I have already explained in Part I what I think was the main factor in the rapid advancement of the “Spirit of V II” within a Church so strong and self-assured only a few years before. I would now like to spend two words about what was, if you ask me, the second most important factor: the rapid changes in education and the connected giovanilismo, the exaltation of everything “young” typical of those years.
The unprecedented economic progress since the end of WWII had brought another huge social upheaval: the education revolution. In less than twenty years, the entire West had undergone a massive change: the son of the peasant was on its way to become an accountant, and the son of the accountant was listening to new (and often crappy) ideas at University. Never had such a transformation occurred so rapidly. Never had so many young people been so obviously better educated than their parents and grandparents.
This caused a rapid deterioration of a traditional hinge of the social fabric: the respect for the elder.
Once seen as the depositaries of wisdom, old people were suddenly seen as uneducated, ignorant, prejudiced, superstitious obstacles to progress. In parallel, the young men and women (better educated, optimistic, full of reformist zeal, and often able to speak without accent or dialect) were seen as the new frontier, and the pathfinders to the discovery of a new and better world. A new world which saw all the prejudices and limits of the old one (and they were there; they were clearly there) and thought that the old system of religious rules, piety, and rigid propriety was pretty much on the same level with the countless superstitions they saw in their old people. The young people might have loved, but they did not esteem their parents, and they did not think their parent had much to teach to them. They were grateful to the peasants who had, with their sacrifices, allowed them to become accountants or teachers or lawyers or civil servants. But they saw in their parents just that: peasants.
For their teaching and guidance in life, they started to look elsewhere. In all the wrong places.
It is apparent to me – and I have seen it very often in real life – that the old generation had, very often, an instinctive sense of what was right, and that they were right; but they were unable to defend themselves, to appropriately articulate their belief against the tide of opposition of their own children and grandchildren; children who spoke so well, better than they ever could, and were filling their parents and grandparents with pride and joy even as the latter were worried at what their children and nephews were actually saying.
These were the children for which the old generation had made so many sacrifices. Look at them now, speaking like lawyers and pharmacists! The son of the small tenant, or of the daily labourer; the daughter of the milliner, or of the domestic servant! They know so much more than their parents and grandparents! Yes, they are wrong. But how to explain it to them? They speak so well…
And the entire world, the entire planet told the older people that the future belonged to the young, who would make a better planet for everyone. Largo ai giovani, “make place for the young” – possibly the stupidest slogan of all times after “Liberte’, Egalite’, Fraternite’ ” – was not much questioned in those times. The “Springtime of the Church” is just the same madness in a different way. Guitars in the church are just another byproduct of the same stupidity that gave us the May 1968 in France.
And so, my dear readers, we have it, the explosive cocktail that gave us first Paul VI, then Assisi, then the rock mass concerts and mass media popes, then eventually the Evil Clown himself in all his wheelchair-embracing, Castro-cuddling, planet-“saving”, heresy-promoting, perversion-protecting, sacraments-desecrating debauchery. It was an explosive cocktail of growing welfare and growing, but secular, education; sadly not contrasted by a clergy too often tired of being party poopers when the party, which had been going on for a while, seemed to want to go on forever.
Too many were weak. Countless others were simply ill-equipped.
Satan was, as always, looking for those whom he may devour.
I read around the (right) consideration that not all must have been good in pre-V II times; otherwise it would not be explained how V II could do so much damage in just a few years.
I will, therefore, try to make some considerations about this myself.
We tend to see a strong Church as a wonderful apparatus, eliminating sin from around it like a hoover gets rid of the dust. I am afraid it might not work that way.
Fallen nature being what it is, even a strong church can only be something similar to a strong dam, opposing a strong wall of faith to the immense quantity of sin pushing against it. You can stand at the bottom of the huge wall and observe its majesty, and you will certainly think the dam beautifully strong; but what you won’t see is the huge amount of water ceaselessly applying its pressure on the wall, and which would flood to the vale below if allowed.
Such was, in my opinion, the Church of that Great Pope, the Pastor Angelicus. An extremely strong dam, for sure; cared for by many trusted guardians; but still, with the huge mass of world sinfulness exerting a huge pressure against it. This pressure was growing and growing as the Western world left behind it the years of great deprivations (and, as always, strong faith) of the war and marched resolutely towards unprecedented prosperity and optimism; and, to an extent, unprecedented belief Religion is now not the basis for life, but an optional not really useful in times of advanced medicine and ever-growing individual security.
Strong as the dam is, the water behind it will always be immense, and will always be ready to flood everything if a leaked, no matter how small, is found.
The leak has a name: il papa buono; or, as I think it far more appropriate, il papa stupido. Pope John XXIII was really so dumb, that he thought a little leak would do no great harm, and the bit of water coming the other way would be a welcome refreshment and cleansing force for the dry, dusty, at times crusty walls of the old, majestic, very hard dam.
