Dear Rev. Know it All,
I don’t know why I bother to read your columns. I suppose it’s like looking at a train wreck. One doesn’t want to slow down and waste time, but it’s hard to ignore such a disaster. I’m tired of your constant whining. You don’t approve of anything normal. Modern marriage isn’t good enough for you. You don’t approve of what most people want at Mass. On and on! Or is it just that you’re better than the rest of us?
Dear Ms. Guyded,
Better? Hardly! I am still trying to recover from the groovy sixties. I was an avid student of Lenin, Mao and Trotsky. I kept company with a young woman who was a devotee of Sartre and Camus. I wandered through Europe with a pack on my back. I played my guitar at anti-war protests and planned Hootenanny Masses, even though by that time I was beginning to think of myself as more Hindu/Buddhist than Christian.
I canvassed the Belmont/Craigin neighborhood with community organizers in an attempt to integrate the North Side. I distributed leaflets in support of a feminist professor. I missed the “Summer of Love” in Haight Ashbury by one year. By the time I got there, it was the summer of panhandlers. I came home pretty fast. I drove a Volkswagen Beetle and, heaven forgive me, owned a Nehru jacket and a pair of orange bell bottoms. Orange bell bottoms! I had sunk that low. So you may ask, what happened?
Two things happened. The first was the Pentecostal movement which restored my awareness of supernatural things. (What’s left of it now is called the Charismatic Renewal) Having pretty much given up on traditional Catholicism, I was serving on an Ecumenical Committee, very popular back in those days. The committee assigned me to investigate a new movement that seemed to include everybody from Jews to Methodists. I spent an hour on the phone with some woman who was in an interfaith prayer group. As she spoke, it seemed like heaven filled the room and all that I had believed as a child in a Catholic home swept back like a wave. God was real.
The second was the peace committee. We were all devoted to ending the war in Vietnam and ousting Lyndon Johnson, but our committee couldn’t agree on a strategy. We were divided between those who were non-violently non-violent and those who were violently non-violent. They thought that, of course, violence was always wrong, except when it was directed at the enemies of the people, whoever those were at the moment. When the peace committee finally broke up during peace week, my brief career as a fashionable socialist was over.
Still, the search wasn’t over. I started attending the ecumenical prayer meeting that I’ve already mentioned. It was more joyful than anything I’d ever participated in. But soon things got strange. A Methodist pastor took over the group. Soon he was demanding that everyone leave their different churches in order to form the perfect church with him. That was God’s will received by him in prophecy. In a little while, he was telling people whom to marry and what color to paint their houses. I left the group and went home for the summer where I tried to put my spiritual life back in order. I didn’t know what I believed.
In fall, I went to a retreat at a Trappist monastery where the monks had a little prayer group. I joined them for a prayer meeting and was filled once again with Pentecostal joy in a completely Catholic context. I rededicated myself to my studies for the priesthood and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1975. It still took me a while (about 15 years) to find my balance. I offered “charismatic” Masses and thought that my clever improvisations on the Mass were far better than anything in the book. Along the way, I attended a few prayer groups and covenant communities that ended in ruining some peoples’ lives. Gradually, I came to realize that I was not better than what had gone before me. I could not improve the Mass or the Gospel or the Truth.
And so I repented for my sin of the sixties. We thought we were better than those who had gone before. We were not. We, like they, were sinners in need of grace. That arrogant spirit still infects the society and the Church. It is the belief that I know better, that I am part of a generation that is smarter, more technically advanced, and more powerful than all that’s gone before. Because of our superiority, God and the Church should accommodate themselves to us. Above all, the Sacrifice of the Mass should accommodate itself to our more enlightened tastes. I have come to think differently. Those, who so radically changed the liturgy, among whom I count myself, succeeded only in emptying the churches. They made what was mysterious and unique into something commonplace. They replaced incense with air conditioning and silk with polyester. They replaced Calvary with a stage performance. They did all this in defiance of the Second Vatican Council, and while they did it, they prattled endlessly on about “the spirit of Vatican II.” We were lied to and in consequence we lied to you. We have replaced the truth with what we wanted to be true.
Ask yourself some simple questions. With all our labor saving devices and communications, do we have more time, less work? With all our science, with all our technology, is there peace? As regards peoples’ sexual mores, with all our tolerance and permissiveness, are we more loving and more loved? Is the family stronger? Do our children have a greater sense of security? With all our liturgical experimentation and our constant rearrangement of the furniture, are the churches fuller? Are we holier? You tell me.