The Second Vatican Council, held almost 50 years ago, has borne many fruits. Those fruits include the revision of the liturgy, better relations with other Christians and with non-Christians, a new respect for religious liberty, a deeper sense of the world's bishops forming a college rather than being local managers for the Vatican, and an expanded role for the laity in the life of the Church.
When Pope John XXIII opened the council in 1962, he said, "The greatest concern of the ecumenical council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously." Pope John wanted Church teaching to be taught in a way more in keeping with modern ways of understanding. He wanted doctrine to be lived by all so that it would permeate not only the life of the Church, but of the whole of society.
What Pope John sought was, in effect, what we now call the new evangelization. Underneath all the reforms of the council, lay its inner meaning - the mission to permeate society with the spirit of the Gospel.
This clearly has not yet happened. Much of the energy of the Church has focused on internal Church concerns; the gap between Church and society has widened rather than narrowed. Faith has too often been sealed off from daily life. Too often we fail to bring the joy and love of the Eucharist to our families, workplaces and other interactions.
Pope John Paul II understood the situation and, in 1983, began speaking explicitly of the new evangelization - an evangelization that will not only make converts but will transform the culture. Saying it and doing it, however, are not the same.
In 1987, Pope John Paul did a great thing. He held the first international World Youth Day in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since then, millions of young Catholics have attended WYDs held on every continent except Africa.
World Youth Day has been an occasion for the Holy Spirit to ignite the fire of faith in Catholic youth and to make the new evangelization more than a pious hope. This month in Madrid, 1.4 million people attended the WYD closing Mass. Perhaps thousands of those youth will become priests and sisters. Many, many more will strive to live out the Catholic faith for the rest of their lives.
The promise of Vatican II is being fulfilled. The Catholic Church is becoming a truly evangelical Church, one centred on the Eucharist and overflowing into every corner of society.
Today, we want everything to happen instantly. But God rarely works that way. As rapid as the spread of the Gospel was in the ancient Roman Empire, it still took 300 years to convert the emperor. Vatican II and World Youth Day have begun a process, one whose progress is slow, but also inexorable.
Stay tuned for future developments.