The Catholic Church has always had a bull’s-eye attached to it, and in truth many of us wouldn’t want it any other way, for when we are almost universally loved, as has happened a few times in the last 40 years we have become “of the world,” instead of suffering for the world.” Lately, during the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI dark forces have gathered at the gates of truth attacking the Church for a variety of long held beliefs. These beliefs can range from the theological to the social. However, following the US Election of 2008 a tidal wave seems to have inundated the Church from the mainstream media, the political realm and even the entertainment world. The Church’s 2,000 year old teachings and beliefs have been attacked in the United States and Western Europe from elected officials, the mainstream media and well known entertainment celebrities. Some of the faithful have become discouraged and questioned me as to how the thesis of my book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, could possibly be true in light of this news.
The truth of the matter is that against this troubling backdrop the Church continues to grow around the world, especially in African and Asia but even in North America, where much of the onslaught against the Church has emanated. Seminaries and Mother Houses often have no room for those pursuing a vocation and those young African and Asian men and women are often sent to the US or Europe to explore their vocation. Even in the US and pockets of Europe seminaries are experiencing a mini boom. One seminary rector told me that in the 40+ plus years of being affiliated with the Church, he has never seen a longer sustained period of top notch orthodox minded young men coming in and being ordained as he has seen in the last 10 years. Perhaps this is why the powers that be are so angry.
It seemed the US midterm Election of 2006 emboldened the cause of those militant liberals and secularists who have contempt for much of what orthodox minded Catholicism holds dear. Following the results of the Election of 2008, many pundits proclaimed the results as a sea change for America. Agnostics and atheists gleefully announced that a world where religion and especially conservative or orthodox minded Catholicism held sway was being replaced by a humanist brand of religion where age old teachings were replaced by the ideas of “enlightened” religious leaders, agnostic thinkers, and pop culture celebrities. It seemed this new brand of liberal thinker was less idealistic than their 1960s peers and displayed an anger and hostility that was a far cry from the utopian idealism displayed some 40 years ago. Yet, beneath the surface and below the radar screens of many news organizations, lies the hope of the Catholic faithful who hold on to the ideas imparted by Christ, His Apostles, Popes, Bishops, Priests, Women Religious, Saints and holy laymen and laywomen throughout the centuries.
Hope doesn’t merely rest on those being ordained or vowed, but also on those young people who attend Mass. Recent data shows that the 18-30 age group, who attend Mass regularly, are the most supportive of the Church’s teachings and the most pro life of any generation, including their grandparents. How can this be one might ask, aren’t these the same young people who have become pampered by a self absorbed reality show culture and who voted en masse for liberal candidates in the 2008 Election? Actually this particular group of young people has seen firsthand what has happened and is happening to their Catholic friends who have been mesmerized by the increasingly militant secular culture. They have seen their friends check out of regular participation in the Faith, to say nothing of their friends and acquaintances who have turned their existence into sad real life television reality show. Because of this troubling reality, many young people are embracing Eucharistic Adoration and the rosary as a peaceful weapon against the forces of hedonism, self absorption, doubt and fear. The Doubting Thomas’s need look no further than the Catholic blogosphere where orthodox minded sites run by young people run in the hundreds, while liberal leaning sites can almost be counted on one hand.
It always seems to start innocently enough with those hoping to change perceived wrongs. In 1517 the Church was full of too many corrupt and sinful leaders. Martin Luther may have had the best of intentions when he began his actions. Indeed, he could have been many of the Church’s greatest reformers. However, instead of trying to reform the institution as did St Bernard of Clairveaux or St Catherine of Sienna, Luther let his personal demons against authority and sin get the better of him, which sadly caused him to abolish the Sacrament of Confession and the hierarchy when he created his own church. He would become the leader (or so he thought) of the Reformation Church and sin would be all but forgotten. Never mind what the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition said about authority, Martin Luther had been plagued by fear of authority and sin his entire life, and certainly he must have thought he wasn’t alone. As for Confession, even though it was the first thing Jesus instituted when he returned to the assembled Apostles on Easter Sunday night (John 20:19-23,) Martin Luther abolished it. Dutch Philosopher and frequent Church critic Erasmus and a future Catholic saint, Sir Thomas More both reached the same conclusion about Luther. They both voiced the opinion that he must be mad to think that 1,500 after the fact he knew better than the Church.
When some of Luther’s fellow leaders of the Protestant Reformation had a problem with the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist and Blessed Virgin Mary, which Luther largely didn’t have a problem with, Luther became enraged. At the Marburg Colloquy Luther was shown the door when he told his colleagues that he would rather drink blood with the pope then listen to their ramblings. They never met again but the damage had already been done and Pandora’s Box was wide open. Luther thought everyone who disagreed with the Church would naturally follow him. It did not happen and some five hundred years later and some 40,000 denominations and independent churches later, here we are even though Christ specifically told us to be One with One Shepherd (John 10:16.)
During the French Revolution, some 40,000 Catholic clergy, laity and nobility were starved, beaten to death or beheaded. Some of the very nobility who helped to kick out the Jesuits a few years earlier thought the revolution might not be all bad, perhaps a good way to thumb their nose at the Church. However, some months later, one would think they might have had second thoughts while looking up at the guillotine. Before the Russian Revolution some of the very elites who would suffer the same grisly fate as the Romanovs actually helped fund the Bolsheviks, perhaps thinking they were showing their trendy side by funding the same cause that their western cousins found so exciting.
As you can see a construct began to emerge, talented, intelligent and often financially well to do people with a lot of time on their hands began to somehow believe they knew better than the Church. It is nothing new, as one could say it started in the Garden or even before when the “light bearer” was supposedly repulsed by the idea of the Incarnation and tried to take over heaven. St Michael the Archangel booted the Prince of Lies out and today he tries to assuage others, most often using the formula of the seven deadly sins in order to join him in his kingdom of horrors. Unchecked egos can lead to our eternal downfall.
The 1960s set the stage for a tumultuous period in the Church. The times, as Bob Dylan reminded us, certainly were a changing. In 1961 some 500,000 people gathered in San Francisco’s City Park for a Rosary Rally, some six years later the same park was filled with what one would assume was a different crowd tripping out on LSD and espousing and practicing free love. Some liberals will tell you San Francisco was always liberal, obviously it wasn’t that liberal in 1961.
Vatican II, the transformational council which was called by Pope John XXIII, but had wanted to be called by Pope Pius XII before he fell ill, was in some ways the Church’s finest hour. However, activists within the Church would later twist the words of the Council and try to change the Church into something unrecognizable for many Catholics. The Council’s documents were as orthodox as anything coming out of Nicaea, Chalcedon, Ephesus etc. However, some twisted the words of the holy assembly and tried to make parish churches into something architecturally resembling a warehouse, not a holy place of worship. It didn’t stop there.
Some seemed to think that if the Byrds, Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan were popular on the radio, their sound might be popular at Mass. After all it wasn’t like they wanted these new found parish musical groups to do a cover version of Led Zeppelin’s Good Times Bad Times or Jimi Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary at Mass. What would be the harm they thought? However, Francis Beckwith noted after returning to the Church some 25 years after leaving it, why would we want to hear a bad Bob Dylan cover band when we could hear the real thing on the stereo or in concert? Many parish musical groups were talented, reverent and joyous. Sadly, some parish musical groups sounded like an American Idol first round reject that incurred the wrath of Simon Cowell, rather than something holy, solemn or joyful. Again, it didn’t stop
Some within the Church seemed to think that with the invention of the Birth Control Pill, if some young people were acting like rabbits, better to have them use the pill than to avoid it. Those who often felt this way seemed to think abortions were awash since it had to be a blob of tissue rather than a human being. Time and ultrasounds would prove this horrific conclusion wrong. In addition the birth control pill caused a demographic nightmare in the western world leaving the young to pay for the care of the old, who were much larger in number. Unfortunately, by the time many figured this out, millions had left the Church for something they felt was more tangible. Men in particular were turned off by homilies that had more in common with Alan Alda, David Gates & Bread and Air Supply more than they did an exhortation coming from a priest whose very title meant in the person of Christ.
