Look Back in Anger
by Dwight Longenecker
Last year I was invited to write a series of little booklets to be used by Catholics as an evangelisation tool. I was asked not to provide a total catechesis, but a simple introduction to the Catholic faith for the man or woman in the street. It turned to one of my heroes, C.S.Lewis as a model, and tried to follow his advice not to use highbrow language, churchy talk, theological or liturgical jargon.
The books were published along with a ‘seed leaflet’ -- a little Catholic gospel tract. Two groups didn’t like them. A stinging review came out in an ultra traditionalist magazine, and the liberal journals ignored them, while I heard through the grapevine that in those circles the booklets were considered ‘too dogmatic’.
The reaction to my booklets confirmed an idea that had been brewing in my mind for some time. It seems inaccurate to talk about ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ in the church. Those two categories are dying and a new mentality is emerging.
The classic Catholic liberal saw the second Vatican Council as the great revolution. However, nowadays he’s growing greyer and grumpier. The liberal believes Vatican II was never properly implemented. Things didn’t go far enough. He sees that his policies have emptied churches, but like most ideologues, this never causes him to question his policies, instead he concludes that his policies weren’t radical enough, so he pushes them even harder. When I meet Fr Folkmass or Sister Sandals they often seem de-moralised, frustrated and angry.
The second category also looks back in anger. The conservatives in the church have not won the battle either, and they’re hopping mad. They might be Latin Mass groupies, fed up old timers or grumpy young fogies. If Vatican II didn’t go far enough for the ‘disappointed radicals’ it went much too far for these traditionalists. Anything new can get their goat. They don’t like the new hymns, the new liturgies, the new architecture, the new religious movements. When I meet Monsignor Maniple or Sister Wimple they also seem dis-spirited, frustrated and angry.
What tickles me is that both of these groups (who are often at each other’s throats) seem so identical in their mindset. Both are angry with the way the church is moving. The first are angry because it is not modern enough. The second because it is too modern. Do any of them have any idea at all of the concept of ‘living by faith and not by sight?’ Do they have any concept that the Holy Spirit actually is leading His church into all truth? Don’t they understand that down through the ages the church has always been in conflict? Can’t they accept that they don’t have to be right all the time? Can’t they let go and let God? It seems to me the reason they have such a negative attitude is the old vice of pride or ‘I know best.’
The crazy thing is, they’re Catholics! They should know they don’t know best. Those of us who are converts have come into the church for that very reason. We gave up trying to make up our own religion. We were exhausted at trying to be our own pope. We gave up the task of being infallible all the time. We finally signed over and said, ