John XXIII broke the mould of my strictly Presbyterian Dunedin upbringing by calling Vatican II and by being a good, kind, humble old man. The two are indivisible, writes Moira Rayner.
My parents taught me that Roman Catholic boys were not datable; my Presbyterian Minister (whom I adored) said Catholics are cannibals (that's how he explained the Real Presence) and my parents' friends talked about "RCs" as a threat because of their politics ("they breed, you know," one said of a recent appointee to the Dental School), their attitudes to pregnant women ("never have your baby in a Roman Catholic hospital," said my Aunt Judith: you'll die": she converted later) and their cruelty (the Dominican Convent Nina were supposed to beat recalcitrant or disobedient pupils with rulers.)
More ominously, left-footers were not only secretive cultists who worshipped idols and sold indulgences, they spoke in Latin and told ignorant people how to live, how to shrug off sin through confession and babbling prayers, and even how to vote (or go to Hell: a voice from the16th century inquisition, 19th century 'infallibility" and 20th century authoritarianism): such a deep, mythological base for those in our circles who used 'Jesuit' as an insult.
When Vatican II so dramatically opened a door to the here and now, the "I am", such light poured in. I could go to a Catholic wedding and (a) understand the language if not the gestures, and (b) stand up to my mother who, when she discovered I was dating a lapsed Catholic, wept and pleaded on bended knee that I stop seeing him for my children's sake.
I could meet a priest who offered ecumenical mass, without being told I couldn't participate without signing up. And I could tell Father Tex, one of my then fiancé's schoolfriends, that he was out of line in telling Bill he was wrong to marry a non-Catholic. I was wrong to marry him but that's another tale.
"Familiarity breeds contempt"?: in my experience that's what secrecy and ignorance did. Without Vatican II's opening to the Spirit of life I would never have come to know and love some women and men of depth,intelligence and commitment to inclusion, who happened to be "micks"; or an understanding that my Protestant/sannyassin experience of a direct connection to God was entirely consistent with the experiences of Teresa of Avila, John, of the Cross, and Ignatius of Loyola.
I have watched over the last few years as other forces have fought back to the old ways within the institutional Catholic church.
But here I am, sharing in a ministry of the laity where - thanks to the women and men who live the kindly inclusive and wise ways that the 80 year old "stand-in" Pope they thought he'd be and wasn't, did - privileged to help others make Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, and to know the spirit he had. Men's institutions may wither and die. The people, united, will never be defeated.
John XXIII, for me.