A parishioner said to me last week, ‘when is the Roncalli Rant going to be about Roncalli’? So here goes!
I look to Neil Young for music. My long infatuation with Katharine Hepburn is well known. My favourite American Presidents are Reagan, Clinton and Obama, in that order. I love reading, usually Dickens, Hardy or Bronte. However when it comes to popes, whilst I have a great love for John Paul Il, considerable regard for Gregory XV and much gratitude for our present pontiff, Francis, there is something about John XXIII. Yes for me there is something special about ‘oul Roncalli’ .Yes Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII, now Pope St John XXIII is my ultimate papal hero.
On a human level I am drawn to his ‘unpredictable’ or ‘unforeseen’ election and again what might be termed his ‘unsuitability’. Of course looked upon with the eyes of faith these so called ‘criteria’ disappear very fast. The truth is God had a plan. God’s will is made manifest in the dance of the Holy Spirit. For me a profound example of this is found in the Second Vatican Council which this great pope called. I believe that the Holy Spirit was herself present in very real tangible ways in the calling of the Council in the first place, in it’s actual workings and in it’s ensuing decrees.
Now at this point I am going to make a bold statement. I believe that the Church is in the mess it is in today largely due to it’s failure to implement the work of Vatican II. The reaction in so many places to the huge effort and far reaching statements of the Council was ‘business as usual’ or ‘no change here’. In fact I think we were particularly guilty of that ostrich mentality here in Ireland. In very real terms we refused to implement the reforms of Vatican II.
Why is this so? Whilst I believe one of the greatest blocks to any reform is us priests, I have learned over the past few years that clericalism is a sickness not confined to priests. Perhaps people generally resist change. Sometimes we just get cosy and comfortable and before we know it we are complacent. Whatever way we put it I think we have, in the main, resisted the fire of reform that was Vatican II.
I think we have paid a high price for this. We remain a very hierarchical church. Clerical and in some ways misogynistic. One of the most glaring areas of this is within the area of the laity. The Second Vatican Council was revolutionary in this regard and yet reform with regard to the laity was essentially stifled. Was this because greater involvement of the laity did not suit us priests? Are we now seeing greater lay involvement because we know it is the right thing to do and we have turned into it with gospel gusto or is it more lethargic than that? Is lay involvement tolerated on ‘father’s terms’? Is lay involvement truly welcome or tolerated because there are fewer priests?
So then the Roncalli Community or Roncalli Reform which I founded last year is essentially a prayer movement in the Church that wants to explore new ways of doing ministry, or if you like ‘being parish’. It is rooted in Vatican II. Whilst it acknowledges the sins of the Church, it continues to proclaim her beauty. If Roncalli takes off it will mentor a different way of being a local faith community. More communal than hierarchical, more lay than clerical. Lay led, most likely woman led. In fact it will facilitate a happier priesthood and a happier laity as both will be allowed to grow more freely into their own respective vocations.