Vatican II & The Weeds Among The Wheat

Remember Fr. Z's answer to the question why, if everything was so great in the 50s, the Church fell apart so radically in the 60s? Here's a follow-up comment I admire from one "Fr. Angel."
What I do not understand is why Vatican II and Pope Paul VI are demonized for the crises which afflicted the Church, while other forces at work from the outside always seem to get a pass.

The Pope and the Council are spoken of as if the Church existed in a vacuum, unaffected by the storms raging around in the 1960’s. The marxism sweeping the universities gets a pass. The existential and utilitarian philosophies confusing everyone’s notion of truth gets a pass. The sexual revolution gets a pass. The contraception and population control movements, backed by big money, get a pass. The radical feminist agenda gets a pass. The drug trafficking gets a pass.

As Fabrizio says, the Pope and the Council were up against various tsunamis and if you read the documents and the encyclicals, there is nothing contained therein which implicates either as the agents of satan they are painted out to be. There is every indication that both the Holy Father and the hierarchy were trying to use their teaching office to steer the Church through these raging storms and avoid being dashed on the rocks.

The devil must be really delighted at this historical amnesia. While his true munions who worked to tear the Church apart from the outside are getting a pass, his enemies like the Pope and the Council are being demonized.

The good priests of those times had to fight enemies within the Church—I do not deny this. But the Council and the Pauline Mass which followed were sincere attempts to respond to the external attacks which painted the Church as fossilized, medieval, and incapable of responding to modernity.

The elderly priest cautions against repeating the mistake of imposing change without a respect for continuity. But he also challenges us to see the spirituality which brought so many men to serve the Church as priests. Is not love and respect for the Pope and the hierarchy part of that Catholic spirituality?

Bravo! There's an additional factor (besides Humanae Vitae). You shouldn't easily mess with settled habits. Any new mom can tell you this. I had what I thought was a strong prayer life prior to the birth of my first child; my whole life was well-ordered, in fact. Up early for prayer, exercise, morning mass, off to work (or later grad school) to occupy the mind, the day punctuated with prayer and apostolate. I had my mix of virtues and vices, but I was objectively trying to live a good life. Then the first baby arrived and made it impossible for me to follow a routine of prayer and sacramental life settled by long years of practice; I learned how little of my good practice was a matter of virtue and depth and how much simply routine. That's the beauty of habit, of course --habits help us do the right thing, and we can't really say that something is a virtue until it is a habit. But I learned from the arrival of my child that a habit of schedule isn't quite the same thing as a habit of soul. I've been reading Cardinal Van Thuan's Testimony of Hope, and he comes to a similar realization while in a Vietnamese prison. At first he suffers because he can't help his people and all his apostolates are brought to nought. Then he makes a realization (paraphrasing): God alone, not the things of God, no matter how good or holy. (Not that I put myself on the same plane with that holy man, nor compare the blessing of a child with prison camp! But it's good for us to know how truly weak we are and how much the good we do depends on grace and circumstances beyond our control.) Shusako Endo makes the same point, via negativa, in Silence, when the Judas figure protests that in normal times he'd have been a perfectly good Christian. It wasn't fair that he was put to the test by persecution.

This is a matter I've thought about quite a bit ever since in terms of the way culture and law support personal virtue. It's part of the mystery of the weeds among the wheat, I think. There are masses of people in the pews, and thank heaven they are there, we must pass no judgments because everyone's got his own journey, but at any given time, how many people really know God? In a healthy culture, many weak or mediocre souls are helped along by the habits and expectations of the culture itself --the mere fact that "such things aren't done" inhibits a lot of sin and keeps more of us in a state of grace than we might like to think.

It is obviously better that sin not happen, but whether that form of religious practice --doing what is done-- is truly sufficient I don't know --this is a mystery I contemplate-- but there's reason to doubt. "You are neither hot nor cold but lukewarm and therefore will I vomit you out of my mouth" says the Lord.

To give a more prosaic example, I'm part of a prayer group that met for years for an hour of adoration every Thursday night. It was my favorite time of the week: such an intimacy with God and with each other. No one in the core group ever missed; it was a peg on which each of us hung our lives. Gradually, however, as membership grew and some of us married and had kids, there were requests for schedule changes and eventually we decided to run several different holy hours in different locations during the week --to accommodate as many people as possible. Nothing in the rite itself changed. But changing the schedule killed the practice.

Getting back to the changes in liturgy after Vatican II, I'm a reform of the reform sort of person. Much of the critique of the Novus Ordo --or at least of the abuses to which it is vulnerable-- I'm in sympathy with. Still I suspect that most of the "falling away" had little to do with the changes themselves, and more to do with simply revealing to us, the Church, how few of us really clung to God and not the things of God, how many of us were weeds among the wheat. There are lessons to be learned from the Church's experience about prudence, but that particular lesson, however painful, strikes me as not a bad one to learn.