of the auditorium.

   On the stage a Scripture scholar, dressed in a monk's robe, addressed the bishops.  I believe it was Raymond Brown, but I'm not sure.  He was explaining that the Gospels were written decades after Jesus's death and were edited versions of the young Christian faith.  In fact, he pointed out, we did not have the exact words that Jesus used at the Last Supper when he instituted the Eucharist.  

  The bishops were shocked.  "You mean we don't say the same words that Jesus said, when we say Mass?" one asked.  "Well, no," the scholar answered, no doubt smiling to himself since Jesus had spoken Aramaic. As the scholar continued with his explanation, we heard loud footsteps.  Someone had entered the auditorium and was walking up the aisle toward the stage.    

   The scholar stopped speaking.  Then a strong, loud voice.  "Father, you should not be saying such things!  You should not be teaching the fathers in this way!"  

   Bill and I leaned forward to see who was speaking.  It was a Cardinal, possibly Giovanni Amleto Cicognani, who had been Apostolic Delegate to the U. S.  But we couldn't be sure because we leaned back as quickly and quietly as we could and tried to make ourselves invisible. 

   There was dead silence in the auditorium.  Then another voice.  One of the bishops, speaking with a clear, mid-western twang, said, "Well, Fathers, we came here to here the truth.  I think we should hear the truth."  Then another voice, "Yes, let's hear the truth."  And another.  Then applause.  

   Footsteps again, as the Cardinal walked back out of the auditorium.  Then one more voice, "Father, would you please continue."  The speaker continued.

   Bill and I looked at each other.  Power had spoken to truth, and truth had spoken back to power.  We smiled, more inspired than ever at what Vatican II was bringing about.      

A Council of Everyday Spirituality

   The theologians whom John XXIII invited to Vatican II brought with them not only a 20th century view of theology but also of philosophy.  That philosophy was called Phenomenology.  In short, it focuses on our everyday experience in deciding what is real and true and right.  Psychology similarly speaks of raising consciousness.  

   The theologians brought this way of thinking into the council's teaching in order to fulfill John's instruction that the council explain our living faith pastorally, i.e., in terms of people's everyday lives and the changing signs of the times.  The traditionalists strongly opposed this approach, preferring to focus on abstract, unchangeable teachings--and on their power to keep the teachings from changing.

   But experiences do change, and church teaching has changed as a result of new experiences.  It took over 1800 years, but the everyday experience of dire suffering by slaves finally made Christians officially realize that owning people was wrong.  Their raised consciousness moved them to change our moral teaching on slavery 180 degrees.  Experience also moved Christians to change the moral teaching on charging interest on loans.  On the crusades.  The Inquisition.  Anti-Semitism.  Racial segregation in American churches and schools.  Today, our consciousness is rising concerning just war and capital punishment, women's rights and gay rights.  The Internet, Twitter, smart phones, etc., permit us to communicate with the world in an instant.  We are becoming increasingly aware of the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of all people and things.  As a result of all these experiences and more, our experience of ourselves and of God is changing.  In sum, we are evolving, and our faith and moral judgments need to evolve with us.  

   Vatican II saw this coming and said that the human race is involved in a new stage of history. (Church in the Modern World, CMW, No. 4).  Cosmologist/mystic, Brian Swimme says we can now reinvent the human.  Theologian Elizabeth Johnson beautifully presents some of today's experiences of God in her excellent book, Quest for a Living God.  (The bishops' complaint is that she did not use the traditional approach to understanding God.)  Ilia Delio, O. S. F. writes of the evolving Christ.  Here we should give a special "shout out" to our American Religious Women, who are wondrously showing the beautiful features of the American face of Christ.  

   Vatican II wanted us to catch up to the Modern World, by which it meant, "today's world". We are now in what we call the Post-Modern World.  And in many ways, we are farther behind than before.  For one thing, the everyday experience of priests and bishops is not the same as that of the laity.  The immediate, direct discernment of God's presence and intentions in the give and take of today's world is up to the laity.  And so the initiative for coming up to date and expressing Christ in 21st century, American terms within our living, evolving faith, is very much up to the laity.

   Our society and culture are suffering.  People are suffering.  Waiting is not an option.      

Bill Leahy

   I mentioned earlier that many of the council fathers did not understand the spoken Latin.  Some had even greater difficulty writing in Latin.  So when some of the American bishops wanted to speak, they first gave Bill Leahy and me an English copy of their speech.  One or two gave us a scratchy outline!  In the evenings, we put aside our post-graduate studies and wrote the Latin speeches for them.  On one occasion, I told the bishop in question that I had filled in his outline with my own ideas, and cautioned him to go over the speech very carefully to make sure the ideas were also his.  Later, Bill and I would hear one of "our" speeches resound through St. Peter's Basilica.    

    Bill was a council scribe.  When the council was called, the people preparing for it pulled out the "rules books" for holding a council.  The previous council, of course, was Vatican I, which ended abruptly in 1870.  The one before that was Trent, in the 1500's.  The rules called for scribes to write down the speeches that were given each day.  A man was brought down from Germany who invented a shorthand system for Latin.  In the evenings, I would dictate to Bill in Latin, using all the different accents I could muster up, and reading faster and faster, until Bill became an expert in taking the dictation.  Then, a day or so before the council opened, he was informed, "We won't need you to write in shorthand.  This is the 20th century.  We have tape recorders."   

   One evening, Jesuit Bernard Lonergan, one of our professors and one of the outstanding theologians of the 20th century, came to the American College graduate house for an informal conversation session.  As we discussed his theological views and the council, he quipped, "It's a good thing the church is not a fire department, because it usually arrives on the world scene late and out of breadth."

   In consideration of the American bishops' difficulty with Latin, Bill had an idea.  Each day he picked out the speeches he deemed to be specially important, made a quick English summary of them, typed them into a mimeograph stencil, ran them off, and then got on his Vespa motor scooter and delivered copies to the seminaries and hotels where the American bishops were staying.  He did this for all the remaining three sessions of the council, while also finishing his work to attain a Licentiate in Scripture and then going on to get a Doctorate in theology!  His collection became known as the Vatican II Digest.  Also, throughout the council, he collected every preliminary document or "Schema" that was presented to the council fathers, then all the changes that were made, and then every final document.  All his papers are now in the Father William K. Leahy collection at  Catholic University in Washington, DC   

The First Session Ends

   The first session of the council closed with an air of optimism on the part of the progressives.  The Liturgy had been updated and Pope John XXIII had personally stopped discussion on Revelation, and on the Church, because the original schemas, written by the Curia, were nothing more than repetitions of old and now out-dated views.  The theologians would lead the council into the 20th century in these two important areas in the coming sessions.  But John's stomach cancer was progressing and he knew he would not be present for the second session. 
   I settled in to finishing my post-graduate studies.  In early June,1963, I was ready to defend my doctoral dissertation in Spiritual Theology.  My topic was the apparent contradiction between Christian humility and psychological self-esteem.  

