Friday, July 31, 2015


I don't hate the 1970's, I came into my own during that period. I graduated from high school in 1971, worked in the real world, i.e. Dairy Queen and Macy's, bought a car, discerned going into the seminary, and became an adult Catholic and a transitional deacon by the end of 1979. What is there not to love about the 1970's?

Not everything about 1970's Catholicism was bad, but what was bad and there was a lot of it, can't ever be described as good. 

I found a kindred spirit in an article from Commonweal Magazine that touts the glories of the Catholicism of the 1970's. Who can argue with this? My astute comments in "red" within the original text.

That '70s Church

What It Got Right
Cathleen Kaveny

Unpacking some boxes after a recent move from South Bend, Indiana, to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I came across my confirmation stole, which I made in the spring of 1978. The members of my class were told to personalize our stoles to reflect our unique faith journeys. (Why in the name of God were confirmadi given stoles, homemade or not and what difference did it make in their actual day to day lives having made the stole and worn it during their confirmation?) Then completing my first year of Latin, I wrote the word Credo on one panel with Elmer’s Glue in the best cursive I could muster, and then covered the glue with a layer of deep blue glitter. On the other panel, I traced a simple cross, using the same technique. (This was not a theological statement: a crucifix was beyond my severely limited artistic abilities.) To make a border for my stole, I attached the cornflower trim that my late, beloved grandmother had used in sewing my First Communion dress eight years earlier. That dress was Marian blue. The girls in my First Communion class were discouraged from wearing traditional white lace dresses and veils, because they were expensive and impractical. We were all very disappointed at the time. Now, I am grateful. My grandmother’s handmade blue dress with its cornflower trim is a tangible sign of the communion of saints.

I do not remember much about the confirmation ceremony itself. I am pretty sure we sang “On Eagle’s Wings.” Don’t judge—it was the ’70s! I also remember feeling a mixture of accomplishment, relief, and release. We had just completed a demanding two-year program, fulfilling requirements that included weekly classes, multiple service projects, and periodic weekend retreats. Being confirmed meant that we were finally adult Catholics.(I was confirmed in 1962 in the 4th Grade (the year of the Cuban Missal Crisis) in a pre-Vatican II Confirmation Liturgy within the context of Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. All we had to do was to memorize the catechism parts on Confirmation, nothing else. Sacraments are gifts not something we earn. The author of this article points out indirectly the flaw of the 1970's preparation for Confirmation and ongoing today. We have to prove our worth by jumping through hoops rather than simply coming to Mass, knowing our prayers and understanding that faith and good works walk hand in hand and not just in order to get confirmed.) We continued to go to Mass. But for most of us, that was the end of any formal instruction in the faith. Like other adult Catholics, we learned to juggle secular and sacred responsibilities. As time went on, the former began to crowd out the latter. My generation’s connection with the church became more and more attenuated. For many people I know, the connection was finally broken by the revelations about the sexual abuse of minors by priests and the way bishops covered up those crimes. (I was taught as a child that there have always been corrupt popes, bishops and priests, not to mention lay people, and that my Catholicism wasn't to be based upon the sanctity of anyone except God's holiness and that my faith would be tested by God in a variety of life's circumstances and I needed to be prepared for these tests, some of which would be carried out by Satan!)

So, I belong to what many Catholics now dismiss as one of the church’s lost, post–Vatican II generations. Catholic prelates and internet pundits regularly scorn the fifteen years following the Second Vatican Council as the “silly season,” the era in which catechesis was evacuated of all substantive content in favor of supposedly trivial activities such as sharing, caring, and constructing felt banners. The catechesis of the 1970s became a cautionary tale, the model of what not to do in passing on the faith.

For many years, I was sympathetic to that analysis. But I am increasingly uneasy with the wholesale dismissal of the catechetical programs of my youth. First, the stock caricature of the period is unfair. 

