Sunday, January 5, 2014


Sometimes our collective memory fades, even of things that are of the recent past. As a teenager in the late 1960's I recall reading in Our Sunday Visitor or perhaps it was the National Catholic Register (not Reporter) an article lamenting the confusion in the Church caused by the wrong implementation of Vatican II and an egalitarian view of the world that all things are equal and God is to be found in a variety of places even apart from the Catholic Church. This had led to a diminution of evangelical mission in the Church. The number of "converts" had plummeted in the Church in the 1960's and 70's and there was a sense that there was no need for converts, especially from the Protestant traditions since all things were equal.

Yes, prior to Vatican II there was great interest in the Catholic Church, vocations to the priesthood and religious life were at an all time high and so was the number of those joining the Church from Protestant traditions but also from other religious traditions and no tradition at all.

What was it about the pre-Vatican II Church that attracted so many vocations, so many converts and allowed Catholics, be they lay, religious or clerical, to build a network of parishes, schools, hospitals and agencies to serve the needs of the poor, the immigrants, and the rich?What attracted so many to the Church was the witness of religious sisters, brothers, nuns and monks and even priests and the manner in which they cared for their own flock, but also for others, especially in our schools, hospitals and assistance to immigrants, the poor and dispossessed. What attracted so many was a clarity of belief and a profound humility of the clergy, religious and laity, especially in worship and popular devotions and especially in popular devotions. We gained new converts to the Church not through proselytism, but through example. People knew what Catholics did and what they wouldn't do! And what they did and the example they gave was positive, wholesome and holy, what they avoided doing was giving scandal, in other words, poor witness! We got converts and tons of vocations not by prolystizing, as they was taboo in the pre-Vatican II Church of the 1950's, but through clarity of teaching and how Catholics lived their lives and the very special and public witness
of religious orders, especially the active orders of Religious Sisters!

It was the following:

"...the Church grows through witness, not by proselytism.
The witness that can really attract is that associated with
attitudes which are uncommon: generosity, 
detachment, sacrifice, self - forgetfulness in order to care for others. This is the witness, the “martyrdom” of 
religious life. It “sounds an alarm”
for people. Religious say to people with their life:
“What’s  happening?” These people are telling me something! These people go beyond a mundanehorizon. “Thus,” ...“religious life ought to promote growth in the Church by way of attraction.” “The Church,”  therefore, “must be attractive.Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different 
way of doing things, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world.”"
My Comments: What has happened to religious life since 
Vatican II? There has been a wrong-headed so-called "renewal" where the religious identity of most orders was
completely lost as was their Catholic identity. This affected lay
Catholics and their identity of that period. You had religious living as lay people, devoid of habit and communal living, many living as bacholers in their own apartments and dressing
better than the laity in secular clothes! They then abandoned
Catholic schools for individual pursuits that they wanted to
do. They abandoned Catholic hospitals and turned them over
to lay interests. Then vocations abandoned them and they
are in the state they are now and the Church is without the 
charism and public witness of these religious who so impacted
the pre-Vatican II Church in such a positive way!

What is interesting is that religious orders have been extremely quiet about something else Pope Francis said
at this meeting! Local bishops need more "collaboration"
with religious orders and an appreciation of their true charism
as highlighted by Pope Francis above! I wonder what the 
LCWR thinks about that? Complete silence so far!

VATICAN CITY  — Pope Francis said he has ordered a revision of what he called outdated Vatican norms on the relations between religious orders and local bishops, in order to promote greater appreciation of the orders’ distinctive missions.
The pope’s words were published Jan. 3 in the Italian Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica. He made the comments Nov. 29 at a closed-door meeting with 120 superiors general of religious orders from around the world.

Pope Francis referred to “Mutuae Relationes,” a set of directives issued jointly by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for Religious in 1978. The document said that religious orders are part of the local church, though with their own internal organization, and that their “right to autonomy” should never be considered as independence from the local church.