Pope John XXIII dies
   But a more important event came first.  We heard on the radio that the pope was gravely ill.  Around 6 PM on June 3rd, my classmate from Camden, NJ, Bill Barnett, and I went to St. Peter's square.  A crowd was there, keeping vigil.  We stayed for a while and then walked down the street a little ways to a trattoria to eat dinner.  Just as we were finishing, we heard a loud, excited sound from the piazza.  We hurried back and looked up at the pope's apartment window.  A very bright light was shining from inside.  That's what had made the crowd react.  Then the announcement came over a loudspeaker that John XXIII had just died.  The crowd went silent for a moment, and then people started crying.  Later, we learned that people were mourning throughout the world.  Pope John XXIII had entered history.

   About two days later, I heard on the radio that John's body was laid out in his private bedroom and that friends and diplomats were welcome to pay their respects.  Another graduate priest said, "Hey Tony, you know the way to the pope's bedroom, don't you."  I said that I did, since I had accompanied my archbishop on a visit to John's private study.  The pope's apartment was immediately beyond the study.  "Let's go," Jerry said.  I refused, but he was persistent.  We put on our choir robes so we would look like we had a reason to be there, and took a tram to the Vatican.

   Nervously, we approached the grand staircase that leads from the piazza into the papal palace.  Two Swiss guards were on duty.  As we neared them, they jumped to attention and saluted.  Relieved, we went up the stairs into the palace and I directed Jerry to an elevator that would take us up to the floor of the pope's apartment.  Two monsignori got on with us and I  was sure they would eject us.  But they simply nodded.  We got off the elevator and began our walk through a line of the most fabulously decorated rooms in the world.  Each room was an art museum of paintings, frescoes and sculptures.  Dignitaries and all sorts of papal guards milled around the rooms but no one paid attention to us.  Walking as if we belonged there, we made our way.  Except that somewhere along the way I lost Jerry.  

  Pressing forward on my own, I arrived at the pope's private study and went in.  The door to his apartment was at the far corner, and a priest stood before it.  I said to myself, "I've gotten this far.  If I have to tackle this guy, I'm going to get by him."  But he just nodded and let me pass.

  When I stepped into the pope's private apartment, I thought I have mistakenly walked into some servants' quarters.  The study I had just left was a royal room, with dark red silk flocking on the wall, and red and gold chairs.  Now I was walking along a narrow hallway on a plain wooden floor.  I got to the first room on the left and looked in.  The first thing I saw was an old bureau on which was laid out a panoply of statues and votive candles.  For a moment I thought I was looking into the bedroom of my Italian grandmother back in Philadelphia.  I looked in a little further.  I saw a plain bed, with three large candles rising from the floor on each side.  On the bed lay Pope John.  

  I walked in.  All alone, I stood by his bedside gazing at him.  His body was dressed in a white cassock, with a red shoulder cape.  He was wearing red velvet shoes.  On his head was a medieval red velvet skull cap, lined with ermine.  The papal ring was noticeably missing from his hand. It had been removed and smashed with a silver hammer.  John's face was plain and serene as ever.  Death had not changed those aspects of him.  Nor had his changed his humility.  A rumor had spread through Rome that because of the great pain of his cancer, he could not even lay on his bed, but had died lying on the floor.  

  As I gazed, I wondered at the greatness of this world-renown man now laying so humbly before me in death.  Sadness washed over me, and then gratitude.  There was a kneeling bench at the front of the bed.  I went over and knelt.  I thanked him for the council, for his smiling graciousness, for his humility.  I remembered how he had greeted the Protestant representatives he had invited to the council, using his middle given name, "I am Joseph, your brother."  And how he had spoke so caringly to a crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square the evening the council had opened,  "I know that many of you are on your way home from work.  When you get home, kiss your children and tell them it's from Papa John."

  I remembered how he had greeted me--not holding out his hand for me to kiss his ring but holding out his arms as if to embrace me, smiling and then laughing as he said, "Oh, you're Italian!  Where do your parents come from?"  

  I prayed for him.  And for the council.  And then I thanked him for teaching me a great lesson by the way he lived his own life.  I thanked him for teaching me to not be "clerical" or ever stand on ceremony, but to just be myself.             

Meeting President John F. Kennedy

   In June, 1963, President John F. Kennedy visited Ireland, the land of his ancestors, and then went to Berlin where he made his famous statement, "Ich bin ein Berliner."  He also came to Rome, to the North American College, the residence for American seminarians, on the Janiculum Hill, to receive a gift that Pope John XXIII had wanted to give him.  As it happened, he was in Rome on the day that Pope Paul VI was installed, and since the U. S. did not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican, Kennedy could not be invited.  So we witnessed the fact that the President of the U. S. had to leave town for the day.

  Just about every American dignitary who came to the Vatican also came to the American College.  During my time in Rome, our visitors included Episcopalian John Foster Dulles, (whose Jesuit son, Avery, studied at the Gregorian University at the same time I did), Clare Booth Luce, Vice President and Mrs. Richard Nixon, (it was St. Patrick's day and Mrs. Nixon's birthday so we sang, "Happy Birthday" to her.  When we finished, she turned to her husband and with undue modesty said, "Tell them I'm not a saint.")  Robert and Ethel Kennedy, and Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy.  One afternoon, in 1959, I was amazed as two United States Army helicopters flew low over the College and then landed on our ball field.  The doors opened and American soldiers ran out and took up positions.  We all ran out to see what was happening.  Then President Dwight Eisenhower stepped out of one of the helicopters.  

   On the day President Kennedy was to come to the College, a few of us, obviously uninvited, took a tram from the graduate house to the Janiculum Hill, where we had lived for four years, and snuck into the official reception room.  Cardinal Richard Cushing, of Boston, a personal friend of the President's, was there to present him with the gift.  

   The room was filled with American dignitaries in business suits, and church prelates who were ablaze with Episcopal purple and cardinal red.  Then a group of quite obviously American men in suits and ties walked gingerly into the room and took up positions, just as the soldiers had done during Eisenhower's visit.  Secret Service!  Behind them came the President, smiling brightly.  The excitement became palpable and it seemed as if the lights in the room brightened.  