The rest all followed from the initial madness: as it is in the nature of things, once the water found a small aperture it did not take long before the huge pressure, which had always been exerted (but was kept in check by the Pastor Angelicus and his very smart Church) caused a big leak, then a break, and a huge quantity of water naturally rushed the other side in a roaring waterfall. When Roncalli died too many were already those now tasting of the water, and desiring to shower in its roaring freshness.
Pope Roncalli had contracted two typical diseases of the age: the first was niceness, and the second a boundless, rather stupid optimism about the future. These diseases belied the traditional, realistic and dryly somber evaluation of the human shortcomings prevalent up to then. John XXIII was probably so dumb that he really believed in a new era of sort; as if humanity could transition to a new phase just as easily as the Soviet Union could transition from Stalin to Khrushchev or the US from Eisenhower to Kennedy.
Pope Roncalli is, therefore, the main – if unwitting – agent of the flood. But not he alone, of course. The flood came because of the original sin-laden water that had never ceased to apply its huge pressure on the Church, and which only the strong dam of a very fortunate series of excellent Popes (five of the last six rather stellar by any Church History standard) had kept in check for so long, and with such success. But human sinfulness is a huge weight to keep in check. The desire to “make peace with the world” is an extremely heavy temptation. The water will still be there pushing, pushing all the time…
Here ends Part I.
Part II will deal with what is, in my eyes, the second most important factor in the unfolding of the first, brutal stage of what was to become, as we can now safely say, an apocalyptic tragedy.
We live now in an age in which a huge number of Catholics slowly begin to approach their grave. Many of them, who grew up in the Sixties, will go to their grave without ever knowing the old school Catholicism, the era not only of sanity, but of splendour that went to an end in 1958.
There is no doubt that hell is threatening many of these souls, letting Satan anticipate a harvest without precedents in the West in twenty centuries. It is, in fact, another sign of the madness of the times that many of those so endangered think that they will be fine, because they are such nice neighbours and do some “charitable” work without knowing what charity even is. Many others seem to think that people who have never been properly instructed can keep going against the teaching of the Church unpunished because hey, they did not have good priests; which lets one think that if this is true, the best thing to do is to have horrible ones.
No. Either this generation runs the concrete risk of being punished very hard, or all the preceding ones were wrong in caring about salvation – and about orthodoxy, and proper instruction – the way they did.
Some might say that these scattered sheep must now be gathered with gentle, soothing words; with a softly-softly approach that does not cause them to reject the Church altogether; with a gentle reminder that says look, one should think whether our forefathers were perhaps right, and whether the modern thinking has brought the expected results after all.
In my eyes, the softly-softly approach is what has scattered the sheep in the first place, and it is therefore not smart at all to think that more of this will have any other result than to scatter them further. Conversion must be primed. It must be primed by a sort of fuse, a switch, an internal turmoil that suddenly stops the wrong thinking in its path and encourages, or forces, a person to think in a radically different way.
One thinks abortion is unpleasant, but hey, at times you gotta do what you gotta do. He supports abortion laws, and finds opposition to it unrealistic, unenforceable, or “dangerous for the women forced to abort illegally” (I seldom hear the argument of the “poor heroin addicts forced to drug themselves illegally”, by the way). Another thinks the condemnation of fornication is the residue of another time; a third thinks the Church is wrong on “the gays” and should “celebrate diversity” instead. I could go on and on.
Do you think such people, already dulled by years of wrong thinking, are going to be impressed – much less converted – by those inviting them to a kind of “slightly different approach”? No. What they need is a far more brutal experience. Something like, so to speak, the Mundabor experience.
The chap above sees photos of aborted foetuses; Or he hears abortion called murder; or he is told very clearly: you are a fool if you think you are not in grave danger of hell. He reads the brutal facts about Sodoms. He is confronted with serious warnings. Truth looks at him straight in the face.
Most importantly, he realises that all that he reads is nothing new; that it is, in fact, very old; that it is what his forefathers have always believed, what the West is largely founded upon. This new approach cannot be merely suggested. Suggestions rarely lead to 180 degrees change of direction. The new approach – which is the very old one – must be smashed on the face of the reader; with charity and compassion, yes; but smashed on his nose entirely anyway.
This is, I think, what has the best probability of starting, in time, a thinking process. Being knocked out of what is today called the “comfort zone” is, very often, a necessary condition for a real change of thinking. Let people be angry at first. Immediate conversions are extremely rare. But push down his throat a seed that will never be forgotten; that will stay there for years, abiding its time; and will perhaps start to germinate when, perhaps many years later, a traumatic event occurs: a bereavement, or loss of health, or of financial security. Something which leads one to look for a new basis of his existence. When the time comes, the seed will be there.
The preachers of old, who thundered about hell like there is no tomorrow, knew that people would – in most cases – not go home and start a new life. What they knew is that the shock would be remembered, and kept in storage until, with God’s grace, the time when it would be allowed to bear fruit.