The programs had far more content then they are given credit for. Second, the criticism only reinforces polarization within the church. Scapegoating 1970s religious-education programs fosters the illusion that the church’s problems can be fixed by going backward, by inoculating children with something like the simple question-and-answer method and content of the Baltimore Catechism. But the root problem facing the church, then and now, is not catechesis. The root problem is that Catholics didn’t have—and still don’t have—a way of dealing constructively with the substantial and irreversible changes in both the church and the culture. Those changes began before the council and only accelerated in its immediate aftermath. They show no sign of abating today, much less of being reversed. Among those developments were the suburbanization of the Catholic population, the astonishing affluence and high levels of education among post–World War II Catholics, the powerful shift away from Catholic defensiveness and toward ecumenical and interreligious cooperation, and the unprecedented rates of Catholics marrying outside the fold.   (The attempt here is to mislead. Yes, Catholics and many others are better educated today, but not in the Faith. 1950's Catholics knew their faith better than today's. Catholics today are better educated in the secular realm and their particular professions. But as far as the faith is concerned, it is superficial. They don't know even the basics which the Baltimore Catechism gives. Denigrating the BC and saying using it is going backwards is hogwash. Sometimes when we take the wrong road forward we have to make a u-turn to get back on the right road.)

How did religious instruction try to deal with these changes? My parochial elementary school used the very popular Life, Love, Joy series published by Silver Burdett and written by Carl Pfeifer and Janaan Manternach. My own textbooks have long gone to their eternal reward. But my mother, who taught sixth-grade CCD for many years, held on to her old teacher’s handbook, which I recently perused. The content is surprisingly rich. The series proclaims itself to be “grounded in the traditional teaching and practices of the Catholic Church, while respecting recent developments in the theological and social sciences.” Among the theological developments it reflects is the emphasis on Scripture called for by Vatican II. The theme of sixth-grade religious education was “Growth in the Spirit,” which is explored in units titled: “Abraham and the Mystery of Faith,” “Moses and the Mystery of Freedom,” “David and the Mystery of Service,” and “Jeremiah and the Mystery of Hope.” 

The series took care to emphasize that these mysteries were deepened and revealed in Christ Jesus, and passed on in their fullest form in the Catholic tradition. A final unit in the book reinforces the Christocentric understanding of the themes by reflecting on the meaning of major Catholic holy days.
Judging by this text, the content of the series was both rich and deep. So what was the problem? 

Some Catholics have claimed that students were not sufficiently drilled with objective, impersonal, timeless propositions and rules. It is true that the emphasis in my program was on fostering personal and conscientious appropriation of a Catholic worldview, rather than on inculcating a set of prefabricated questions and answers. As I recently learned, the reason for this new approach was historical. Catholics were appalled by the carnage of the Second World War and the unimaginable evil of the Holocaust, and they were horrified by the possibility of a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. Questions about the moral presumptions of the modern state, including the United States, had to be asked. Catechism-trained Catholics had participated in the Nazi horrors, often with blind obedience to authority. The goal of post–Vatican II Catholic catechesis was not to foster obedience, but instead to cultivate responsible men and women who were shaped by the Catholic Christian vision, sensitive to our debt to the Jewish people, and independent enough to stand up to injustice, even if sanctioned by church or state. (This paragraph only tells part of the story, but what isn't told is that this is a very individualistic approach to the Faith based upon the 1970's Pepsi Generation, the ME GENERATION. It is what I do and to hell with authority and obedience. This infected religious life where nuns in particular went and found their own ministries and were no longer assigned by their superiors who relinquished their authority. There is nothing good about this approach and what has come about in the Church both in the religious and laity is a decline not a new springtime!)

So the pedagogical strategy of Life, Love, Joy made sense in itself. It was overcome, however, by a wave of superseding events. My overwhelming impression of the church in which I grew up was instability. In first grade, the nuns at my parochial school wore long habits; in second grade, they wore short habits; and in third grade, they wore no habits. When I was a fourth-grader, the parochial school closed, and I went to public school from then on. First Communion was originally administered in first grade, and then it was administered in second grade. First confession was held before First Communion, then it was after First Communion, and then it was off on its own, in fifth grade. Parish music and d├ęcor changed radically with each pastor. The votive candles mysteriously disappeared one day and the tabernacle seemed to be on walkabout in the front of the church.

The culture was changing rapidly as well. Women were joining—and remaining in—the workforce in great numbers. Marriages were breaking up. Even the country seemed to be breaking up, as the battles over Vietnam were succeeded by the scandals of Watergate, which dominated television and newspapers.

