Here is an interesting fact that should not be dismissed as coincidence. The Dioceses which have most fully embraced the modernist zeitgeist are struggling to inspire vocations. But dioceses which have embraced a return to orthodoxy experience resurgence in numbers entering seminary. Why is this?
If the lesson needed underlining, the truth applies also within the religious life. The communities which ditched habits and went trendy in the 70’s/80’s are decaying but those orders which retained (or returned to) orthodoxy flourish. And it isn’t a truth only ringing out across the Catholic world; within Protestantism studies show that the more biblically faithful a parish is, the more likely it is to flourish. Consider the Church of England which, despite a very modernist bench of bishops, would collapse without finances provided by thriving evangelicals. Across denominations then we tend to find a liberal leadership/vision out of synch with what is actually working on the ground.
Of course a loss of vocations and followers was never the intention of those whose revolution was to transform Holy Mother Church into something more appealing to a secular age; think of the lukewarm, seventies-esque model of churchmanship so dominant in the latter half of the 20th C. Those who took Vatican II and ran it into a place, neither authorised nor envisaged in the actual documents, imagined they were saving the church by making it more ‘relevant’. They believed (many still do) liberalisation to be a magic bullet for aiding Christ by softening the message of the Gospel and making it more appealing.
But even a cursory look at recent church history shows the vision flawed. A focus driven by the trends of man, not the timeless truths of God, only led to a church which struggles to convince. And so the modernist experiment weakened faith and also desecrated buildings. Looking back it is hard to perceive as wisdom the decision to rip out altar rails, discard sacred images and teach a fuzzy left wing ideology in place of solid doctrine. As novelties like Fair trade Sunday have replaced devotions like regular Benediction so emphasis on the supernatural has given way to something clubby and often naff; a church that celebrates the gathered community because it struggles to look beyond itself to God.
We are left with a painful truth, perhaps too painful for many of the current Episcopacy who were the original holders of this modernist vision. Much of the direction taken by the church in recent years has proved questionable at best. Far from halting decline modernist approaches have accelerated it. And now we reap where that experimentation sowed… hence the widespread closure of parishes, the empty seminaries, emasculated priesthood, poor liturgy and countless young people switching off from faith altogether and pursuing a secular life. And the loss of vocations which chief modernist Cardinal Marx is now lamenting even though his favoured eccliology created the problem! Men will not sacrifice much for a church lacking supernatural emphasis that ever bends the knee to moral relativism..
“Project Modernity” has failed. Is it not OBVIOUSLY time then to end it?
Pope Benedict XVI thought so. Hence he encouraged us to revisit the documents of V2 and counter the errors that later took place. He wanted an embrace of the council alongside appreciation for what went before. The creation of a church able to speak to the world of today, but also reconciled to the church of the ages; renewal not rupture. And the Ordinariate was amongst the first fruits of his effort at revival. The reform of the reform, in the few years it was practiced, bore fruit. There was a renewed confidence in the church in the wake of Pope Benedict’s visit to England. Bishops began to think differently. Blogs sprang up, vocations were rising…but then came a moment of shock which threatens to turn back the clock.
I speak of the abdication of Pope Benedict which continues to fuel rumour. Did he jump or was he pushed? Did left wing activist George Soros, as Wikileaks claims, influence the change of direction? Was it linked to the lavender mafia and wolves of whom Benedict spoke in the run up to his abdication? I have no idea and, in the end, it doesn’t matter. The change of direction happened. A radical change of papacy took place which saw a clear resurgence of the 1970’s old-guard, the return of Kasper et al whom Benedict had put out to pasture; the very modernists whose revolution was thwarted. We witness, for now, a laying aside of ‘the reform of the reform’ and a return with gusto to ‘project modernity’.
It is this key change which gifted the world a Pope whose every gesture hints at relaxation not revival of Catholic teaching; dare I suggest he delights those outside the faith but divides the adherents within it? The secular realm and voices on the left cheer loudly, as do protestants and atheists alike..and of course all who sincerely love ‘Project modernity’ ..but scratch the surface and all is not rosy. The Curia is rumoured to be at civil war, Cardinals contradict one another and there is a clear sense of chaos and confusion at play. And many who felt encouraged and emboldened under Benedict now feel dismay.
What to do amidst such political upheavals and confusion? I suggest we who minister at the grassroots, who believe in the proven reform of the reform and not in the failed project modernity, must not be too depressed or cowed. Let us take up the gauntlet laid down by Pope Benedict and pledge our future to building up the faith on that model which works, not on the tired model which doesn’t. Our focus should not be on the harvest being gathered in the present but on the laying down of new vines that can be harvested in the future. Bees may buzz loudly at the end of the summer but they will make way for a new generation.
The pendulum is swinging then and grass roots growth suggest the right course to follow is that of orthodoxy. We have a Gospel to proclaim, parishes to build up and the great news is…..God is blessing abundently those who set about this work boldly and with fidelity to the faith of the Apostles. Let us be amongst them.
[CP&S: emphasis in bold is ours.]