   Kennedy saw Cushing and walked toward him.  As he got close to the Cardinal,  Cushing, who was taller than the President, shouted, "Hello John!" and then leaned back and took a slow round-house swing at Kennedy.  Kennedy saw it coming and ducked in mock horror.  For a moment, the two horsed around like two college friends at an alumni reunion.  Then they both got serious and Cushing presented the papal gift to the President.

   As Kennedy got ready to leave, my friends and I--there were four of us--left the room and stood in a hallway that opened to the left of the door.  Kennedy came out and started to walk straight away from the door.  He caught a glimpse of us and turned toward us, holding out his hand. 

   As he approached us I remembered his heroic feat during World War II, when his PT boat was cut in two by a Japanese destroyer, and how he swam to shore pulling a wounded crewman by holding a strap with his teeth.  I marveled anew at how he and his crew kept themselves alive eating coconuts and dodging Japanese patrols until a native carried a message for help, carved into a coconut, to the American forces.  

   When he came to me I shook his hand and said, "Tony Massimini, Philadelphia," and he said hello.  With my hero-worship view of him, I expected his handshake to be firm and strong.  But to my surprise, his handshake was soft.  He was actually somewhat frail.  I didn't know about the Addison's disease that was sapping his strength and giving him a false suntan, or of the back pain that was wracking him every day.  The hero suddenly appeared to be very human, and vulnerable.  

   Next to me, the young priest said, "Paul O'Hearn, Boston."  At that, Kennedy lit up.  "What does your father do?" he asked.  "He's a truck driver."  Kennedy smiled even more brightly.  "Tell him I said hello."  He greeting the fourth priest and then turn and walked away.   

   Five months later, Cardinal Cushing presided at Kennedy's funeral and burial.

Preparing to Return to Philadelphia

   A week or so after Kennedy's visit, I defended my dissertation and was awarded my Doctor's degree.  It was time to go home.  Bill Leahy and I booked passage on the S. S. Independence.  (He would return again for the remaining council sessions.)  Just before we left, our classmates warned us.  "You two are thinking of going home to Philadelphia and talking about the "New Pentecost."  You know what's going to happen to you?  The same thing that happened to St. Paul when he came to Rome.  You're going to get your heads chopped off."  

   We laughed.  But we shouldn't have.  This wasn't the first time we were warned.  During the council's first session, Bill Leahy had invited theologian/peritus Hans Kung to the graduate house for an informal talk session.  I clearly remember the contrast between his rugged features and twinkling eyes.  Even more so, I remember my naive surprise to hear him criticize the Curia.  He noted that the Curia was upset because they were losing control of the council.  Wishing they had more time to ensure their control, they were now complaining that the council was being held too soon.  Kung smiled and said, "My response is that the council is being held 400 years too late."  

  He went on to say that we should not force the Protestants to give up their beliefs and principles for the sake of reunion with Rome.  It's too much to ask people to give up principles they firmly believe in.  The way to reunion was not a return to Rome but a return to Christ.  "I say to the Protestants, 'You come closer to Christ your way, and we'll come closer to Christ our way.  Some day we'll meet in Christ." 

  The next day, Bill Leahy suggested that I write an article on what Kung had said.  I did so and then brought it to the place where Archbishop Krol was staying, to get his prior approval before sending it for possible publication somewhere.  He wasn't there so I left the article.  The next morning, Krol was in the pulpit making the announcements that opened each council session.  When he finished, he called me over and said, "We're going to lunch."

  A little after noon, Krol and I walked out of St. Peter's, turned left through the Bernini colonnade and found a little trattoria.  As we started to eat, he said, "I read your article.  First of all, there is nothing new happening at the council."  I thought of Cardinal Ottaviani's coat of arms, which contains the words, "Semper Idem," Always the Same.  "And," Krol continued, "there are no arguments going on.  Everything is going along well.  There are no disagreements at the council.  

  Naively, I protested, "But there are disagreements.  The church is going to change and the people back home should be prepared for the changes."

  Krol would have none of it.  "The church is one.  After the council the church will still be the same as it was before.  And I don't want you having anything to do with this Hans Kung or any others who are stirring up dissention.  When you get back to Philadelphia, I don't want you telling people that there are disagreements.  I want you to present the church just as the authorities say it is."

  Back at the graduate house I told Leahy what had happened.  He said, "Well, know we know for sure where we stand.  We're alone."  

  Years later, I told this story to the National Catholic Reporter and it was included in an extensive report on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  I ended my story by saying that the only good thing that happened that day was that Krol paid for my lunch.

   So here we were, being warned again.  Nevertheless, we were going home with high hopes.  

Pope Paul VI

   On the ship Bill Leahy and I discussed Pope Paul VI's election.  The story was that Paul was supposed to be Pius XII's immediate successor.  But Pius had failed to make him a Cardinal, so John XXIII was chosen as an interim.  After all, the jolly old man would die quickly without doing anything notable, except naming Montini a Cardinal so he could become pope.  Yet, during the council's first session, Montini showed some progressive tendencies which caused the Curia some concern.  They would have to control him.

   Controlling Paul would be easy.  He was known to have difficulty making up his mind.    He even had a nick-name, "Hamlet."  "To be or not to be", was seen as his motto.  Another of his nick-names was, "The Frenchman."  He preferred reading French literature, including French Existentialists like Sartre and Camus., who wrote about the anguish of existence.  Yes, he could be handled.

The Spirit was "Blowing in the Wind"
    We excitedly prepared to present the "New Pentecost" to Philadelphia, to show how Pope John XXIII had opened the windows of the church and how the Spirit of renewal and hope was flying freely.  I added my new-found wonder over the spiritual vision of Teilhard de Chardin, whose teaching of the "Within" especially captured my imagination.  

   Since I was a public school graduate, my Theology courses at the Gregorian University were my introduction to the teachings of the church.  And there, one day I learned that the Kingdom of God was not only something we would enter into after we die but was already here on earth, in space/time, in an incipient form.  When I heard the professor say that, I saw the whole world suddenly light up.  God was here!  Here on earth!  Here within us!  Within everyone and everything!  God within all!  The whole world was a union of God and nature, God and us.  The whole world was truly an expression of Christ.  

