US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Vatican II, Schmatican II

By Tara K. Dix | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
In this article from 2005, Tara Dix wonders if it is time for a new agenda forty years after the close of Vatican II.

Leading up to this month's 40th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, this year has been filled with workshops, symposia, and whole conferences dedicated to the discussion of Vatican II, the unfinished business of Vatican II, renewing the spirit of Vatican II, and more. And all I can say is: Yawn.

A few years ago a Catholic university on the West Coast hosted a three-day event to mark the 40 years since the opening of the council. It was called "Fanning the Flame." I had to wonder: What flame? It's been 40 years since that flame burned brightest, and to me that's a lifetime and a half ago. Apparently this still comes as a shock to many older Catholics, but I'm quite certain that most Catholics under the age of 30 are not inspired by cries of "Gaudium et spes!"

To my generation, the church has always been the People of God, the priest has always faced the congregation, the Mass has always been said in the vernacular, and many of us girls were even altar servers. So every time I hear someone bemoaning the fact that the church hasn't kept the promises of Vatican II or that the clock has been turned back, I think it's about time somebody opened up another window and let in some new fresh air because the reformers are getting stale.

I realize why those who directly experienced the sea change of Vatican II are so passionate about it. They were filled with so much hope of realizing the church they envisioned, a church of equality and justice and enlightenment, and it's hard to accept that that dream came, perhaps, only half true.

I mean this older generation no offense, nor do I wish to diminish the value of that great place they sought. In many ways I share their vision. But the energy of Vatican II reform has not been passed on, and if they want to get young people involved in the church, they're going to have to frame it in a different way.

Young people do have energy for renewing the church and making it a place to grow our faith, but that energy is separate from Vatican II and based more on ideals of the gospel and social justice. The general skepticism of my generation toward institutions also extends to the church.

Certainly, I wish the church had more integrity, that it was more just, more holy, more welcoming, more true. I wish that I saw in the church a place that I could never even consider leaving. I wish I could say that without a doubt it is the faith community in which I want to raise my children.

But the church has let us down--most severely in recent years with the sex-abuse scandal--and I'm afraid I see in the older generation a church that has let them down, too.

Vatican II was responsible for incredible and sweeping changes in the Roman Catholic Church. Since then there have been waves of backlash against that change, and tides shifting from one direction to the other. But it seems clear to me that the powers that be are not interested in any more of the changes Vatican II-inspired reformers are eager to see, such as increased roles for women or more collaboration with laypeople. No number of workshops on the subject is going to change that.

If after 40 years the business is still unfinished, isn't it time for a new agenda? Obviously the first round didn't take.

Don't get me wrong, I fully appreciate the significance of Vatican II in church history, and I am interested in that history in the same way that I am interested in American history, world history, or my family history. I just don't buy it as a rallying cry.

As someone who did not experience the world or the church prior to 1965,1 don't have any interest in rehashing the good old days of the late 1960s and '70s when love was in the air and the church was a brand-new place.

I support many organizations with aims of renewing the Catholic community, but everyone's noticed how the average age of the members of these groups is getting older and older. Yet all maintain a goal of attracting younger members. My advice to these groups: Cut the Vatican II talk. Work on the now. Surface a new enthusiasm. Make me see why it's worth the trouble.

Fan the flame? I'd love to. But let's get a new fire going first.

This article appeared in the December 2005 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 70, No. 12, page 50).