John Paul II on Vatican II, the Church and the Holy Spirit

On the Feast of Pentecost we can appreciate the teaching about Vatican II from Pope ‘s Dominum et vivificantem: On the in the Life of the Church and the World. Pentecost is not a thing of the past, a distant memory, an old story. It is precisely a new story, a story about renewal, the ongoing renewal of the Church. John Paul II constantly urged the faithful to study the documents of Vatican II, because there is where we find “what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.”

The Conciliar Constitution Lumen Gentium tell us that the era of the Church began with the coming of the Holy Spirit. They also tell us that this era, the era of the Church, continues. It continues down the centuries and generations. In our own century, when humanity is already close to the end of the second Millennium after Christ, this era of the Church expressed itself in a special way through the Second Vatican Council, as the Council of our century. For we know that it was in a special way an “ecclesiological” Council: a Council on the theme of the Church. At the same time, the teaching of this Council is essentially “pneumatological”: it is permeated by the truth about the Holy Spirit, as the soul of the Church. We can say that in its rich variety of teaching the Second Vatican Council contains precisely all that “the Spirit says to the Churches” with regard to the present phase of the history of salvation.

But obviously many of the faithful have claimed a warrent for distortions and exaggerations based on a presumption of “the spirit of the council.” We need discernment today to follow the path of authentic renewal. The “prince of the world” comes forward espcially at such times to tempt the faithful to a love of power and false liberation. So Blessed John Paul II warned us and encouraged us to discern the true path:

Following the guidance of the Spirit of truth and bearing witness together with him, the Council has given a special confirmation of the presence of the Holy Spirit — the Counselor. In a certain sense, the Council has made the Spirit newly “present” in our difficult age. In the light of this conviction one grasps more clearly the great importance of all the initiatives aimed at implementing the Second Vatican Council, its teaching and its pastoral and ecumenical thrust. . . . This work being done by the Church for the testing and bringing together of the salvific fruits of the Spirit bestowed in the Council is something indispensable. For this purpose one must learn how to “discern” them carefully from everything that may instead come originally from the “prince of this world.” This discernment in implementing the Council’s work is especially necessary in view of the fact that the Council opened itself widely to the contemporary world, as is clearly seen from the important Conciliar Constitutions Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium.

Blessed John Paul II was a man of great hope, urging us to cross the threshold of hope with him, because he had faith in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. He cited these passages from Gaudium et spes:

“For theirs (i.e., of the disciples of Christ) is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly and intimately ed with mankind and its history.” (Gaudium et spes §1)

“The Church truly knows that only God, whom she serves, meets the deepest longings of the human heart, which is never fully satisfied by what the world has to offer.” (Gaudium et spes §41)

“God ‘s Spirit. . . with a marvelous providence directs the unfolding of time and renews the face of the earth.” (Gaudium et spes §26)

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