   De Chardin was saying the same thing in a very beautiful way! And the council was saying it too.  The new liturgy was truly the prayer of the People of God here on earth.  The "New Pentecost" was off to a great start. The Spirit was blowing where she would!  Bill and I had so much to tell the people of Philly!  Then we remembered the warnings.  Would anybody listen to us?  What would happen?  Where would all this lead us?

   From the music in the ship's lounge came a new and strange message, "The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind."  I immediately knew that the answer was the Spirit.

Opposition to Vatican II

   Many people blame Vatican II for the negative changes the church and our culture experienced in the 1960's and beyond, e.g., the breakdown of traditional family life, the hippies, the sexual revolution, and the disaffection that caused so many Catholics to walk away from the church.  The truth is just the opposite.  Vatican II foresaw major changes coming, along with great opportunities, and showed Catholics how to handle these changes and take advantage of the opportunities actively and successfully.  

   Others had also seen changes coming.  In 1945, as the atom bomb exploded over Hiroshima, Albert Einstein prophetically said, "Everything has changed, except our way of thinking."  Some 20 years earlier the mystical poet, W. B. Yeats, had written concerning the 20th century, "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold: Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...  ...The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.  Then he added, "Surely some new revelation is at hand."  Teilhard de Chardin had said that the Modern World was dying, not by accident but because its aberrations were built right into it.  "A new kind of life is starting," he said.  

   After World War II, Catholics began moving out of the big cities, where many of them lived on "Catholic islands" that took care of all their religious and social needs, and which they left only to go to work.  On the "island" the faith was everywhere and moral behavior was built right into the social structure.  Then, when they moved away into an open culture where neighbors weren't all Catholic or of the same ethnic heritage, they were challenged to change from their "island" mindset to an active, self-responsible and more spiritually mature life of faith. 

   To help Catholics live in the new world that was dawning, Vatican II's Constitution on the Church was telling them that they had their own individual vocations, and that they were able to discern God's presence and intentions within themselves, and that they were spiritually empowered and responsible as sharers in Christ's prophetic and kingly office to uplift and even correct their new environment in the grace of Christ, without imposing their faith on anyone. (See the various pages in this blog.)  

   Catholics were being told that they were all receivers of God's revelation and that their belief was an essential part, along with the belief of the theologians and bishops and pope, of the church's understanding of faith and morality.

   But the distance between the bishops and the laity was too great.  Even with the good will that the bishops took home with them after the Council ended, they were not prepared to properly inform the laity and form them into spiritually mature and effective Catholics.  Through the years, that distance has grown and the situation has worsened.  This is one  reason why many Catholics have walked away from the church.  As Hans Kung predicted, there would be no big revolution among the Catholic laity, just a quiet walking away.   

Clarifying the Council's Purposes

   When Pope John XXIII died, the council was automatically suspended.  It could have died with him.  But Paul VI chose to continue it.  

   John's call for a pastoral council and for aggiornamento was vague, so Paul made the council's purposes clearer by setting four priorities:
    1.  The church would understand itself more clearly.  
    2.  The church would reform itself in line with its updated understanding of itself.
    3.  Ecumenism, especially working toward the unity of all Christians.
    4.  Dialogue with the everyday world.
   With these priorities in mind the council went to work on the schema that became the Constitution on the Church, which can be considered the council's basic document, out of which all the other documents arise.  During the intermission, the commission on the church, along with its theologians, had re-written the Curia's old schema (which John XXIII had rejected).  The council fathers now voted to accept this new Schema for discussion by 2231 to 70.  Yet there were some strong disagreements to follow.

   One major understanding of the church that the council changed was the apologetic, or defensive, understanding.  The Council of Trent, that followed upon the Reformation, had explained the church and its teachings in strong, defensive language, saying that if anyone disagreed, Anathema sit!  Let him go to hell!  In my course on the church at the Gregorian University, just about every lecture began, "The Protestants teach so and so, but we teach so and so." In those days we could say that if it hadn't been for the Reformation, we wouldn't know who we were.

Re-envisioning the Church    
   Vatican II began its updated understanding of the church by placing the focus not on the church itself but on Christ as founder and head of the church.  "Christ is the light of all nations," the document begins.  Then the council went beyond all literal fundamentalism by declaring that the church is a Mystery.  That doesn't mean that the church is something we can't understand at all, but that it is a reality whose understanding is inexhaustible.  Founded by Christ, it shares in the inexhaustible fullness of reality that is Christ, and that is God and the Trinity, and even the Mystery of creation itself.

   The council then moved from the pyramid view of the church, with the pope on top, the bishops under him, then the clergy, and then the laity on the bottom.  We are a People, the People of God, a family, a circle of believers.  All share equal baptismal dignity.  Among us, some are ordained for service-leadership.  

  The new understanding influenced Cardinal Avery Dulles, who later wrote about the models of the church.  He said that the church is a:
   a. Mystical Communion:  people united in their faith and in the Spirit of Christ
   b. Sacrament:  the sign of God's presence in the world
   c. Herald: the proclaimer of the Good New of Christ to the world   
   d. Servant: the humble sharer in the concerns of the people of the world
   e. An Organization:  a visible structure

   Dulles said that the Organization should not be the first model when we understand the church.

   The council then took up the teaching on the sensus fidelium, a teaching that still divides Catholics today.  We will discuss it next time.

The Sensus Fidelium:  the whole Church's "instinct" for the Truth of our Faith

    The sensus fidelium is a very important key to seeing what the church would be like today if Vatican II had been fully implemented.  We will discuss it in the next few entries.
     We go to school and choose careers.  Many of us get married and have children.  We vote for this or that candidate.  We work or run businesses.  Some of us provide services, e.g., plumbing, roofing, legal services, health services, etc.  Some study the universe.  Some are artists.  We all watch TV and movies.  We pray.  Etc., etc.       
 Q.  Which of the above pertain to our spiritual life?
 A.  All of them.

       By believing in God, we are personally responding to God's self-communication to us.  God literally gives himself to us and the Spirit of Christ comes to dwell within us.  We respond to God's self-gift by saying, "I believe in You."  This first moment of our personal relationship with God is also the first moment of our spiritual enlightenment and understanding.  This moment is followed by a steady stream of evolving understanding.

   As we grow in our lives and in our faith, our relationship with God in faith--our loving friendship with God--grows.  In this wondrous friendship, our understanding of God and ourselves grows in clarity and sensitivity.  We can tell ever more clearly and effectively when our life is "in sync" with God's intentions for us and when it is not.  We develop a "sense' or "instinct" for God and God's intentions.  This is our personal "sense of faith," in Latin, sensus fidei.  It is our individual participation is the sense of the faith of the whole church, in Latin, the sensus fidelium.

