Chaput on the Council
History is a powerful teacher. While all true ecumenical councils are important in the life of the Church, some failed to achieve their goals. The Council of Florence failed in the 15th century because the Western Church was badly divided and the Greek Church could not accept a union. The Fifth Lateran Council failed in the 16th century because it focused on the wrong issues. It did too little too late to change the conditions that led to the Protestant Reformation.Who's stealing the sheep now? We could go on with that one forever....
We need to ask ourselves this fall, as we consider the goals that the Second Vatican Council set for itself: Will history judge it a success or a failure? In opening Vatican II, Blessed Pope John XXIII said that, “the council now beginning rises in the Church like daybreak, a forerunner of most splendid light.” Pope John Paul II, who attended the council as a bishop, spoke many times about “crossing the threshold of hope” and a rebirth of Christian faith in the new millennium.
So far the evidence is mixed. One in every three new children born in “Christian Europe” today is Muslim. Except for Islam, religious belief and practice are declining across the continent. So are fertility rates. Pope Benedict XVI told a gathering of Italian priests recently that the “so-called traditional Churches look like they’re dying.” In fact, in Europe’s wealth and selfishness and refusal to have children, an entire civilization seems to be choosing to die.
Last month, Pope Benedict urged a group of new bishops to pray for “a humble trust in God and for the apostolic courage born of faith.” In 2002, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said that “a bishop must do as Christ did: precede his flock, being the first to do what he calls others to do and, first of all, being the one who stands against the wolves who come to steal the sheep.”