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Vol 39 No 3


Richard Lennan
STILL RELEVANT? Vatican II Forty Years On

Tony Paganoni CS
ETHNIC MINISTRY IN AUSTRALIA: History, Present Realities and Future Options

Frank Fletcher MSC
THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE HEART: The EJ Cuskelly Memorial Lecture 2005

Brian San

Rev Dr Lawrence Cross, Australian Catholic University

John Falzon
STATS AND STONES: Vinnies’ report from the trenches on the poverty wars

Danny Kinnane
MERTON: A Modern Perspective

Janiene Wilson
REVIEW: Jane Anderson, Priests in Love: Australian Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Friendships

Kevin Mark


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 Fletcher’s articles on Heart spirituality and Danny Kinnane’s 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 San’s 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 Falzon’s 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 left—at 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 Church’s 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 emphasised—that because Jesus took on our human condition so fully his human heart was engaged:

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 Christ—with Christ as our model—we 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 Jesus—as followers of Christ—we feel for, sympathise with, and feel compassion for our afflicted brothers and sisters.

There is a term taken from the discipline of psychology that we use to describe this emotional unitedness with others—it 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 action—he 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 and personal-spiritual.

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 needed—gentleness must be accompanied by firmness—but 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.