Man Cannot Live on Vatican II Alone

It’s a Friday. A boy and his father head out in their boat to fish. The plan is to catch supper.

“Dad, we’ve been out for two hours and haven’t caught anything,” remarks the boy sullenly.

“The water is too dirty right now,” notices his father. “Let’s try something different.”

“I was thinking we could change our lures. These crankbaits would get more attention,” offers the young lad.

“No, son, listen to me,” begins the older man. “You notice that our boat is relatively clean, yet the water is awfully dirty. We need to open the plug on our boat to cleanse the waters.”

As the son pauses nervously to decide whether or not his dad is joking or has lost his mind, the dad reaches below the motor and pulls the boat’s plug. Instantly, filthy river water comes rushing in.

“Dad! What are you doing? Water is rushing in! Quick! Put the plug back!” shouts the boy.

“I think we need to wait and let the water get cleaned up,” the father replies calmly, as water rises past his feet.

The son grabs an old bucket and desperately starts bailing water out of the boat. Seeing that the process is hopeless, he begs, “Dad, please!”

His father, touched by the peaceful sound of flowing water, closes his eyes and croons harmoniously, “Peace is flowing like a river…flowing out of you and me…”

“Put the plug back in, or we’re finished!”

“Son, I think the water is rising maybe a bit too much,” the father finally announces as water reaches his waist. “We need to somehow return to when I first pulled the plug on our boat. If only we could try this all over again, I bet it would work out.”

The fishing trip more or less concludes. Water now begins pouring in over the side of the boat. As the father is swept away, he calls one last time, “Remember son, this was a good idea! Just…trust me…everything will be fine…”

* * *

Yes, I allude to Vatican II. We all know the story. Pope John XXIII wished to open the windows of the Church to let in the fresh air of the modern world. The ever complicated, ever vague Second Vatican Council was the solution. The Spirit of Vatican II was the aftermath. The devastation of Catholicism was the end result. Still, calls to rediscover this council remain. If we but read the documents in Latin, and apply the council properly, all will be restored. “Noble simplicity” merely meant not to trip over countless statues in a church. “Active participation” is just actual participation, never mind that the rites of all seven sacraments were altered afterward, watering down the priest’s role. Gaudium et Spes is just beautiful optimism. Dignitatis Humanae is totally in line with past teachings. It was just the darn media that made the council difficult to interpret.

I’m not sure what will eventually happen with Vatican II. I have an opinion on what should happen, but I’m not the one wearing a white zucchetto. However, I do submit this critique: I’m weary of the unfettered, unhealthy, and unbelievable obsession with Vatican II that continues to sweep the Catholic Church away into a stupor. And I do not speak solely about modernists in the Church.

I immediately think of my time studying the liberal arts at two Newman-recommended Catholic post-secondary institutions. I am eternally thankful to have studied logic and Latin, Aristotle and Aquinas. But there was also an emphasis on Vatican II that was dizzying to comprehend, especially when one considers that Vatican II was simply a pastoral council — like a small, quite unremarkable stone placed in a large mosaic that is Church teaching.

Indeed, I read through the documents numerous times — one of them, Sacrosanctum Concilium, over three dozen times. Adding to this was the incessant reading of books and commentaries on Vatican II — one would think the world could not contain all the books written on this council. As for my own writing, just as a student I wrote well over three hundred pages of essays and reflections on various Vatican II documents. I am not bragging, but rather confessing.

The academic fixation on Vatican II is one thing — I do not hold anything against the many wonderful professors I have learned from; they just do what is expected of them — but to see the actual praxis of Vatican II applied in the ecclesial world is quite another.

What shall we say of how Vatican II is trumpeted in modern ecclesial speech? The recent musing by Bishop Robert Barron, declaring that it is the laity’s job to protect Catholic statues because Vatican II says so, is but one of countless examples. For better or for worse, Vatican II is the go-to for promoting any Church policy or “pastoral” whim. Do you wish to have women busy in the sanctuary at Mass? Say Vatican II said so. Or pray alongside Buddhists? Vatican II. How about wanting “Pastor” Sheila from the nearby Lutheran church to preach at a Sunday Mass? Let’s just say that the answer is not to cite the Council of Trent. To misrepresent Mark Twain, Vatican II is used as a drunkard uses a lamp post, for support rather than illumination.

Even the good points of Vatican II are often implied as coming exclusively from the Council. That there is a universal call to holiness is a necessary teaching. “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect,” says Jesus (Mt. 5:48). It would seem that Our Lord was simply prefiguring Vatican II with these words. Indeed, preach the Council everywhere, and, if necessary, use the Gospel. But it will not be necessary, for all is Vatican II.

The obsession with Vatican II is tragic in that it distracts from what teachings we should be profiting from. I refer back to my ridiculous opening narrative of a boy and his father drowning in filthy water. The father is so locked into his inane idea that he is utterly unable to reason. But a lost point in their escapade is that they went to catch supper but instead will go hungry (if they survive). It is hard to catch fish when you are bailing water frantically. It is hard to be steeped in the Catholic faith when you are always trying to bail out Vatican II. The end result is to famish. May as well cancel the fish Friday — which is exactly what happened following the Council.

Oh, the things we could be concentrating on instead! The Catechism of the Council of Trent comes immediately to mind. Likewise, diving into the wisdom of the Church Fathers. Older encyclicals, particularly from popes such as Leo XIII, would set the mind straight. As for St. Thomas Aquinas, his writings simply cannot be studied enough. Herein lies another problem: would that Vatican II’s intent had been to apply Thomism to the modern world — to study Aquinas’s lucid and profound writings one day, and then analyze the likes of Gaudium et Spes the next, is akin to perpetual whiplash for the mind. This morning, we shall be amazed by Aquinas’s systematic explanation of natural law and how it relates to sin today. This afternoon, we will stumble through sentences from Gaudium et Spes on how great mankind is. Sound good? Clearly there is a superior option here. Choose the better part.

How shall this conclude? I assume for now that it will be more of the same: “Remember, Vatican II was a good idea. Just…trust me… Everything will be fine…” Everything will not be fine. The filth of modernism is drowning the Church. Only a return to sanity, truth, and clarity shall revive the wearied world. For this, man cannot live on Vatican II alone. Perhaps not at all.

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