Last week Rorate Caeli published a provocative post entitled, “How has that been working out?” to mark the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation Evangelica Testificatio, on the renewal of religious life according to the teaching of Vatican II.
It’s a very good question, and the turbulence and decline of the past 40 or so years give the question a bit of an edge, leading some to place the “blame” for this (and anything else they don’t like about the “post-conciliar” Church) on Vatican II and Pope Paul VI.
There’s a lot to be said about all this, and we can have different opinions about the Church, the state of religious life, etc. I would, however, like to give just a few ground rules for the discussion as faithful Catholics.
(1) The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was a legitimate ecumenical council of the Church, and if one is not careful, one can be on the outside looking in if he/she goes too far in trying to minimize the Council’s authority or teaching, or in second-guessing the actions of Pope Paul VI. One does far better to adopt Pope Benedict’s “hermeneutic of continuity” in that regard.
(2) While this isn’t de fide, it’s probably misguided to think that Vatican II wasn’t necessary and that the post-WWII world and Church were just fine as they were.
(3) “Renewal” is always a good thing, and when it comes to the Church as a whole, renewal does not usually happen overnight.
(4) Sinful mankind is always part of the equation (one of the reasons “renewal” takes awhile!), but it’s subordinate to the grace of the Holy Spirit through which God continually breathes new life into His Church.
(5) The “renewal” of religious life called for at Vatican II and discussed in Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation has continued, despite the setbacks. Those documents need to be read in continuity not only with what came before, but also in continuity with subsequent exercises of the Magisterium, most notably the Synod of Bishops that culminated in Pope John Paul II’s 1996 apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata.
(6) We do well to look forward in hope, as we “put out into the deep” (Luke 5:4) in the new millennium, focusing on all the good that’s happening in the Church, and in particular in religious life. In that regard, the Institute on Religious Life has been a singular voice in upholding the goodness, beauty, and enduring truth of the Church’s living tradition as it relates to the consecrated life.