“That document was useful at the time but is now outdated,” the pope said. “The charisms of the various institutes need to be respected and fostered because they are needed in dioceses.”

The pope, who until his election in March 2013 served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and formerly served as a Jesuit provincial, said he knew “by experience the problems that can arise between a bishop and religious communities.” For example, he said, “If the religious decide one day to withdraw from one of their works due to a lack of manpower the bishop often finds himself suddenly left with a hot potato in his hand.

“I also know that the bishops are not always acquainted with the charisms and works of religious,” he said. “We bishops need to understand that consecrated persons are not functionaries but gifts that enrich dioceses.

“The involvement of religious communities in dioceses is important,” the pope said. “Dialogue between the bishop and religious must be rescued so that, due to a lack of understanding of their charisms, bishops do not view religious simply as useful instruments.”


rcg said...

This is the goal. It could also be his Waterloo. This blog has discussed and pondered why the change in the Church was so sudden after Vatican II and most have concluded that the changes were in the wings, already in the seminaries and orders waiting for the green light that came from Rome. So the good old days of a surplus in vocations may not have been a good thing. My thr=eory is that the impressionable young people who entered Church service were fed the stew that they eventually became. Some left, some drifted into confused compliance and others embraced it.

Now, on the one hand the religious orders may have become islands of conformity to Church teaching, but in my experience they are often laboratories for the most extreme interpretations of Vatican II. This was not lost on the laity who often found their parishes being used for all sorts of experiments based on a program originating in one of the religious communities. Think harbouring illegal aliens, Tides Foundation programs, etc.

So the question now is who will control who in this new situation? For example, the concern about the 'hot potato' can be used to manipulate the diocese. Likewise, if the bishop has authority over the local order outpost, then how might he alter the expression of their mission? Contrast the Dominican Sisters with LCWR affiliates.

Now before someone things I am slamming Pope Francis, I am not. I am thinking, by habit, like a field commander who wants to make the program a success and is thinking of the situation in the field and how to prepare for it.

John said...

Vatican 2 was a revolutionary event with consequences that even now are hard to clearly discern.

Internally, the Tridentine Church, in the yes of the world and the Catholic faithful, was fatally weakened with ambiguous restatements of key dogmas of the faith.

Furthermore, the reinterpretations did not stop with the publication of the last council documents. Most of the damage came later in the field as further distortions were introduced by local clergy and lay people claiming the authority of the "Spirit of the Council". Neither Paul VI nor John Paul II were able to substantially stem the revolutionary tide.

Benedict XVI certainly recognized this because he wanted to mitigate the most consequential damage i.e., the uncalled for assault on the liturgy. The Mass certainly, but not just the Mass.

Benedict XVI failed in his effort because bishops,in most cases, bishops actively resisted its implementation.

Even today, I believe, it is no exaggeration to say that the TLM, as a symbol of the "old religion", is viscerally hated by many, a situation not unlike the Church had to face at the time of the 16th century reformation.

I further believe that Pope Francis would like to hurry along a renewal process. He is doing the best he can. Some think he may not be the right person for the job. However, I believe he can be one of the right persons but it will take many more Popes to re-evangelize the clergy and the majority of the Catholic faithful.

The reform of the reform will not be quick or easy. Pope Francis may have to sacrifice some of his enormous popularity to get the ball rolling.

Last but not least, the next conclave, may it be many years from now, must select a young and vigorous man, a thoroughly orthodox cardinal to continue leading the Church toward a complete renewal. Interestingly, the current Pope will pick him first when the he creates him a cardinal.

Ultimately, Jesus is the one directing the renewal, it is our role to pray and listen to him, then do what he wants us to do.

Henry said...

"What was it about the pre-Vatican II Church that attracted so many vocations, so many converts . . . ?"