   Our sense of the faith is involved when we successfully choose what we want to study, whom we marry, whom we vote for, etc.  It makes our everyday experience make faith-sense, i.e., it shows us that our everyday choices and actions are in accord with our faith.  It also puts our faith in sync with our everyday experiences and choices, i.e., it shows that our faith is correctly animating and influencing our everyday experiences and choices.  In both ways, we are elevated to a higher plane toward the "life in abundance" that Christ brings us.  

   Today, our experiences and choices involve some very controversial issues of faith and morals, e.g., freedom of religion in our American society, contraception, women's rights, war, etc.  Everyone of us is making decisions in these areas as part of today's spiritual journey.  By "decisions," I don't mean political or cultural opinions, but true discernment within our personal relationship with God.  At this deep and sensitive level, our own everyday experiences and choices would ideally be in sync with our faith.  But how do we know we are right?  How do we know that our individual sense of the faith is correct?  

   No one in the church has the truth all by themselves, not even the pope.  We all know the truth by sharing our individual sense of the faith with the faith of the whole church.  How do we do this?  Vatican II taught that there should be an open and free discussion among the laity, theologians and hierarchy, so that we could correctly "test the Spirit," in matters that concern today's life and choices.  But as I noted in an earlier post in this diary, there are forces in the church at the highest level that do not want this openness  among the hierarchy, theologians and laity.  One result is that, some years ago, a group of American bishops publicly admitted that they are not set up to discern the faith of the people.  That makes things more difficult for us because, in many ways, we're on our own.

Lay Initiative
   Certainly, there are individual bishops who would like to listen to the laity and guide us in our sense of the faith.  But they are constrained by their many "church-organization" duties.  Many, too, are not theologically up to date. So we have to listen to what the bishops say, and then judge what part of it is of their determination to regain the power and credibility that they have lost, and what is of God.

   In the meantime, we can operate on our own initiative.  Our sense of the faith is alive.  Being alive, it grows and evolves as we grow and evolve.  So, to begin with, we have to check out our idea of God to make sure our sense of the faith is truly up to date, that it fits our life in today's society and culture.  Ask yourself, "How would I describe God?"  There are very, very many ways to describe God, some good and some that are out of date and therefore obstacles between God and ourselves.  For example, Genesis describes God as a potter, who picks up red clay, (in Hebrew, adam), forms it in his hand, and then breathes life into it.  This is a beautiful image, unless we take adam as Adam, a particular man, who actually lived in a garden with Eve and a snake.  Psalm 23 describes God as our Shepherd.  Again beautiful, unless we think of ourselves as passive sheep.  The Middle Ages gave us Michelangelo's view of God as an old man with a beard flying in the sky.  Magnificent, but of course, correct only artistically.  Many of us were taught to describe God as the Supreme Being, living "up there" in heaven as a king, running the universe at his will, and from time to time miraculously changing the way nature works.  This image is an obstacle to today's sense of the faith.

  Our best image of God begins with Jesus.  We look at him and in him, with the eyes of faith, we see God.  We see in Jesus his humanity, which is part of our nature; and we see in him, God who is present and active, right here, right now, in our everyday world and in our everyday lives--on our everyday terms.  This is the God whom Jesus has given to us, a God, who is present within the entire world and earth, joyfully watching creation evolve through all its wonderful ways.  This is a God, who is personally dwelling within each of us, animating and encouraging us to express him by living our lives in creative, healing and world-transforming love.  Our sense of faith then, operates within our deeply personal relationship with God, living and active within us here and now, in everything we think, decide and do every day.  It is within this view of God that we develop our sense of faith and determine that our everyday thoughts and actions are in sync with our faith, and that our faith is in sync with out everyday thoughts and actions.

Seeing How Our Faith Helps Form Our Everyday Experiences

   Our sense of the faith is very closely related to, "Contemplation in Action", which I describe on the "Prayer" page.  We literally take God with us everywhere we go and in everything we do.  As spiritual writers say, we don't see God directly, we "catch sight of God out of the corner of our eye." The question is, how clearly and effectively do we "see" God within us, and how clearly and effectively does God "show forth" where we are and in what we do?"  In other words, "How do we see our faith forming our everyday experience, and how does our everyday experience show forth our faith?

   When the sense of faith shows forth in us, God is "magnified" and shines through here and now in space/time.  This applies to both general and particular situations.  Here are some general examples of how, to people of faith, God showed forth and shows forth today :
     --when Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus
     --when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached civil rights for African Americans and by extension, for all Americans 
     --in the government's attempt to get health care for as many Americans as possible (how this is done in open to discussion)
     --in the continuing advances in science and in medical care
     --in the Arab Spring
     --our American freedoms, and our traditional youthful optimism and sense of fairness

   Within the church community:
     --when the bishops of Central and South America declared that the Gospel demands that we show a preferential option for the poor and oppressed
     --in the 1980's when the American bishops wrote their excellent papers on Peace and on the Economy
     --Catholic Charities 
     --the up-to-date, effective spiritual work of nuns
     --in Vatican II and the laity's increasing desire to learn how to apply their faith to their everyday lives and situations

  When the sense of the faith is missing, the Spirit is denied and God is hidden or even mocked.  Here are some examples:
    --the Iraq invasion and war, which Pope John Paul II declared to be immoral and unjustified
    --the incompetence and greed that caused our economic recession 
    --our present political inability to get anything done
    --ecological pollution, continuing racism and sexism
    --the decline of education, and the political and economic attacks on our schools
    --the hypocrisy and hatred spewed by some politicians, radio and TV commentators, and writers, and the fact that so many people believe what is being said
    --our almost pathological, "Me first!" and even, "Me only!" individualism, and killing competition.  Our consumerism and shallowness.

  Within the church community:
     --the horrific damage done to innocent children and to the whole church and society by the sex abuse and its on-going cover-up
    --the inability or refusal of church officials to replace the present corrupt authority system with a system that permits the Spirit to fly free throughout the church
   --the passivity and apathy of many of the laity
   --the anger and hatred expressed by some Catholics in defense of "the church" as they see it

  These general examples give us the context and culture within which we live our individual spiritual lives.  At times, the outlook seems daunting.  But the sense of the faith tells us that God is with us.  In the next entry, we will begin to look at the various aspects of our individual sense of the faith.

