October 2012

Re-embracing the vision of Vatican II

It is time again to open the windows afresh and engage in meaningful ways with the world, writes Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS

Over the past week, media stories have focussed on three recent fiftieth anniversaries: the Bathurst 1000 car race (October 6-7), the release of the first Beatles’ record, Love Me Do (October 5) and the beginning of the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church (October 11). Indeed, these are three very different events whose influence on contemporary society varies greatly.

Many of us ‘oldies’ might ask: where was I in 1962? What influences have any of these events had on my life?

In 1962 I was a brash teenager. I did not know about the Bathurst 1000; it held no interest for me. As a member of a committed Catholic family, I knew that things were slowly changing in the Church and that the local bishop seemed to be away from the diocese for an extended period. But the Second Vatican Council didn’t raise much interest for me then either. That interest came later in life.

But The Beatles? That was another question. Like many other teenagers, I was captivated and enthralled when, in 1963, they came to Australia and later, when Love Me Do hit the top of the record charts on February 14, 1964.

Reflecting recently on the impact of The Beatles, Sydney Morning Herald journalist, Mark Sawyer, said: “‘Youth’ did not exist as anything like the sociological phenomenon it became after The Beatles broke through with US audiences… [in] 1964”. They became an international force for change among youth across the Western world. The pop music story, its vitality, and its medium of communication which followed The Beatles, influenced and changed adolescence irreversibly and continues to do so. Love Me Do also epitomised a youth seeking unbridled freedom and love as the ‘60s sexual revolution burst onto the scene.

As much as The Beatles influenced my life back then, there was another call to love which gnawed at my heart and led me to join religious life as a Sister of the Good Samaritan. I joined the Sisters as the Vatican Council closed and implementation followed the buzz word aggiornamento – “renew”. There was vibrancy in the Church as it emerged from some 400 years of ‘separation’ from the world as Pope John XXIII called for the windows to be opened and for fresh air to circulate through the corridors of the worldwide Church.

So, 50 years on, it was the Second Vatican Council that influenced my life more than any other event of 1962. I have been formed theologically and spiritually by the theologians and writers of Vatican II: Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Congar, Suenens and Haring, to name a few. For me, they have been compulsory reading because it is they, with others, who have opened up the Church and its theology to dialogue with a world in need of love and peace.

The Second Vatican Council called the Catholic Church to return to Scripture, especially the Gospels, as the foundation of its members’ lives. The message of the Gospels is none other than the love of God and of neighbour. It demands that I extend myself beyond self to a transcendent love, because I know I am unconditionally loved by the God of Jesus Christ. The Church in all its complexities often forgets this core calling, that everything we do or believe is based on this message of mystical love of God – a personal God who invites us into intimate union. Such intimacy with God can be found in the ancient practice of lectio divina, the prayerful and reflective reading of Sacred Scripture.

As bishops and others gather in Rome to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican II by attending a Synod of Bishops on Evangelisation, I hope and pray they may find new ways of invigorating the vision of Vatican II so that the Church can speak to the youth of today with an authentic and credible enthusiasm for the love of God and of neighbour as the basis for a life to be lived to the full.

Sadly, it seems The Beatles have had a much greater influence than the Church on the life of young people. The institution of the Church has become old and tired and too internally focussed. It is time again to open the windows afresh and engage in meaningful ways with the world so that the love of God and one another might again be at the heart of all that the Church is and does.

Clare Condon

Sister Clare Condon is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She served as leader from September 2005 until September 2017. In 2013, Clare was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission in recognition of the Good Samaritan Sisters’ work with asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and the victims of domestic violence. In 2022, Clare was awarded an Honorary Doctor of the University from Australian Catholic University.

If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.