“Pope John did what the Risen Lord did. The Church has been behind closed doors for centuries. He said: ‘Open the doors! There is a world waiting for salvation. Go into it!’ The Lord is again appearing behind the closed doors of the council as we debate and discuss, and there is no stepping back as we hear Him say, in the words of the Apocalypse: ‘I have set before you an open door, and let no man close it.’”
In these words Auxiliary Bishop Fulton J. Sheen of New York, who is director in the United States of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, summed up his impressions at the end of the third council session.
Bishop Sheen’s recent speech in the council debate on the missions met with a wide echo. He expanded on his ideas in an interview given to this correspondent.
What will come of the council? he was asked.
“This council,” he replied, “is the battleground of what might be called a communionistic revolution. There is a war not against truth, which is revealed and held in common, but against entrenched modes of thinking, patterns of administration, nationalistic hoardings and antiquated mental heirlooms. Those who are fashioned in these molds often are no more willing to give them up than the rich landowners of Latin America.
“But from all over the world came the communionists with a new revolution, asking that the Church adapt itself to the world, enlarge its offices to embrace all nations and acknowledge that there are other civilizations besides the Western.
“This revolution took place in the council between a minority group with entrenched ideological capital and a new majority group made up of many nationalistics.
“We must understand that there can be not only a capitalism of money, but also of ideas. The communionistic revolution now is dividing the intellectual wealth and distributing it to the Church all over the world.”
He was asked: Will not such an ideological division cause unrest in the Church?
“I don’t think so,” said Bishop Sheen. “The council needs both tendencies, and so does the Church. The minority group softened the ideas of the majority group in the council, and this will give the latter balance, make their definitions more precise, prevent them from throwing out the baby with the bath.
“On the other hand, the majority group gave a breath of fresh air to the stuffy air of the past centuries, enlarged the horizons of those who lived close to the Mediterranean and made them conscious that the men and women outside the Church are not enemies but friends.
“The two groups — the minority and the majority — are like a weight on a flywheel. Without the weight the flywheel would fly off the axle; with the weight the flywheel goes faster. The two mentalities are necessary like the subject and predicate of a sentence.”
“But,” this correspondent said, “the result might be a mere compromise.”
“On the surface,” replied Bishop Sheen, “it may seem as if there is compromise between the two, but there is not. There actually is a synthesis. Take infallibility as defined by the First Vatican Council. That was only one side of the Church and the Scriptures. It needed to be combined with the doctrine of the collegiality of bishops, for Peter, the supreme pontiff, was chosen from among the twelve.
“As I see it, the equilibrium which is coming out of this council, as it builds up its doctrine and practice, is something wonderful to behold.”
Which issue stands out among those that came up during the third council session, Bishop Sheen was asked.
“I think,” he said, “the one note that rang out in the council was that the Church is to be the Church of the poor. The magnificent gesture of the Holy Father in surrendering his triple tiara symbolized it. The council actually has discovered another presence of Christ. Besides the Eucharistic presence in the tabernacle there is also the presence of Christ in the poor.
“This affects also the priesthood. Priests will no longer be like gasoline station attendants caring only for the regular clients who come in weekly for refueling.
“They will also be explorers digging for the Holy Spirit in the souls of their fellowmen. It likewise affects religious congregations inasmuch as it will cure them from organizational sclerosis, as they begin to have dialogue with one another and serve with bishops for the glory of the entire Church.
“In this light one of the principal fruits of the council is the practical realization that we are all living cells in the Mystical Body of Christ.
“The bishops from comfortable dioceses have become uncomfortable at the sight of their impoverished brethren from Latin America, Africa and Asia. The unstudious bishops have become conscious that they have missed much of their episcopal vocation in counting and administration. On the other hand, the experts in the council have realized how far removed they sometimes were from the dust of human lives.
“It really is like a new Pentecost. Each was going his own way. Now they have, as the Acts of the Apostles state, ‘one mind and one heart.’”
A last question came from this correspondent as to whether this impact of the new Pentecost will last beyond the council, once it has adjourned?
“Of this,” Bishop Sheen replied, “I have no doubt whatsoever. The impulse is so strong it is bound to remain effective. The various local conferences of bishops will grow in stature. There will be independent initiatives which all will fit into the general pattern of that inner renewal of the Church Pope John has initiated, and Pope Paul now is promoting with the best of intentions.
“The doors have been opened wide, much too wide to be closed again.”
Father Placid Jordan, O.S.B.
NCWC News Rome Correspondent