   Here's one way to experience your sense of the faith.  Look at a child.  Imagine that the child is made of energy.  Now turn that energy into light, and imagine that the child is made of light.  Now imagine an even greater light shining within the child, filling him or her completely.  Imagine that that light is God.  Now imagine that at every point where the brighter light is touching the lesser light, that touch is immaculate.  You now have a picture of a child who is a luminous expression of Christ.  Your ability to see the child that way is part of the gift of faith that God has given you.  (Our faith also tells us that as we grow older, we inevitably add some darkness that tends to cover over the immaculate touch within us.  But that immaculate touch is never lost.  It also is there, inspiring us forward and even, when necessary, "burning," us to repent.)

   Now imagine that God is speaking to that child from within.  God is calling the child to ever fuller and greater life.  Since God lives in eternity, we can say that God is calling that child not only in the present but also from the child's future.  That child is yours and you are responsible to help the child respond to God's call to become all that they are destined to become. 

   As you form that child in Christ, you will also form yourself in Christ. 

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           For more discussion on the sensus fidelium, please see the page, 

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The Diary Continues: 
    Vatican II produced 16 documents.  The basic documents are:

    The Constitution on the Church as the People of God,and The Constitution on Divine Revelation: from which follow:
        Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops;  Decree on Priestly Training; Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests; The Decree on the Religious Life; Decree on Churches of the Eastern Rite; Decree on Ecumenism;  Declaration on Non-Christian Religions; Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church; the Declaration on Christian Education
      The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, from which follows, 
         Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: The Decree on Religious Liberty: The Decree on the Media of Social Communication

      The Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, in which the Liturgy is described as the summit toward which the activity of the church is directed, and the font from which all her power flows.    

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No Official Mechanisms for Implementing the Council
   By the end of the fourth session of the council, the bishops were too weary of the effort they had made, and too concerned with missing more time in their own dioceses, (and there was great concern about the mounting expense of the council) to consider a fifth session.  A fifth session could have produced explicit guidelines on how to implement the council's teachings.              
    Absent these guidelines, some bishops were able to say that the council's pastoral teachings were merely the "spirit" of the council.  Cardinal John Krol was one of them; every time Bill Leahy or I mentioned one of the pastoral teachings, he said, "Show me where it's written that I have to do that."  His view set the tone for what was to happen to Leahy and me.

My Ecumenical Mission Begins
   One day the Chancellor of the archdiocese, Msgr. John Noone, received a letter from a Protestant minister saying that there was to be a meeting in downtown Philadelphia, of ministers from around the country.  He asked if the Archdiocese would send a priest to give an address on Vatican II.  Noone contacted me at Philadelphia's St. Charles Seminary, where I was teaching, and instructed me to accept the invitation. 

   I was greeted by a large crowd of ministers who had just eaten lunch and were in a happily expectant mood.  At the time, I was 33 years old but looked much younger.  The host set the tone by saying aloud as I entered the banquet room, "We were expecting a Doctor of Theology from the Second Vatican Council, and this boy just walked in."      

   After receiving a very friendly introduction, I started by mentioning how Pope John XXIII had greeted the Protestant observers he had invited to the council.  He got up from the throne-chair he was sitting on, walked over to them and, using his baptismal name, said, "Hello, I am Joseph, your brother."  I then outlined the  council's new teachings on Christian unity.  At the end, I said, "Earlier I would have said to you, 'You and I are different, although we have some things in common.  Now I say to you, You and I are brothers in Christ, although we have some differences.  So, my brothers in Christ, the last word I want to say to you today is, Hello.'"  

  Everyone stood and applauded, and then I was surrounded by ministers inviting me to speak at their churches throughout the country.  My host shouted that I could not accept the invitations because I had teaching duties at the seminary.  But the local ministers said that shouldn't stop me from speaking at their churches.  That day I gathered a good number of local invitations.

   In those days, ecumenism was in the air.  At every Protestant church I visited I was warmly welcomed, even including some friendly, anti-Catholic jokes.  For example, the Protestants in heaven would say to one another, "Shh, be quiet.  The Catholics don't know that we're here."  One evening, when I finished speaking, the minister came up to me and embraced me, saying aloud, "When a [Philadelphia]  Main Line, Scottish Presbyterian minister embraces a South Philly, Catholic priest, something must be happening."

   I was the only priest in the archdiocese presenting these talks.  Before accepting every invitation, I called Msgr. Noone, the chancellor, to receive permission.  Then, after every talk I wrote a report and sent it to him.  Increasingly, I included questions and requests that I had received.  Of special importance was the repeated request that the archdiocese set up some official channel of relationship with the Protestants.  I never got any response from the chancery office on these requests.  When I asked, I always got the answer, "Just make sure you explain the teachings of the church to them."  

My First Meeting with our Jewish Brothers and Sisters
   Then the Jews discovered me.  I was invited to speak at the Main Line Temple, a prestigious synagogue just outside of Philadelphia.  I would be the first priest to ever address the congregation.  When I arrived, I drove into a good sized parking lot that was completely full, except for one space that had a barrier in front of it.  As I drove in, two men ran to the barrier, removed it and waved me in.  I parked my car, got out, thanked the men and looked around.  Naively, I said, "It looks like something big is happening tonight."  I figured there would be very few people there to hear me.  One of the men laughed and said, "Father, they're all here to hear you."

   I walked into the synagogue and saw a tall, white haired, fatherly man.  He saw me and began walking toward me.  Smiling brightly, he called out to me, "Oh there you are.  Where have you been?  You're late."  Panicked, I looked at my watch.  "Rabbi," I nervously responded, "You told me to be here at 8 o'clock.  It's a quarter to eight.  I'm fifteen minutes early."  The Rabbi smiled even more brightly.  "You're 2000 years late. Where have you been!?"  Then he embraced me.  We immediately became friends.

   I started my talk by speaking of Vatican II's document on the Jews.  I said that the Jews were our elder brothers and sisters, and that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses were our fathers as well as theirs.  I said that the Jews were, are and always will be the specially chosen people of God.  I thanked them for giving us Jesus.  And I apologized for the anti-Semitism that the church had been responsible for over the centuries.  As I spoke, almost everybody in the synagogue began to cry.  When I finished speaking, the people all came up to me and embraced me.    

   In other synagogues I received the same response.  With the Jews, and with the Protestants, it was as if a dam had broken and the waters of reconciliation were flowing freely, washing away centuries of animosity.  I mourn that the spirit of ecumenism has dimmed so much over the past years.

