Once something that’s been hidden is finally seen, it’s hard to forget it. What has happened cannot be undone.
Our planetary home is always changing as the seasons come and go. The rise and fall in temperature, times of rain and days of high winds, all contribute to unending variation.
This past summer my grandson Connor spent time in the French Alps. One of the many images he took showed the edge of a melting glacier. Through the clear and very cold water you can see the stone grit and larger pieces of rock that slowly are being carried to the sea. Light and dark shades, irregular shapes dragged down from some higher outcrop.
Later in the year, when the winter cold returns, the water will freeze again as glacial ice is re-formed and this detail will be lost. In the time that it can be seen we have a small snapshot of the otherwise hidden earth.
In so many ways the early 1960s, the years of Vatican Council II and beyond, were a similar period of thaw and vision. Those times were often summarized by the Italian word aggiornamento, a “bringing up to date”.
It was certainly a time when we looked beneath the surface and explored the substance of the Church in a more open and expansive way. We asked questions rather than just receiving answers. We looked for ways to explore the Gospels, appreciating the teaching that is there in a manner that could be understood in our times, a story for our own particular journey.
The waters froze again… but not quite
The Council brought recognition to many theologians whose stature had been diminished in earlier years, many of whom are now no longer with us such as Hans Küng. I have no hesitation in repeating this comment that I recently made here: “A most significant and charitable action towards Küng would be for Francis to restore Küng’s credentials as a Catholic teacher who, throughout these difficult years has remained a priest in good standing.”
It would have been stone uncovered by the thaw if ever there was one. But that restoration never happened.
That time of thaw, when we explored beneath the surface for a while and found excitement and refreshment of our faith, closed all too quickly. In the years that followed there were many attempts to regain a centrality of control that served only to enforce a clericalism that was no longer viable. The stones under the ice were lost to view as the waters froze again.
But not quite. Too much had happened to prevent a complete return to pre-conciliar days. There is an awareness, that is now global, where people ask honest and sincere questions, where their exploration of faith is a lived experience.
“Come and see”
It is of course easier to be told what to do, how to behave, and what to believe. That is a process that limits our true acceptance. A good teacher does not tell the pupil all the answers but encourages the pupil to ask the pertinent question that leads to an answer, for there maybe more than one answer to a question and in some cases no answer at all. Why do we always expect matters of belief to have a clearly formulated structure when that is exactly what faith is all about, a trust in seeking?
The Gospels are just that. Parables, actions, events that were offered by the Lord for “those who have ears to hear”. Then and now.
Dogmatic statements where there was expectation of acceptance without question were not his way of teaching. In the gospel of John we read of Philip calling Nathaniel to follow the Lord.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Those final words of Philip — ‘”come and see” — are quite telling. They are not words of finality, not a teaching of “you will do this” but an invitation to come and see what they had found, and then to act accordingly. Once something that’s been hidden is finally seen, it’s hard to forget it. What has happened cannot be undone.
Even though the glacial ice returns each winter and hides the debris exposed by the spring and summer warmth, we know it is there, we cannot remain in ignorance. Pope Francis is anxious that we continue our exploration of faith in the context of the Council’s teaching. His open-handed invitation is there for all to see. Maybe that should be the essence of our generosity as a Christian people towards those we meet, come and see and be with us.
Chris McDonnell is a retired headteacher from England and a regular contributor to La Croix International.
Reproduced with permission from La Croix International.