Vol 39 No 3
ENGAGING WITH CHANGE
STILL RELEVANT? Vatican II Forty Years On
ETHNIC MINISTRY IN AUSTRALIA: History, Present Realities and Future Options
THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE HEART: The EJ Cuskelly Memorial Lecture 2005
GOD SHOUTS TO US IN OUR PAIN
Dr Lawrence Cross, Australian Catholic University
TOPICAL COMMENT - TERRORISTS, MARTYRS AND SUICIDES: Consulting the Early
STATS AND STONES: Vinnies’ report from the trenches on the poverty wars
MERTON: A Modern Perspective
REVIEW: Jane Anderson, Priests in Love: Australian Catholic Clergy and
Their Intimate Friendships.
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
Engaging with change
THE ARTICLES IN this issue of Compass deal with diverse subjects, but
they have something in common: they each reflect the fact that we live
in a changing world. In the first article Richard Lennan reflects on life
within the Catholic Church over the forty years since Vatican II, how
the wheels of time and opinion have continued to turn and the Pilgrim
People has moved on as well. Tony Paganoni attends to the change of profile
of migrants in the church in Australia in the past fifty years. Frank
Fletchers articles on Heart spirituality and Danny Kinnanes
examination of the writings of Thomas Merton illustrate that spirituality
and the contemplative life are forever searching for new ways of expression
and practice. Brian Sans reflection on evil in our world returns
to the ever-ancient and ever-new challenge to find God in the world in
the midst of evil and suffering: disasters and human infamy never cease,
the events of New Orleans being yet one further terrible instance. Finally,
John Falzons article concerning poverty and inequality in Australia
as seen by a well-informed member of the St Vincent de Paul Society illustrates
how we need to be always vigilant as the economy juggernaut grinds on.
To be mindful that we live in a changing world is one thing. The challenge
is to live wisely though the changes, to engage with the ever-changing
present, and to respond creatively to the socio-political, cultural and
religious environment of our time. Some things considered settled now
have to be re-negotiated; we ourselves have to be ready and able to change
constantly, for old ways of thinking and responding may no longer be appropriate.
One of our authors aptly reminds us that we do not want to be grumpy old
(or young) men and women railing against what the world has become and
lamenting the past. Nor do we want to capitulate and go with every wind
and tide of our age. How do we best respond, maintaining our own sense
of ourselves and upholding what we know to be precious and non-negotiable?
I do not presume to answer such big questions here and now, but I believe
it is worth re-visiting Vatican II for some pointers on living in and
responding to a changing world.
The Council was called by Pope John XXIII for the purpose of setting the
Church on a truly pastoral path. The Council as a whole rejected calls
from some of its members to issue condemnations and denunciations. The
Council Fathers opted not to talk at people from a height, taking dogmatic,
sermonising tones, and strove instead to communicate with people, conscious
as they were that most of the people they wanted to reach lived their
lives largely or fully outside the Church. They tried to engage in a conversation
with the people of their age.
As they looked back over their work towards the end of the Council they
realised that many things had been leftat least for now unsaid.
But they took comfort from the fact that they had worked to enable the
Church to give its witness to their contemporaries, especially by declaring
their convictions about why human beings need God, why the world needs
God, and the value of Churchs faith for the world of today.
The best expression of the pastoral aspirations of the Church in Council
is the justly famous statement that opens the Pastoral Constitution on
the Church in the Modern World:
The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially
of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the
grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is
genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.
In this statement the Fathers affirm that Christian believers are in solidarity
with all human beings, especially those who are afflicted.
The phrase 'followers of Christ' is the key. Through his Incarnation Jesus
entered into solidarity with the whole human race. The Letter to the Hebrews
meditates on that truth, emphasising that this was the way he had to take
in order to redeem us:
Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect,
so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service
of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because
he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who
are being tested. (Heb. 2:17-18)
The last sentence in that passage gives an explanation of why his solidarity
with us enabled him to rescue us: Jesus has been through what we experience,
he has been there and knows what we are going through. He has experienced
human pain, weakness, darkness:
He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself
is subject to weakness. (5:2)
In the course of his reflection the author of the Letter to the Hebrews
makes explicit what is already implicit but needs to be emphasisedthat
because Jesus took on our human condition so fully his human heart was
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our
weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we
are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with
boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time
of need. (4:15-16)
Jesus feels for us. He sympathises with us. He feels compassion for us.
The Vatican Council stated that, as followers of Christwith Christ
as our modelwe are in complete solidarity with our brothers and
sisters and feel for them and with them in all that happens to them. To
express the Council's statement in another way: our human hearts are like
the human heart of Jesus. Like Jesusas followers of Christwe
feel for, sympathise with, and feel compassion for our afflicted brothers
There is a term taken from the discipline of psychology that we use to
describe this emotional unitedness with othersit is the word 'empathy'.
To empathise means literally to 'feel into' the situation of another,
usually a situation of pain and hardhip. Empathy is described as 'an affective
response more appropriate to someone else's situation than to one's own'.1.
Empathy, as we already know in some way but which the psychologists clarify
for us, engenders compassion, 'a feeling of sympathetic distress', from
which develops concern and a desire to aid the other.2
'The followers of Christ', the Council Fathers say, share in the joy and
hope, the grief and anguish of other human beings, and they do so because
they are following in the footsteps of the Master. Jesus was moved with
compassion and a desire to aid suffering humanity, which desire led him
to actionhe brought the Kingdom of God into our history; he gave
up his life for suffering humanity.
The Council's emphasis on the Servant Church shows the coherence of their
vision of a truly pastoral Council: empathy engenders compassion in the
followers of Christ, and compassion stirs to action to further the kingdom
of God in political, social and personal spheres. The followers of Christ
will seek to overcome the causes of suffering and oppression, both socio-political
As I say, these few thoughts do not give all the answers on how to cope
with living in a world of change. More than heart is neededgentleness
must be accompanied by firmnessbut heart is needed above all else.
The Second Vatican Council showed us the way to be a follower of Christ
in our world.
Barry Brundell MSC, Editor
1. Hoffman, M. 1987, ‘The Contribution of Empathy to Justice and Moral
Development’, in Empathy and Its Development, N. Eisenberg and J Strayer,
eds, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp 47-80.
2. Shelton, CM. 1990, Morality of the Heart. A Psychology for the Christian
Moral Life, New York: Crossroad, ch. 3.