The first graduate course I taught when I went to Catholic University in 1977 was on the Second Vatican Council. As a way of getting students to reflect on what had changed during and after the Council, I gave them the paragraphs that Garry Willswrote for the editors ofCommonweal in response to their questions:Is there such a thing any more as Catholic culture? Would we be better off with it or without it? [Garry Wills on Catholic culture] (It says something already that the questions could have been posed already in 1967, only two years after the close of the Council.) At first, most of the Catholic students knew about the practices that Wills evoked in stream-of-consciousness fashion, but as the years passed, I had to explain more and more of them even to the Catholic students. The problem was even greater when I began to teach the course also to undergraduates. For themI hit upon the idea of having them conduct an interview with one or two Catholics who were old enough to remember the Church as it was before Vatican II, and for the task I prepared a set of questions that I wanted them to pose.Interview about Vatican IIThe exercise was pedagogically very effective, and many students wrote that it had made the Council and its aftermath something very alive and personal, and even familialmore than one told me it was the first conversation about their religion that they had had with a parent. Some also, having received some indication of what it was like to be a Catholic before the Council, wondered what markers of identity they might point to today.If any reader is inclined to answer the questions, please note that I wanted those being interviewed to have to answer not only about their dislikes then and now, but also about what they liked then and like now. (Why is it that we seem always readier to complain than to appreciate?)
Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.