It has been fifty years since the closing of the second Vatican Council on December 8, 1965 ( The Feast of the Immaculate Conception ). I was 26 years old when the Council terminated. I had just returned to the United States after serving a two year stint in the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Liberia, West Africa. This was before the bloody revolution leading to the overthrow of the Liberian government. I was an idealist back then. I was brought up in a solidly Catholic family, which produced one of the great Maryknoll priests of that time, Father Joseph Lavin. Father Joe was dubbed the Iron Man of China by the well-known historian Theodore White. His exploits in courageously opposing the Communists, when they rose to power in 1948, were legendary. Back then, if any soothsayer or prophet had told me what the moral and spiritual climate would be like in 2015 and how markedly different this would be from the life that I was living during my youthful years, I would have shouted NO WAY!
I graduated from a Catholic high school and college, both of which still practiced the traditional Faith. Massachusetts, my home state, while being liberal, was influenced by a Church hierarchy and laity that stood strongly for Catholic principles and what we now call “family values.” This was a time when a pastoral letter from the bishop was read from the pulpit and taken seriously. The thought that Massachusetts would be the first state to make homosexual marriage the law of the land would have never entered my mind or the minds of those cohorts of my generation. Who would have thought that something like this could ever happen! The year 1965 was a high point for priestly vocations. According to official Church figures, there were 58,632 priests nationwide at this time. However, by 2014 this number sunk to 38,275, nearly a 35% decline in five decades!
In an article entitled “On the Bus: Vatican II and the decline of Women Religious” (The Remnant, Nov. 30/ Dec. 15, 2014, p.1), Vincent Chiarello cites other statistics pointing to the horrific decline of the Catholic Church over the past half century. Some of these are as follows: (1) The nation-wide ratio of priests to parishioners had increased from 1 to 653 to 1 to 1,653 by 2010; ( 2 ) In Chiarello’s home parish in Arlington, Virginia, this ratio was even more draconian increasing from 1 to 874 to 1 to 1,958 by the year 2012; and (3) Most strikingly was the overwhelmingly significant decline of women religious, plummeting from a high of 179,954 in 1965 to 49,883 by 2014 — a marked drop of 75%. WOW! Who would ever have thought that those stalwart, dedicated nuns, the heart and soul of Catholic education, would one day be replaced by lay staff and teachers. NO WAY!
Chiarello made several other observations, which focused on how much the Church has changed since the middle of the 1960’s. In my youthful years, vocations and interest in the foreign missions were booming. A family that produced a priest, particularly a missionary priest, was considered to be especially blessed, a crown jewel of that family we might say. As noted previously, recent figures show a marked decline in priestly vocations. However, this decline is even worse than reported given the fact that the remaining priests are becoming older and infirmed, exacerbating the loss of needed clergy. This shortage has led to what Chiarello termed a “strange reversal.” Whereas the United States used to send missioners to foreign lands to preach the Catholic Faith, we are now importing priests from countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa to fill understaffed parishes here at home. And the future looks bleak in this regard. Interestingly, India, not the United States is producing the highest number of seminarians.
One other observation reported by Chiarello stuck out like a sore thumb. On January 7, 2015, twelve journalists were murdered by “Islam Extremists” in broad daylight in Paris, France. To add insult to injury, on November 13 of this same year, another string of well-orchestrated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, which resulted in the death of 130 civilians. Needless to say, this brazen slaughter of these unsuspecting victims was surprisingly shocking to say the least. NO WAY would this have been anticipated by us ordinary folks fifty years ago! But a lot has changed since then. In our “I’m okay you’re okay” social environment, we have ignored the writing of Hilaire Belloc, the great Catholic author, who in his book The Crusades: The World’s Debate, warned us back in 1937 that Islam was not the peaceful religion that we make believe it to be. Rather, it is a religion that is committed to conquering and slaughtering those infidels who oppose them.
France, the “eldest daughter” of the once Militant Catholic Church, held the Islamists in check in years gone by. However, during the last half century, this has changed significantly. In 1950, there were 40,000 priests in France. Today there are less than 9,000. Mosques have now replaced Churches that were once Catholic, and Moslems are far more dedicated to the practice of Islam than Catholics are to Jesus Christ and His Church. Who in the 1950’s would have ever predicted that France, whose patron saint is Joan of Arc, would be threatened by the sword of Islam. Who would have believed that Islamist terrorists would have the gall to video tape the decapitation of innocent victims and brazenly flaunt these sickening displays throughout the Western world. NO WAY!
With the ever decreasing decline of Catholic influence, the United States has devolved into a quagmire of spiritual and moral decadence that would have been shocking to those previous generations reared in the traditional Church. Consider the following, which have become accepted in the last five decades:
- The legalization of abortion and the sale of infant body parts. Abortion, the murdering of the unborn child in the mother’s womb, is a serious mortal sin that cries out to Heaven for vengeance. Who would have ever believed that the U.S. Supreme Court would judge this to be a Constitutional right intended by the Founding Fathers of our great nation.
- The repeal of laws prohibiting the cohabitation of unmarried couples. Young and even older people openly live together without having to get married. Scandal and the shame once associated with this sinful behavior is no longer a deterrent.
- The repeal of the laws against sodomy. Civil unions between same sex couples have become commonplace and “gay” marriage has become the law of the land. Homosexual behavior, which is one of the mortal sins crying out to Heaven for vengeance, is now celebrated in gay pride parades throughout our nation. Even the psychiatric community, which once labeled homosexuality as a mental disorder, now considers it to be “normal.”
- The legalization of marijuana. The use of marijuana has become “de-criminalized.” The harmful effects have been down played and it is now viewed as a “recreational drug.”