My generation was not lost because of religious miseducation. It was lost because of the changes in the culture. No CCD program, no matter how rich and nuanced, could overcome the challenges created by the simultaneous breakdown and reconfiguration of the institutional Catholic world and the American social world.

Many influential prelates and lay Catholics now say that it is better to create a bulwark against the chaos, by presenting Catholic teaching and moral rules in a classical, timeless manner. The new Catechism seems to encourage just that. It abstracts doctrinal propositions not only from the context in which they were formulated, but also from the documents in which they were promulgated. This obscures the various levels of authority attributed to the various doctrines. It presents Catholic belief in the manner of a tax code.

I don’t think this will work. More important, if the vast numbers of young Catholics who continue to leave the church is any indication, it is not working. In fact, the glaring disjunction between an ahistorical presentation of Catholic teaching and the rapid pace of ecclesial and social change is likely to prompt even more skepticism and cynicism. I think that in the long run, the only solution is to teach young people how to think and pray within the context of a tradition that is not exempt from historical development and change.

The Roman Catholic tradition does not need to be afraid of history; its central claim is that God became a man who fully experienced the contingencies of life in a certain time and place. The relationship between eternity and history has always been porous. In order to articulate eternal aspects of relationships within the Godhead, for example, early Christian theologians drew upon concepts deeply tied to particular times, places, and philosophical schools. We are not God. We cannot escape the historically conditioned aspects of our tradition. Guided by the Holy Spirit, our community can come to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of our faith as it moves through time. God willing, it can even correct its mistakes—such as its acceptance of slavery and its absolute prohibition of lending money at interest.

Growing up Catholic in the 1970s gave me the sense that the church was unstable, even fickle. It also, however, gave me some wonderful role models for trusting in God’s fidelity in tumultuous times. Our CCD teachers were young wives and mothers who had grown up with the Baltimore Catechism. (This hits the nail on the head and explains why there are so many "nones" and nominal Catholics today. They simply don't take the Church seriously. She lost credibility through banal and silly changes, beginning first with the liturgy and then the complete loss of Catholic culture in favor of secular inculturation.)

Unlike their own children, most of them had gone to parochial schools. No one had taken the time to explain to them the continuities between the pre–Vatican II era and the post–Vatican II era. They had to figure it out for themselves. And they did figure it out, because handing on their faith to their children was important to them. They were not nostalgic about their own religious education, because they had an intuitive sense of its limitations. At times uncomfortable about the scope and nature of the change, they put their trust in God’s providence.

I admire these women tremendously. Their example prepared me for life as an adult in a changing church much better than any amount of memorization ever could have. And I thank God for the communion of saints, those among the living as well as those in paradise.


Jusadbellum said...

I agree with one part of her assessment about the post-Vatican II church: we are reactionary, not proactive. The secular culture declares the surburbs to be the ideal...and we, the Catholic population uncritically accepted the premise. The secular world declares a sexual revolution and we, the Catholic church (clergy and laity) generally accepted the premise that this revolution was a) scientific b) inevitable wave of the future against which resistance is impossible and c) harmless, fun, carefree, "love" and not harmful, destructive, focused on egotism and lust which dehumanizes us, destroys trust in marriages, families and communities.

So other than Pope JP2's "Love and Responsibility" written in Soviet dominated Poland, what other voice was raised to take on the philosophical bedrock dogmas of the Western world's sexual revolution? Where were the great Catholic prelates and philosophers standing athwart "history' and deflecting it? We RE-ACT, not ACT.

Ditto with our loss of healthcare and education and care for the elderly....the secular state and pop culture decrees that these crucial areas of human life ought to be taken over by the secular state (local, state and federal) and we by and large acquiesce or collaborate in this take-over by either accepting federal funding or by getting out of the area entirely to focus on "social work" or some other fringe area of concern.

Where did our Legion of Decency go? It vanished.
Where did our solidities and devotions go? They were torn down with the wreckovations - people told to stop the devotions, rosary, etc. "get with the times"

As an aside, can anyone tell me what exactly "the times" mean besides "other peoples' opinion"? Who the hell cares what secularist or bad Catholics happen to think about anything? Ought I care what ISIS or Chinese Communists or Post-Christian Western Europeans happen to think about something? Care enough to censor myself or jettison my religious or moral habits? Since when did any of these fellow human beings care terribly much about our opinions?

