Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 5, 1999
Vatican II dreams remain unfulfilled
Even Greater Things: Hope and Challenge after Vatican II. by Bernard and Mae Daly, Bishop Remi De Roo, Novalis: Toronto. 1998. 264 pp.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
Some months ago I did lunch with a longtime friend, now a Catholic bishop from Ontario. We reminisced about the 1960s when, as seminarians of different communions, we had worked together in national ecumenical activities.
We had tasted the exhilaration of Church renewal and the early results of Vatican II. Now we shared a certain sadness over much that remained unfulfilled of a unity so much anticipated.
The conversation shifted to a paper I had recently given. My subject was the Oblates and the Dene First Nation of northwestern Canada. In that presentation I expressed both admiration and candid criticism of a long-term Catholic mission endeavour at the very margins of what was then "civilization."
Complimenting me that my effort had been published in several Catholic journals the bishop said, "I liked your assessment. You know that 35 years ago you could not have written that and gotten away with it!"
I thought often of that exchange while reading Even Greater Things by the Dalys and the emeritus bishop of Victoria, Remi De Roo. In their introduction they say we still have a lot to learn about what Vatican II actually said. They believe the Church has been called by the council to undergo a surge of renewal and reform of which only the first possibilities have been realized.
In spite of predictions to the contrary they affirm that the Church - as God's people, and not necessarily in its current form - is far from finished. Rather, it is much closer to the beginning of its mission than to the end of it.
After two millennia of Christianity, 30 some years is really not much time. Seeds that were sown at the council and the implications of what was officially proclaimed there have only begun to gestate. They are only now undergoing a birthing process.
This book provides a helpful perspective for people who lived during that momentous time and an intriguing introduction for those who have reached awareness since then.
With discretion and candour, the authors attempt to enrich the dialogue in the Church over what actually happened during the council and what still needs to happen.
Each writer brings an important contribution to the discussion which is presented in an exchange-of-letters format. De Roo was a keen young theologian and prelate at the council. He shares firsthand experience about the political manoeuvring and the clear discernment of the Spirit which occurred.
Bernard Daly covered the event as information officer for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. He keeps the discussion focused on down-to-earth Christian realities. Mae Daly presents an evolving womanist vision that strongly permeates and enlightens the text.
Individual chapters focus on how the council can help the modern Church deal with challenges such as the new science, the ethics of human and gender relations, family and fertility, spirituality, holiness, liturgy, gifts God's people bring to the community and ecumencial/interfaith perspectives. Each chapter ends with a series of questions for discussion and suggestions for action.
Human interest at the Vatican breaks through periodically. On one occasion, later in his career, De Roo is invited with a group to a working lunch with the pope. In the course of the conversation he mentioned the need to ordain married men because the Church risked losing the Eucharist in northern Canada due to the shortage of priests.
The pope banged the table with his knife handle in his fist and said in Latin, "God will provide." End of discussion at that point. But the issue will not go away.
One drawback to the format is that there is a certain amount of repetition and overlap. The glossary of terms is a benefit to readers but an index would be useful.
The hopefulness and enthusiasm conveyed by these seasoned commentators is gratifying. There are going to be a lot of changes in the Church's future structure, they tell us.
Here is evidence that wisdom gained through a lifetime of faithful serving and probing provides general enrichment. This Protestant reviewer was honoured to critique the book and assumes with his bishop friend that he will "get away with it."
(Rev. Dr. Wayne Holst is a lecturer at the University of Calgary. He was a Lutheran pastor, missionary and Church executive for 25 years.)