I had the privilege of sitting down with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann on November 10, 2008, at the Fall General Assembly of the USCCB in Baltimore, MD. In this interview, the Archbishop shared some candid thoughts about the importance of exploring the documents of Vatican II in our adult faith formation efforts.
LV: One of the Priority Mission Goals that the bishops are discussing at the Fall Assembly in Baltimore stated in part, “To invite all Catholics to a relationship with Jesus… especially at the parish level, by catechetical and educational formation.”
The Objectives for this Goal proposed a number of papal and USCCB documents upon which to base our Faith Formation initiatives going forward. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, Redemptoris Missio, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, Ecclesia in America, Novo Millennio Ineunte, the National Directory for Catechesis, Go and Make Disciples, etc.) I reviewed the documents listed and found that each one of them makes numerous references to the Second Vatican Council — between 10 and 40 times a piece!
Why do documents that serve to guide our faith formation efforts rely so heavily upon the teachings of the Council?
+JN: In many ways Vatican II is our most recent authoritative teaching. When we look at why that Council was called, we find that it was to equip the Church for proclaiming the gospel in the modern — and now we’re talking about the post-modern — world. So we look to the Council documents as the best of our teaching, and as a guidepost, for how we can most effectively announce the Gospel in our own time and place. Even though a great deal has changed since the Council, many of the cultural currents and philosophical issues we face are the same ones the Council addressed.
LV: I recently read that the Holy Father made the same point just last week saying the Council documents are as “pertinent” today as ever.
+JN: Yes. That’s exactly right.
LV: Speaking of the Council documents and faith formation, the General Directory for Catechesis, issued by the Holy See in 1997, states in article 28, “It must be recognized, however, that in the midst of this richness [of the Council] there also occur ‘difficulties about the acceptance of the Council.’” Why do you think there is so much confusion and disagreement among the faithful as to what the Council Fathers actually taught?
+JN: That’s a good question. In some ways of the teachings of the Council were almost hijacked by those who began to pronounce things in “the spirit of Vatican II” that were never really part of the Council.
Some of it also had to do with the cultural and societal turmoil that the Church was embroiled in with the broader culture at the time of the Council. There was much confusion and questioning of everything in those days, and while the Council was trying to help us articulate the same eternal faith in the context of the world today, some people misunderstood that and thought it had opened some doors to alter and change the teaching.
The work of the Council goes on. John Paul II did so much to try to advance our understanding, and of course the Catechism was one of the great fruits of his pontificate giving to us a clarification of the Council’s teachings. Certainly Pope Benedict XVI is a great teaching pope as well, and a son of the Council. Both of them have dedicated their pontificates to helping us come to a true understanding of the Council and therefore to its true implementation.
LV: Getting back to those foundational documents listed in the Priority Mission Objectives; in his 1988 Apostolic Letter Christifideles Laici, John Paul II strongly urged the faithful to explore the Council documents.
Six years later in his 1994 Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio, the Holy Father repeated this exhortation with increased urgency.
Seven years after that, in January 2001, the Holy Father issued Novo Millennio Ineunte in which he referred back to his previous exhortations for the lay faithful to explore the Council documents asking the rhetorical question: “Has this been done?”
He went on to say: “Now that the Jubilee has ended, I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning” (57). [Emphasis in original]
Now here we are seven more years later, and my question to you is essentially the same; has this been done? Has the Church acted upon the Holy Father’s exhortation to invite the lay faithful directly — not simply by reference — but directly into the actual documents of Vatican Council II?
+JN: I’d have to say I don’t think it has been done; not effectively, and I say that personally. I don’t think I’ve done that in our own Archdiocese in a very direct way. There are many things that have been very positive, but it has been more a matter of trying to get our teaching, and those who are doing our teaching, to map to the Catechism which is really an outgrowth of the Council. But to get them back to the original documents of the Council, no, I don’t think we’ve done a god job of that frankly. But thanks for reminding me! [Laughter]
LV: I hear from Directors of Religious Ed frequently who tell me that there is precious little faith formation material available to help them in the effort to guide the lay faithful into the Council documents by the light of Tradition. My own research tells me this is the case not just in the US, but in the world. Are you surprised by this?
+JN: In one sense yes, in another sense, no. The quotes from the Holy Father make me re-ponder this… but I think there’s been an assumption that while getting people to the Council documents is certainly a good thing, there has been more energy spent in trying to get them to understand the meaning of the documents through our catechesis. I’m not sure we’ve seen getting people to the original documents as important a goal as giving them the teachings without going directly through the Council documents, which are perhaps more approachable than we give them credit.
There are many bishops who quote the Council documents in order to lead their people to ask, “Where did that come from?” and then to see the link to the document. But I think you’re right; there is a lack of materials that have the goal and objective of not just giving the teachings but taking people back to the fullness of those teachings in the Council documents themselves.
LV: Do you think that taking the faithful directly into the Council documents would be a useful adult faith formation initiative?
+JN: Certainly. Absolutely.
LV: Are there any words of encouragement that you would like to offer the lay faithful as it pertains to exploring the Council documents firsthand?
+JN: I would certainly encourage the faithful to explore the Council documents, and even to ask their pastors if they can do a study — a systematic study — of the documents of Vatican II.
I remember in the Archdiocese of St. Louis where I grew up there was great effort called “Project Renewal” to present the Council documents. I was too young to even participate in it, and I’m not sure how good or how effective it was, but it seems to me that we could go back to some sort of process like that, where we walk people through the Council documents in a study guide fashion. I think that could be a very fruitful adult education and faith formation project.
Hopefully that will be something we can do. It could certainly be one of the ways we could strive to accomplish the Conference’s goals for catechesis.