- The marked drop in Mass attendance since 1965. Many of today’s Catholics no longer believe that they have an obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and that it is a mortal sin for failing to do so.
- The lack of belief of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Consecrated Host. Well over half of today’s Catholics believe that Holy Communion is a mere memorial of the Last Supper and that the Consecrated Host is merely symbolic of the Body and Blood of Our Lord.
- The scandalous behavior of priests, who have sexually abused and corrupted our youth, and those bishops who have covered-up, denied, and lied about this matter. As a result, the Catholic Church has not only been financially devastated due to legal and settlement fees, but has lost its moral authority as well.
- The breakdown of the family structure and those values that supported this once hallowed societal unit. In today’s society, the roles of mother and father are no longer clearly defined. Both parents often work, and the care of children is increasingly being left to after-school programs and day care centers. The State and Federal Government has become increasingly more involved in the rearing and education of our children. Parents have been losing their authority to care for their off-spring as they see fit.
This list of changes occurring over the past half century could go on and on. When we contrast the year 2015 with the 1940’s and 50’s, the differences between them is so blatant it is hard to believe that the latter had roots in the former. The obvious question arises: How is it that we have become so morally and spiritually dulled in such a short period of time? Consider the following quote by the British author James Dresden, which provides us with an answer to this question: “A truth’s initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie is believed. It wasn’t the world being round that agitated people, but the world wasn’t flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.”
Who can deny that we, the people, have been gradually sold “a well-packaged web of lies” by a wayward Church hierarchy, politicians, and national leaders who should know better. The “masses over generations” have come to view that which was once sacred and true as “preposterous.” Dedicated Catholics have become the “raving lunatics,” insisting that the Church founded by Jesus Christ is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic and the only Church through which one’s immortal soul can be saved. It is those committed Catholics who insist that the Dogmas of the Catholic Church are non-negotiable and will always be fixed in stone. This dogma on salvation, as is evidenced in the Father Feeney case, was almost universally denied in the 40s and 50s, leading the way to the moral demise that inevitably follows denial of doctrine.
While the title of this article is the same as that of the song popularized and sung by Barbara Streisand in 1973, “The Way We Were” is more than entertainment. The Way We Were is meant to be a benchmark, a baseline from which those of my generation started on life’s trek beginning in the 1940’s and 50’s to the year 2015. By looking at this baseline and contrasting it with the present, we can assess our progress over the past five decades. As noted previously, the differences between these two time periods are so blatant, it is hard to believe that the latter sprung from the former. What has brought this about? A profound change in our thinking, the way that we view life and its purpose, has firmly taken hold. Our thoughts have been gradually shaped and molded so that we have come to believe that fiction is truth and truth is fiction. Virtue has become vice and vice virtue. And objective truth has been cast aside. Truth is now subjective — that which is in the mind of the beholder, who makes it whatever he wants it to be. Wasn’t it Saint Paul (2 Tim. 4, 1-8 ) who warned us that this would happen?: “For there will come a time when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but having itching ears, will heap- up to themselves teachers according to their own lusts, and they will turn away from hearing the truth and turn aside rather to fables.”
The Way We Were is a chronicle of events connecting the past with the present. Although the past is fixed, the future can bring about change if we choose to do so. As the preceding has emphasized, the currently blatant “in your face” violations of Natural and Divine Law are an insult and mockery of Our Lord not to be taken lightly. Through Our Blessed Mother, He has warned us of dire punishments if we continue to ignore His requests ( e.g. Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; Praying the Rosary ), dishonor Him, and violate His Commandments. The question arises: How should we conduct ourselves in these seemingly hopeless times? Again Saint Paul offers the following: “But be watchful in all things, bear with tribulation patiently, work as a preacher of the gospel, fulfill your ministry.”
Saint Paul tells us that we must be true preachers of the Catholic Faith, warning us
to be “watchful in all things” lest we become deceived by false prophets and devoured by wolves in sheep’s clothing. Tribulations must be dealt with patiently and we must persevere right to the end, thereby “fulfilling our ministry,” as Our Lord intended. That includes affirming the dogma that there is No Salvation Outside the Church.
For those who tend to become discouraged, it is important to keep in mind that Our Lord loves us and considers the preaching of His Gospel — ”fulfilling our ministry” — to be of the highest priority, especially in these times in which His Church is being assailed by His enemies. When in doubt, consider Our Lord’s words (Matthew 5: 13-16) in His Sermon on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing anymore, but to cast it out, and to be trodden on by men. You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven.
Notice that Our Lord refers to His disciples as “the salt of the earth.” Salt, during ancient times, was used as a preservative — an essential to life we might say. It was also important enough to be used as currency. Christ, in this parable, is telling His disciples that they have an important job to do. Without them (the salt of the earth) to preach His gospel, the Faith will be lost and life will lose its purpose. It is up to “the salt of the earth” to keep this from happening. Moreover, Our Lord refers to His disciples as “the light of the world,” whose duty is to “shine before men.” By their example and “good works,” they can teach their fellow men to glorify Our Father in heaven and save their souls. What better complement can we receive than being selected as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” to preach the traditional Catholic Faith during these most trying times. Remember, Our Lord promised that He and His Church would triumph and He always keeps His promises. He is giving us the opportunity to help Him in fulfilling this plan.
Lastly, considering the daunting task ahead, seeking assistance from those patron saints, especially those who are known for their prowess in interceding for seemingly impossible, hopeless, and lost causes, would be a step in the right direction: Saint Rita of Cascia, pray for us; Saint Jude Thaddeus, pray for us; Saint Philomena, pray for us; Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea, pray for us.