This is why the Church has continued to lose Western churchgoers under Benedict. Benedict was no earthquake. He wasn’t the “old religion”. He did not move anyone to assist to Traditional Latin Papal Mass in awe – which he never celebrated – and he therefore did not move people to suddenly, brutally come in contact with a completely different reality: with the old, and therefore completely new to them, ball game.
Those who succeed are those who go all out. Padre Pio slapped people. Joan of Arc inflamed them. Savonarola – with all his excesses – still made them wish to be more like Christ. You can’t set people’s hearts in flames without a flamethrower. They will not experience a deep change in their outlook merely because of you politely suggesting they do so.
I will never forget my relief – confused non-practicing Catholic as I then was; with so much rubbish in my head I want to cry if I only think about it – at knowing, from Internet sites first clicked in the now distant 2005, that “the old religion” still existed! That there were, in fact, people around – laymen, people like you and I – talking like my Grandmas did, and like I had never heard one priest, not one, in my entire life talking!
I had been encouraged for so many years to downplay the Truth, from the very people who should have taught it to me, that it was like discovering an old food you told out of market has never being discontinued. It was people like you and me, going on the Internet and saying “stop being bamboozled by half words and half wishes! This.Is.The.Truth! And yes, I cannot deny that it was also my fault that I was lapsed. But I was never encouraged not to lapse, in a time when priests did not even care to tell you you must go to Mass.
I do not say to you that my change was immediate. The discovery set up a process that led to that pleasant thought – there is still, out there, that old religion! – being thought more and more often, and become in time a desire to know more of it; and, in time, a need to be nourished by it; and with, it the need to be again near it, in church, as it used to be as a child. It was some time before I even found the courage to go to General Confession, and many a time I attended Mass without Communion before that. I was also lucky, that the church was the Brompton Oratory. What a treasure a properly Catholic church is!
But you see: many times even a gradual process starts with some big discovery: that Catholicism, as it used to be, is still alive and kicking among the common people.
There is no way to sweeten this pill, unless it be by saying that membership is open to anyone who takes the club seriously. Truth must said whole, and the truth said whole will make you go “ouch!” before it sets you free.
This is why this blog is so blunt, and why I wish there were many more blunt blogs, particularly in the English speaking world. To awaken people from their one-world torpor, weak slogans and ambiguous words are not enough.
They will likely need a Mundabor experience.
Some of you will have noticed that on the top bar of this blog a new section has appeared. The reason for it is that our reader Shane has posted on his blog the scan of a series of beautiful booklets published by the Catholic Truth Society in the Fifties. They truly give us an authentic testimony of how the Church pre-Vatican II thought and worked. The contrast with the praxis of today is, I must say, striking and lets us feel ashamed of the religious education most of us (and I most certainly) have received.
The first one of the booklets I’d like to introduce is “Tell Her You’re a Catholic”, a delightful short story explaining the old rules of the Church (and their profound rationale) regarding mixed faith marriages through the fictional interaction of a young couple, their best friends and the unavoidable priest.
I do not want to deprive you of the pleasure of reading this fascinating and well written short story yourselves. I will just notice a couple of things:
1) The cover shows a well-dressed man. I never can avoid to notice that when people took more attention to the way they communicated (much less vulgar language around, undoubtedly), they also took more care in the way they presented themselves. To be in order and to appear at one’s best where a way to show respect to one’s neighbours. It would seem stupid but it isn’t, listen to the language of many people nowadays and look at how they dress as soon as they are free from work obligations and you’ll soon see the link.
2) Several people in this short story talk and act in a way that today would be considered “uncharitable” and “judgmental”, when in reality it is exquisitely charitable. I am old enough to tell you that whilst this is a work of fiction, reality must have been rather similar – if probably less polished and faultlessly clear – to the way of communication therein described. Notice the contrast: when people were formally polite they knew they could talk straight, but today where vulgarity is spread everywhere very few people would speak with the openness of our fictional friends.
3) The problems, objections, hopes, possible solutions and real-life conflicts are exactly the same half a century later. It is nice to see that in the end we are the same people; we merely do not have the instruments past generations had.
When you have some fifteen or so minutes for yourself, you can do much worse than reading this very interesting short story. I encourage you to let the booklet circulate (it is a .pdf file that can be easily saved on your computer and sent around) and give your little contribution to the reconstruction of the brilliant Church of only two generations ago.
Last but not least: the rules of Canon Law about interfaith marriages have, I believe, been relaxed in the meantime. This makes this little story not less, but more instructive as divorce among Catholics has sharply increased, too. I can’t avoid thinking that if the mentality were the same today the results would be not necessarily less marriages, but rather less mistakes and more sincere conversions.
Once again, thanks to Shane for his brilliant work in defence of traditional Catholicism.