It was the faith of Catholics, made evident in (and, as I soon learned, sustained) by the transcendent Catholic liturgy that immediately hooked me forever as a convert--I was then a good and faithful Methodist--in the first two Catholic Masses that I attended on successive days (All Saints and All Souls in 1956) as a young college student. I didn't know exactly what was being done in the Mass, but I was deeply affected by the realization that SOMETHING profound was actually BEING DONE, not just words being spouted.

I thank God to this day that I reached this turning point in my life in the 1950s, because I fear that a decade later Catholic liturgy would not have made so immediate and profound an impression at first exposure, and consequently I would never have been exposed to the saving grace and fullness of Catholic faith.

As it happens, it was indeed the liturgy--and not (for instance) the work of religious orders and Catholic educational and charitable works--that attracted me and other young converts that I knew at that time.

Just Asking said...

Some days ago one of our sisters was named "Person of the Year". She is not a famous woman really, she is not on the world stage like the Pope. She is a pretty simple woman who reminds us every time we see her that the church is not dead or hidden away, but alive and active in the world.
I think we really want to have answered why vocations are all but gone. Instead though we love to blame VII for this.
Pope Francis has gotten me to think about the way I live my lay vocation outside the church walls. I wait all week for the Latin mass and look forward to Sundays when it Is celebrated and think all is right with the world because we can at least celebrate the one true mass here in Macon. Pope Francis has challenged me to see the mass as well as the window to the world I live in.
And what do I find? All this time there is someone who has been doing just as he has asked. Going to the poor and brining them the good news. And she is able to gather around her people of many beliefs. All following a Catholic nun. And where am I? Busy reading and writing comments about which Latin this or gregorian that should have, would have, could have been more right.
Our local newspaper had to recognize her before I did. How have I helped her in her efforts? How have we as a church supported her and helped our children see the beauty of her vocation.
I went back to see her story and video again and found there are only 3 comments.
Right in front of us is the religious we think has gone away and betrayed us. She has not.
Posts about Masses, liturgy and which Pope is more faithful are full of comments. But Sisters post has come and gone.
This is why vocations have lapsed, this is why vocations are not flourishing. We are too busy bickering to see the beauty of the faithful few and more worried about those we judge as wrong thinking.
As for me and my house I will join with Sister. Try to support her and most certainly pray for her and thank God for the strength of her witness.
And I will make sure I attend the next Coffee and Conversation she has...which I know she does just so we do not go without while the Fathers away.
Let's celebrate the goodness of the church in front of us while we struggle through the questions and opinions that frustrate us. She is not the whole solution but she sure points us in the right direction.
If you have not read it or watched the video please do so. If you are in So moved do soe thing to let her know we appreciate her fidelity and her witness and her simplicity in service.

Rood Screen said...

"As it happens, it was indeed the liturgy--and not (for instance) the work of religious orders and Catholic educational and charitable works--that attracted me and other young converts that I knew at that time."

Henry, I share your sentiments. I do think the charitable and educational works of the Church help soften the hearts of some of the Church's enemies, but in m case it was the sacred tradition and the sacred liturgy that convinced me of the unique role of the Catholic Church in salvation. I never, for example, considered joining the Salvation Army, although its members are certainly charitable.

Interestingly, having learned of the presence of Christ's Sacrifice in the Holy Mass, I immediately perceived something missing in those liturgical celebrations I experienced in the Eighties. I knew Christ was there, but something of man's participation was lacking, due to the impoverishment of rites. We can strip the Mass down all you want, but we can never fully compensate for the reverential void that remains.

Pater Ignotus said...

Just - "True" masses are celebrated at St. Peter Claver Church and Holy Spirit church, not only at St. Joseph.

I think that blaming Vatican II for the decline in vocations is simplistic, if understandable. When we encounter a problem, we generally look for the easiest answer/solution. In olden days, "Bad Air" was thought to be the cause of everything from cholera to chlamydia to plague. That was the easy answer, but as with most easy answers, it was wrong.

