Thursday, June 28, 2012

Congar at the Council

I just finished reading Yves Congar's My Journal of the Council. I suspect it is the closest we can come to "being there" --in the aula of St Peter's, in committee meetings all over Rome, in the mind of an eyewitness who contributed to the results of that great council!

We read Congar's summaries of hundreds of interventions on the council floor. We attend meetings in which bishops argued about and experts contributed to the formulation of doctrinal and pastoral statements on faith and the future of the Church.

We sense the politics, the back-room machinations, the suspense and surprise of the bishops' votes.

Congar is insightful: "When one persists in one's objection or criticism, one always ends up gaining something" (p. 55). "The further I go, the more I find that the preparation of the Council has been totally haphazard, not to say hopelessly inadequate.." (p. 203). "Without any doubt, Mgr Philips is the architect No.1 of the theological work of the council" (p. 510).

Congar is blunt: "(Cardinal Giuseppe) Pizzardo, who is an idiot and known to be such by all..." (p. 42). "Rahner, once again, monopolized the conversation" (p. 393). "Intervention by Fulton Sheen...He commanded attention, despite a somewhat theatrical and artificial manner. He was applauded (not by me)" (p. 663).

Congar records gossip: "News about the pope (John XXIII) is very bad: two or three transfusions every week" (p. 292)..."Paul VI is constantly besieged by petitions and pressures of all kinds...On the conservative side, attempts are being made to instil fear into him" (p. 426)..."about bishops at the Council having been found in brothels" (p. 720)

Congar was in pain: "I was barely able to walk...I wonder will I be able to keep going until the end of the Council" (p. 95). "At 5:15 pm appointment with a doctor...He examined me for an hour, very carefully. Difficult case, he said: several things are possible. He adopted the hypothesis of myelasthenia, and gave me some strong medication" (p. 397). "Health: VERY bad. During the Mass, unable to make all the gestures, unable to walk. NO strength" (p. 411).

Congar recognized his influence: "I was involved in a great deal of work, over and above a general influence of presence and spoken contributions. I contributed: Lumen Gentium, the first draft of several numbers of Chapter 1 and numbers 9, 13, 16, 17 of Chapter II, plus some particular passages" (p. 871) and to several other of the 16 documents as well.

Congar prayed: "O my God, who have shown me since 1929-30 that if the Church were to change her face, if she were simply to show her TRUE face, if she were quite simply the Church, everything would become possible on the road to unity; raise up effective workers, pure and courageous, for this work which you have undertaken and which I beg you not to abandon!" (p. 204).

Congar's journal records many (but not all) of the major moments in the Council's four sessions. He was there when Bishop Bandeira of Brazil publicly made the preposterous assertion that the council must not touch the Roman rite which, he explained, was instituted by St. Peter himself! (p. 147).

He wasn't there when Cardinal Ottaviani went over his allotted time to speak and the moderator Cardinal Alfrink turned off his microphone, much to the pleasure and applause of many in the assembly (p. 163).

I know I shall consult this journal again and again as I try to understand the workings of the Council and of the Spirit. I shall always be grateful to Congar for taking me there.

While it is our faith conviction that the Holy Spirit breathes where she will, and works in ways that steal past our perception and elude our comprehension, Congar's journal in some measure records the working of that Spirit.

Though I have read the journal from beginning to end, I cannot estimate its full value, even though I consider it a treasure and a legacy to be cherished.

The best I can do for now is repeat what Congar himself wrote: "I am keeping this little journal as a witness. I do not mix in the expression of my personal feelings...My own health problems, the total exhaustion that I have been experiencing these two months, is not this also something in the invisible and mystical history of the Council? I believe so strongly in the Gospel's 'the one who loses, gains.' I believe so strongly in 'Cum infirmor, tunc potens sum' ['When I am weak, then I am strong,' II Cor 12:10)]..."

My thanks to Yves (Cardinal) Congar!

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