The Bishop of Sioux City, the Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless has written his first pastoral letter to his diocese, called Ecclesia Semper Reformanda (The Church is Always in Need of Renewal).
It is an excellent letter explaining where we have been for the last four decades and why the so-called "spirit" of Vatican II is not a correct intepretation of the council. He closes with very concrete ways we can change what we as Catholics have become in our witness to the world. I have included some of the many relevant passages (with my emphases in bold):
- "We now find ourselves forty-four years since the close of the Council. Many questions still need to be asked and answered. Have we understood the Council within the context of the entire history of the Church? Have we understood the documents well? Have we truly appropriated and implemented them? Is the current state of the Church what the Council intended? What went right? What went wrong? Where is the promised “New Pentecost”?"
- Quoting Pope Benedict XVI who says,
On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture,” it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform,” of renewal in the continuity of the one subject – Church – which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.Bishop Nickless reflects, "It is crucial that we all grasp that the hermeneutic or interpretation of discontinuity or rupture, which many think is the settled and even official position, is not the true meaning of the Council. This interpretation sees the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church almost as two different churches. It sees the Second Vatican Council as a radical break with the past. There can be no split, however, between the Church and her faith before and after the Council. We must stop speaking of the “Pre-Vatican II” and “Post-Vatican II” Church, and stop seeing various characteristics of the Church as “pre” and “post” Vatican II. Instead, we must evaluate them according to their intrinsic value and pastoral effectiveness in this day and age.
Therefore, we must heed the Holy Father’s point that one interpretation, the “hermeneutic of reform,” is valid, and has borne and is bearing fruit. This hermeneutic of reform, as described above, takes seriously and keeps together the two poles of identity (the ancient deposit of faith and life) and engagement with the world (teaching it more efficaciously).
Lastly, the Holy Father, going into greater detail later in the address, explains that the “spirit of Vatican II” must be found only in the letter of the documents themselves. The so-called “spirit” of the Council has no authoritative interpretation. It is a ghost or demon that must be exorcised if we are to proceed with the Lord’s work."
- "My brothers and sisters, let me say this clearly: The “hermeneutic of discontinuity” is a false interpretation and implementation of the Council and the Catholic Faith. It emphasizes the “engagement with the world” to the exclusion of the deposit of faith. This has wreaked havoc on the Church, systematically dismantling the Catholic Faith to please the world, watering down what is distinctively Catholic, and ironically becoming completely irrelevant and impotent for the mission of the Church in the world. The Church that seeks simply what works or is “useful” in the end becomes useless.
Our urgent need at this time is to reclaim and strengthen our understanding of the deposit of faith. We must have a distinctive identity and culture as Catholics, if we would effectively communicate the Gospel to the people of this day and Diocese. This is our mission...We cannot give what we do not have; we cannot fulfill our mission to evangelize, if we ourselves are not evangelized."
- His plan to implement this “hermeneutic of reform" is five-fold:
- We must renew our reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, within and outside of Mass. A renewal of Eucharistic Spirituality necessarily entails an ongoing implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s reform of the liturgy as authoritatively taught by the Church’s Magisterium, the promotion of Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass, regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Eucharist and our Mother.
- We must strengthen catechesis on every level, beginning with and focusing on adults. If we, who are supposed to be mature in faith, do not know the Catholic Faith well, how can we live it and impart it to our children and future generations of Catholics?
- The first two pastoral priorities, renewal in Eucharistic Spirituality and Catechesis, will foster faithful families that are the foundation of the Church and the society. We are called to protect, build up and foster holy families in our midst, without whom the Church and the world perish.
- If we renew the Eucharistic, catechetical, and family life of our diocese, we will simultaneously foster a culture where young people can more readily respond to the radical calls of ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life.
- We must acknowledge and embrace the missionary character of the Catholic Faith and the vocation of all Catholics to be, not only disciples, but also apostles.
- In closing his excellency says, "We truly need today those “great acts of renunciation” for the sake of Christ: not so much renunciation of our material things, as of our false attachments to both material and spiritual things. In order to strengthen our devotion to Christ in the Holy Eucharist and worship God rightly, we need to renounce any attachment to how we worship currently. To improve the spiritual depth of how we perform the Church’s liturgy, we will need to renounce attachment to worldly expectations and long-standing habits. To spend more time adoring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we need to renounce attachment to how we currently use our time. To deepen our intimate love for God in our hearts and heads, we need to renounce attachment to whatever is not God that is filling our hearts and heads. To live in more intentional and holy Catholic families, we need to renounce attachment to distractions, sins, and imperfections that harm our domestic churches. To accept the divine plan God has for each of us, we need to renounce attachment to our own plans. To change the world for Christ, we need to renounce attachment to how we want the world to be for ourselves."