A Suggestion for Lent

by Michael Sean Winters

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So often, debates and discussions within the Church turn ugly because it is so difficult to set aside our pre-conceived narratives and look at the issues of the day wish freshness, openness, and a willingness to be proven wrong. It is so much more fun to be proven right!

For Catholics, many of our debates and discussions focus on Vatican II and what it meant. There is a great, important, useful, necessary, and ever on-going debate about the significance of Vatican II in the life of the Church, the 50th anniversary of which we celebrate this year. But, too often, we (and I include myself in this) place our own interpretation of the Council first, leaving no room for other interpretations and often straying far from the actual texts themselves. So, one of my Lenten observances this year is to re-read the documents of Vatican II and I commend this to all who engage the intellectual life of the Church. Progressives need to be open to what the Council taught about the nature of the Church. Conservatives need to recognize how outward-looking and forward-thinking many of the conciliar texts are. Everybody needs to recognize that the Council had much to say about issues of justice and peace that appeal to progressives and much to say about authority and morality that appeal to conservatives, but that it also had a lot to say about more fundamental questions: what does it mean to be human? how and why missionary activity is integral to the life of the Church? what do Catholics do when we worship? how are our views about doctrine related to our views about morality?

We can all use a refresher course in Vatican II. And, we can all benefit from approaching those texts with a true openness of mind and heart, seeking to be challenged not confirmed by those texts. It is so easy to smugly invoke the Council for this or that objective, and there is smugness on both left and right. Better to let the texts speak to us and challenge us to set aside our blinders. Better to see than to continue blind. Better to seek common ground with those whose ideological predispoitions are different from our own, and what better way to proceed than by examining anew what we share, the great treasure of Vatican II.

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