It's one thing to recognize that evil men exist and create structures of sin against which we ought to take precautions. But entirely another to self-censor or surrender to the spirit of the age merely because it's the popular (and often artificially created via scientific propaganda) fad of the day.

We have the truth (by the grace and mercy of God) so why don't we sit down and seriously map out what it would take to convert the top 1% of society and what it would take to convert the bottom 20%? What needs to happen to convert Hollywood and create a Catholic culture of life that overthrows the post-Christian sexual and materialist revolution's culture of death?

We must take the initiative and not either capitulate to some Hegelian-Marxist "inevitable wave of the future" or slink off to some Randian Galt's Gulch to ride out the socialist collapse of civilization from some bunker.

Nothing is inevitable but death, judgment, heaven or hell.

Jusadbellum said...

I'd also take issue with her claims that the Church approved slavery for centuries and centuries only to come into the light thanks to Wilberforce' and the Protestant Abolitionists. Or that the Church condemned Usury only to be educated by the modern economists.

Not so. Glaringly not so.

The Church recognized slavery, like prostitution, was (and still is) a universal phenomenon that is very hard to stamp out. So we evangelized both slave and owner. But to the degree the Church could it eliminated slavery in law and culture.

Whole religious orders were founded to ransom slaves and other captives and debt slaves. The 14th century missionaries continually fought against Crown and culture on behalf of individuals and peoples being threatened with slavery.

As for usury, it's still immoral. It's immoral to charge exorbitant rates of interest or rip people off based on their need (i.e. jacking up costs on fuel or water during a disaster).

But it's not immoral to lend at interest for productive pursuits (crops, shipping, etc.) since the point of the loan is to generate profits from which a borrower can pay the lender a share or a 'rental' fee. But to lend for the sake of non-productive consumption....that's immoral because the borrower can't pay it back and so almost always slips into debt slavery.

The implication of many progressives is that insofar as they CLAIM the Church 'changed' moral doctrine after the secular culture changed, so too, the Church will change again in sexual morality now that the high grounds of society have been subverted and seized by the sexual hedons. Not so.

The Greek said...

Didn't Paul III ban slavery?

Rood Screen said...

"My overwhelming impression of the [C]hurch in which I grew up was instability." This seems to be a very accurate impression.

"The Roman Catholic tradition does not need to be afraid of history." If she's speaking of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, then this is certainly a lesson we learned long ago. In fact, the Roman liturgical tradition is filled with lessons learned over many centuries, and the catechetical tradition changed considerably over the 100 years preceding the 1970's. It is good to identify genuine progress in the Seventies era, but it is bad to claim that the Seventies was the first or second decade of the century to embrace the demands of history.

I'm just glad Three's Company is off the air.

Rood Screen said...


rcg said...

This reminds me of the "Personal Jesus" popular among Protestants.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

I'm just glad that I managed to survive high school in the 1970's! (1972-1976)

rcg said...

Education is relative. Just watch any "highly educated" person try to repair something, anything, these days. They have been trained not to even try due faux complexity.

Anonymous 2 said...


I do have a minor quibble. I suppose I would fall within the description of “highly educated” but attempts were definitely made during my education to train me in woodworking and metalworking. The problem was not lack of will on the part of the educators; the problem was my ineptitude. When I used a chisel the wood broke; when I used a lathe I don’t recall what happened (probably because the results were so traumatic). I fared no better in Art classes, achieving the singular distinction of coming dead last in the final exam. One phrase that strikes fear and trembling into my heart when purchasing any consumer item is “some assembly required.” The irony is that my paternal grandfather was a master carpenter. Apparently the gene did not get passed down (my father was little better than I was; in fact, he was so bad at woodworking that, in his words, they “put him in charge of dispensing the glue” as the only task for which he was suited). So, for some of us, there is nothing “faux” about the complexity at all. I greatly admire those who have the practical talents that I lack and console myself with the thoughts that we are interdependent and that there are many gifts but One Spirit (I cannot sing either). =)