Church liberals felt happy because in a way they had chased out the very element they had disliked (conservative oriented males) while welcoming in those who had a more liberal view of life. Just when thought they were in the driver’ seat, as evidenced by the censured priest Father Hans Kung’s 1980s assertion that liberals were now in control of most dioceses, seminaries and parishes, they realized their hold on the Church was slipping away. In Germany’s famed seminary of Tubingen, gone were the days when the liberal intelligentsia snickered as their “old school” Professor Father Josef Ratzinger huffed and puffed his way around town on his bicycle, while the rebel cause célèbre Father Kung tooled about in his sporty Porsche. The waves he enlisted from his fellow liberal elites, who had plenty of time on their hands, must now look like some grainy black and white movetone video of days gone by.
Younger liberals might be forgiven if they mistakenly believed the canard told by their elder comrades that 1950s Catholic leaders and especially bishops were all right wing conservatives who had no patience for the ideas of liberals but possessed the patience of Job for fellow conservatives. In his memoirs published shortly after his death, the late Senator Edward Kennedy wrote that his famous father the former Ambassador to England Joseph P Kennedy would often socialize with Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston. Senator Kennedy wrote that his father always called the famous prelate by his first name.
In a revealing account the late Senator spoke of an incident in which brother Bobby, the future Senator from New York, heard a controversial conservative priest at a Boston lecture whose views about Protestant salvation were deemed very conservative. After Bobby’s father made a phone call to “Richard” the priest was promptly booted from the Archdiocese. Senator Edward Kennedy surmises that because of this incident, his brother Bobby unwittingly played a part in bringing about Vatican II. As one can clearly see from this example, the right wing Catholic hierarchy may not have existed as vividly as it did in some liberal’s imagination.
Because of bold action taken under the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, an extended period of younger more orthodox minded seminarians, priests and women religious have entered the Church. Recent bishop’s appointments have also skewed more orthodox or conservative in their political and social leanings. The orthodox nature of these two pontiffs’ theological views has brought admiration from an unlikely quarter, Evangelicals. Many Evangelicals look with alarm at their own denominations and see an ally in the Catholic Church. Enter Pope Benedict XVI, whose pontificate couldn’t have come at a better time. He truly is “The Pope of Christian Unity,” rallying the Christian faithful to the call of theological and social orthodoxy which is the only hope an increasingly secular world has of saving itself from itself.
From Stalin to Mao to the radicals behind the flaming barricades of 1968 Paris, as well as today’s militant secular activists in Europe and the US, the world has seen the sort of outcome freedom from religion brings; utter chaos, mayhem and worse yet unrelenting violence against those who disapprove of espousing a militant secular agenda. Against this nefarious and sinister backdrop the Holy Spirit saw to it that the “springtime” promised by Pope John Paul II would continue with the blossoming pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. East and west, north and south the octogenarian pontiff travels to meet with other Christian leaders and propose better relations against a backdrop of increasing violence and hedonism which is paralyzing an already troubled world. When theologian Matthew Fox, who had penchant for polytheism, was censured by then Cardinal Ratzinger, the censured theologian took out a full page ad in the New York Times that read, “I Have Been Silenced.” The smoke of Satan that Pope Paul VI had lamented had entered the Vatican was being swept out by the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, but not before many choked on the fumes of self absoprtion emitted by Fox and many others.
Jesus warned us about the hired hands that would leave the flock when the wolves came, which is why he implored us to remain One (John 10:16.) These modern day religious hired hands were influenced by Marx, Engels, Freud and the latest pop culture bards more than they were by Scripture or Sacred Tradition. Whether inside the Church or in other Christian communities, they fled from the truth when it came. The world needed a man who would fight off the wolves and gather together the scattered and injured flock. The day the newly installed Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his Inauguration Mass he told the faithful assembled in St Peter’s Square to pray for him that he would not run when the wolves came. He has not and because of it he was ridiculed by many in the mainstream media, other Christian communities and even the Church itself. However, the discerning Christian faithful now see the picture more clearly.
The sad reality of division is beginning to see it’s elixir is in the pontificate of the man from Bavaria, who has seen the worst of what life has to offer and thus he is making it his life’ work to make sure that this won’t happen again. Pope Benedict XVI is reaching out to all Christian communities and asking them to join him in protecting the sacredness of all that binds Christianity as well as the sanctity that hold society together. The tide is turning thanks to Pope Benedict XVI, “The Pope of Christian Unity.”