The Call of the Council

Within the space of a few years, the annual Pastoral Letters of Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, have achieved an important place in American Catholic life. His The Christian and The Community (1960) and Moral Values and The American Society (1961) were widely and justly acclaimed for the balanced and wise contributions they made to some central and persistent discussions. His latest Pastoral Letter, The Call of The Council, is equally worthy of praise.

Describing, first of all, the role of the Councils in the history of the Church, Cardinal Cushing goes on to point out the moral crisis apparent in contemporary life. He then discusses the purposes of the forthcoming Second Council of the Vatican: the growth of the Church, the renewal of the spirit of the Gospel, the adjustment of Church discipline to modern life, and the unity of Christians.

Cardinal Richard Cushing, archbishop of Boston, portrait copyright Charles Kerins and Abby Willowroot

Cardinal Richard Cushing, archbishop of Boston, portrait copyright Charles Kerins and Abby Willowroot

Three points in particular stand out in our minds; points which, only a short time ago, few dared or thought to mention. The most striking, perhaps, is the Cardinal’s statement that God has made the Church’s “encounters with heresy and schism…fruitful and through them the Church has come to a better understanding of herself.” In relationship to this, he notes the absolute importance of the Church’s putting its own house in order as a means of achieving ultimate Christian unity.

Another point worthy of special note is Cardinal Cushing’s announcement that he will, in the near future, form an Archdiocesan Ecumenical Committee to be composed of priests and laymen. In this he will follow the precedent already established by Archbishop Lawrence J. Shehan of Baltimore. Concerning the work of the Committee, Cardinal Cushing notes that “the work of unity…is born and grows in the pluralistic neighborhood” and is not the exclusive preserve of ecumenical councils.

Finally, in a particularly forceful passage, the Cardinal urges all to pray that those who take part in the deliberations of the Council will “keep what is useful in the traditions of the past, and at the same time…turn from the past when new orientations of policy will be needed for the safeguarding of changeless truths.” The Cardinal’s plea is one that can hardly be denied and is a fine expression of what every Catholic should hope for from the Council.

From the April 6, 1962 issue of Commonweal. © Commonweal Foundation. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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