   One day, I read in the archdiocesan newspaper the Cardinal Krol had established the Cardinal's Commission on Human Relations, for the purpose of officially relating the the Protestants and Jews.  A priest I knew was named its Director.  I was left out.      

Trouble Begins
When Vatican II ended, Bill Leahy came home to Philadelphia and was assigned to the faculty at St. Charles Seminary.  He had studied Theological Method with Jesuit theologian, Bernard Lonergan, and he had a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture and a Doctorate in Theology.  He was also now an expert on Vatican II, and had every document the council produced, from the first draft of each schema, through every correction, to the final drafts.  Finally, he had a copy of his "Vatican Diary," all the speeches that he had translated into English and distributed to the American bishops.  And he was not yet 30 years old.

   During the years of the council, I had held regular informal seminars with the seminarians to keep them up to date on what was happening in Rome, thanks to my constant contact with Bill.  The older faculty members never mentioned the council, either to the students or to me.  More to the point, as I discovered later, they were watching what I was doing with the students and didn't like it.   

   When Bill arrived, the students flocked to him, hungry for as much information on the council as he gladly gave them.  He also came home with permission from selected Council Fathers to fully translate and publish speeches that he thought were important enough to be made public and given to researchers.  So in the summer of 1966, Bill and I worked together translating the speeches.  They were published by the Paulist Press, as, Third Session Council Speeches of Vatican II.

   Then as the next academic year was about to start, the Rector called bill into his office and said that Bill would no longer be a member of the faculty.  His words were, "Your idea of the church is not the same as mine."  Bill was assigned to a parish.  He began to descend into a long illness that eventually led to his death.

   On the ecumenical front, things got awkward.  When the Director of the Cardinal's Commission on Human Relations was formally invited to an ecumenical event, I was always informally invited.  And I continued my talks. 

 One evening I was invited to address a group of Presbyterian business men.  There was one woman present.  At the end of my talk, she asked me what was happening concerning birth control.  I responded that Pope Paul VI had a commission that included married lay people, who had a sacrament that he didn't have, and that the commission would inform him of what the church now believed on this important matter.    
This was in keeping with Vatican II's teaching on the sensus fidelium, i.e., on the whole church's sense of what was morally right.  The pope would then be able to confirm what the whole church now believed.

   The woman turned out to be a reporter for a Philadelphia newspaper.  The next afternoon I read my response to her.  Then the phone rang.  The Director of the Commission on Human Relations was calling.  He asked me what I had said and I explained my response and said I was quoted correctly.  He said that some priests from outside the archdiocese had complained.  I quickly wondered how priests from outside the archdiocese got a Philadelphia newspaper.  He then said, "From now on, when you receive an invitation to speak to Protestants or Jews, you will say that you're not available."  I asked him to tell me what I had said that was wrong.  He simply repeated his instruction to me.  That was it; I was silenced from speaking in public. 

   Later, Cardinal Krol called me to his residence and recited a list of accusations the seminary faculty had compiled against me--including my informal seminars with the seminarians.  He threatened to "crucify me."  I forcefully answered every accusation and ended by saying, "Now tell me where I'm wrong."  He had no answer.  Instead he rose and came over to me and asked how I was doing.  The angry Cardinal had become the caring father.  

  At the end of the academic year, the seminary Rector announced the teaching assignments for the coming year.  Without ever having said a word to me, I heard him assign my classes to other faculty members.  Now, I had nothing to do.

Catholic Resistance

   My silencing was clarified.  While I could not speak to Protestants and Jews, I could speak about Vatican II to Catholics.  I made myself available and received invitations to speak at various parishes, where in general I was very well received.  But a small group of women began attending every talk.  As I spoke, they said rosaries, sometimes holding the beads up and even rattling them a bit.  Afterward they would ask annoying questions that had no relation to what I had said.  One woman once asked, "Is it a sin to miss Mass?"  I couldn't resist.  I replied, "I don't know."  The group became very animated.  "See, he's teaching heresy!  He's a liberal!"  I motioned them to quiet down and said, "What about if a person is ill?"  

   Then I received from Cardinal Krol a packet of letters, all unsigned, and with no comment from Krol himself.  I read them.  Many contained the same accusation, written in almost the same language, "He changes the way he talks to fit the audience.  To regular people he speaks in regular language, to educated people he speaks in educated language."

   One evening, when I arrived at a parish, I went to the rectory to make myself known to the pastor.  I had been invited by a lay person.  No one was there.  The rectory was empty.  So I went to the hall and began my talk.  Soon after I began, the pastor came in and walked part way up the side aisle.  I stopped speaking, intending to say hello to him.  But before I could say anything, he started shouting.  "I didn't invite you here!  I don't want you here!"  He then turned around and walked out.

  On one occasion, when I was speaking in a public hall because the parish hall was too small, a woman got up and yelled, "You're a heretic.  I curse you, and I curse your family--all generations past and all generations forward."  Pandemonium broke out as the woman kept shouting at me.  Some men tried to calm her but she kept shouting.  Finally, they had to bodily pick her up and carry her from the hall.  

   Later I told Bill Leahy about the incident.  I recalled the warning from our Roman classmates that we were going to get our heads chopped off.  Now I changed the scenario.  "One of these nights," I said, "I think I'm going to get shot!"     

"Barbecued Priest!"
    In 1967 I volunteered to assist the Newman chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania.  In those days it was exciting to be a Catholic and Newman Hall was always alive with students.   (Today it is mostly dark and empty.)  I lectured in Catholicism and Existentialism. We fasted for peace in Vietnam and I pleaded with the students to be positive in their actions about the war and not get involved in any violent demonstrations.  I even testified before the draft board on behalf of a young man would would rather go to prison than fight in the war.
  On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae.  That afternoon I drove to Penn to attend a barbecue at Newman Hall.  When I entered, I asked, "What's for dinner."  Two graduate students, who were married and had two little children responded, "Barbecued Priest!"  

  When the academic year was about to begin, and still having nothing official to do, I drove up City Line to St. Joseph's College (now University) and asked the Jesuits if they needed a theology teacher.  They immediately assigned me to teach three classes.  The students there were reflecting their own kind of turmoil over their faith.  Very quickly, and with the Jesuits' permission, I changed my theology courses to the History of Religion, showing my students how throughout history humans developed a sense of the sacred.  I then taught the main religions of the world.  I showed Ingmar Bergman movies.  The courses were a big success.