Too often the workings of the Church, including the decline in vocations, is seen as unconnected to or not influenced by the changing values and behaviors in the culture(s) in which the Church exists.

Since the 1950's - although the origins of the shift are much older - our western culture has been plagued by a dangerous individualism. As I have suggested frequently, Robert Bellah's "Habits of the Heart" offers a powerful analysis of this shift and how it plays out in our culture and in our Church.

When people feel little or no connection to family, community, or church, it will be very hard for them to answer a call to devote their lives to the service of family, community, or church.

Our society is not lacking powerful examples of service, such, Sr. Elizabeth, who are devoted to service. But there has to be a sense in the larger community that supports or makes possible 1) hearing a call, and 2) responding to a call to a religious vocation.

Pater Ignotus said...

Good Father, I don't think it is fair at all to say that religious orders "abandoned" Catholic schools and Catholic hospitals. Many of the religious men and women who worked for decades to keep these institutions functioning would be offended by such a characterization.

As vocations to religious orders declined, there simply were not the numbers of sisters (or brothers or priests) needed to staff and administer these institutions. The idea that they "abandoned" them does not reflect the decades long community and individual struggles, not to mention the financial burdens, that religious orders bore to keep them going.

Anonymous said...

The Franciscans of the Immaculate have the Faith and the growing number of priests and nuns. Rome knows this and they are hated and soon to be destroyed, oh Pope Benedict the XVI save us!!!!! Long live The Mass of All Times Bergoglio cannot destroy what Christ made.

Rood Screen said...

Pater Ignotus,
I have to disagree with what you say about religious abandonment of schools and hospitals. One only needs to read the newsletters of the LCWR in the Seventies and Eighties to see that sisters in their respective communities were actively encourage to find more "fulfilling" ministries than those historically assigned to them.

Further, plenty of us know sisters who once taught or healed but who left that work to pursue doctorates and get involved in other areas of service or activism.

I'm not saying they were wrong to do so, but they certainly did do so in large and well documented numbers.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Absolutely FrJBS and it was at that time when religious life was deconstructing when so many women religious wrer looking for self actualization and fulfillment and doing their own thing not what their superiors told them to do as a part of their founder's vision. They became highly individualistic and devolved from community with a common mission to bachelors seeking self fulfillment and careerism. Liberal religious are some of the most clericalists careerists in the Church! As usual PI doesn't know what he is talking about! Par for the course, he needs our prayers.

Pater Ignotus said...

Our Dear Fr. JBS - where would I find these LCWR newsletters to which you refer?

Rood Screen said...

Pater Ignotus,
I read many of them when I was a student at Catholic Theological Union, in the library.

Rood Screen said...

"Sisters in Crisis: Revisited: From Unraveling to Reform and Renewal" provides very many references to these newsletters and other relevant documents. It is well researched, and not simply a collection of opinions.

Pater Ignotus said...

Good Father - I know what I am talking about and it isn't the decline in the numbers of women entering religious orders.

It was your unfortunate characterization of religious orders "abandoning" schools and hospitals.

An order that chooses to withdraw from a school or hospital does so only when faced with the impossibility or impracticality of staffing said institution.

And for decades before withdrawing, as you know, members of the sponsoring orders did incredibly hard work to maintain a presence in those institutions.

While you switch to the issue of declining membership in many religious orders, I spoke to your unnecessarily harsh characterization of why orders stopped staffing schools and hospitals.

Fr. JBS - thx for the reference.

Anonymous 2 said...

Dear Just Asking (Jan. 5 at 1:46 p.m.):

Thank you for your thoughtful and provocative comment.

It was a good video. Sister Elizabeth is a true inspiration. I cannot claim to know her well but anyone who has heard her speak publicly or has conversed with her or who is familiar with her good work will surely sense the presence of something, and someone, very precious. One doesn’t want to say any more at the risk of causing Sister to feel uncomfortable.