Getting a "Bigger Brush"
  At that time, Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia was offering a course on Psychiatry for the Clergy.  Since I was using psychology as a template for understanding spiritual growth and development, I enrolled.  The course ran once a week, all day, for a year.  Some of the ministers in the class began feeling that psychiatry was challenging their faith, so I wound up lecturing on the difference between psychiatry and spirituality, and between psychotherapy and 
spiritual counselling/direction.

  Also, I went once a week to the Philadelphia Art Museum and took lessons in oil painting.  One day, I erased a whole morning's work.  A woman classmate asked me what happened.  I said, "Everything I'm doing is too small.  I feel constricted!"  She said, "Do yourself a favor."  I said, "What?"  She replied, "Get yourself a bigger brush."  Her counsel proved to be prophetic.

Dizzying Turnaround  
   At the end of the year, still without any official assignment and with no one talking to me, I wrote to Cardinal Krol.  I informed him that I had taught at St. Joseph's and asked him if I could continue teaching there.  He wrote back a six page, hand written letter, screaming at me for being disobedient because I was telling him what to do.  He fired me from the seminary faculty and said I would be assigned to a parish.  After a few weeks of again hearing nothing, I called Msgr. Noone, the chancellor of the archidocese and asked for an appointment.  

   When I got to his office, I expected to be screamed at again. Instead, Noone apologized to me for the way I had been treated over the past years.  He called me a good priest and a gentleman.  I asked him what I had taught or done that was wrong.  "Nothing," he replied, "except that you've been pushing us to make decisions and changes that we're not ready to make."  I said, "Well, you give me a sign that you're going to start following the teachings of Vatican II, and I'll stop pushing."  He then told me to ask Cardinal Krol to put me back on the seminary faculty.  Shocked, I said, "He just threw me out!"  Noone simply said, "Ask him."

   I wrote to the Cardinal, emphasizing that I was following Msgr. Noone's instruction.  He wrote back and re-assigned me to seminary faculty.  At the first faculty meeting of the academic year, the Rector made an announcement.  "We're going to start the process of getting accredited.  We will have to reorganize the department of theology, and Tony Massimini will be the chairman of the department.  I went numb.  Afterwards neither the Rector nor anyone else said a thing to me about my new appointment.

End of the Road
    I plunged into the work of accreditation with its mountains of paperwork.  But no one in the department of theology would even talk to me.  I could not even try to call a meeting of the department.  I was isolated.  My class preparation began to decline.  One day, as I was walking down the hall to my classroom, I stopped.  I could not move forward.  It was over.    

  I told Cardinal Krol that I wanted to resign from the clergy. He was furious.  "You're confused by Vatican II."  "No," I said, "I'm dead inside."  "You'll scandalize the seminarians if you resign," he argued.  I responded, "Do you want to put a soul-dead priest in front of seminarians?"  I then made a suggestion.  I would remain at the seminary until the students went home for their Christmas vacation.  I would then transfer to Penn's Newman Hall and be there until the Penn students went home in June.  Then I would leave.  Krol reluctantly agreed.

   In June I went back to see him.  He was coldly furious.  I said nothing until he said, "You have to put yourself in God's hands."  I replied, "I'm 43 years old.  I have no money and no job.  If I'm not in God's hands, I don't know where I am."  His attitude changed.  He rose, motioned me over to a large table and picked up a coffee-table sized book.  "I just received this from Poland," he said softly as he turned the pages revealing beautiful photographs.  I looked at the photos with him for a moment and then said, "It's beautiful to have such a rich heritage."  I then knelt and asked him for his blessing.  He gave it to me and I began to leave.  As I approached his office door, it opened and a priest stepped in.  "Tony," he asked, "do you doubt the validity of your ordination?"  Surprised, I said, "No!"  He left.  Later I learned that if I had said, "Yes," the church could have said that I was not validly ordained and therefore had never been a priest.  

   In November, 1970, I received a letter from Cardinal Krol stating that Pope Paul VI had dispensed me from my priestly duties and obligations, including (this part was in Latin) my promise to be celibate.  Still a priest, I was now officially a layman.

End of the Trail:  Alone
   I met Bill Leahy at a restaurant for dinner.  He didn't look well.  Without permission, he had left the parish where he was assigned and was living in an apartment.  He was therefore officially suspended from his priestly duties and obligations.  He had not resigned from the clergy and in fact, never did resign.  After all that had happened, here we were, two friends in a restaurant.  We were alone and on our own.  

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  I will continue my Diary on a new page, VATICAN II, Part 2. There, I'll begin by discussing how Pope Paul VI's encyclical on contraception, Humanae Vitae, turned out to be a major obstacle to the implementation of Vatican II.          




























  1. I am mesmerized by this. The Truth. This is what they should be teaching, preaching, saying, doing! We, the Catholic faithful, yearn for and are starving for the Truth from our Church. We need this in our lives to make it whole and to make sense of things.

    Thank you. I am eager for more of your diary of "Vatican II Then and Now."

  2. Thank you so much for this posting. I am so grateful to have your diary to help me better understand the changes at Second Vatican Council. I look forward to reading each new post.

  3. Thank you. It is so helpful to hear about what really went on at the Council. Please continue

  4. This should be made into a movie.

  5. Thank-you, Tony, for sharing your experiences during Vatican II and afterward. Although I have taken a leave of absence from the institutional church (one of those who have walked away after 60 years), I am still a Catholic in my heart and my soul. Your writing affirms for me that the Spirit speaks to and through those who chose to hear. Blessings on you and your work.

  6. I loved your description of who God is and how he is present in everything. Thank you for your ongoing writing and sharing it with those of us who hunger for a church which behaves as though God is fully alive in each of us instead of just hanging out in the tabernacle waiting for his 10 minutes of weekly public performance (no disrespect intended to anyone who might read this).

  7. I must say that I am delighted to read of your experiences relating to the Second Vatican Council. My heart breaks daily as I think of the changes to the Mass. Where these changes are taking us is frightening. Perhaps there may yet be hope for Catholicism.

  8. I've been busy in my yard (I'm a Canadian and spring comes later for us), so I'm just catching up on my reading. When I read your quote from June 4th, "One woman once asked, "Is it a sin to miss Mass?" I couldn't resist. I replied, "I don't know." The group became very animated. "See, he's teaching heresy! He's a liberal!", it reminded me so much of the Gospel stories where the pharisees try to trick Jesus (not saying that you're Jesus, Tony!). It's just sad to hear that people were so afraid of change, lay people and clergy alike. Keep telling the story.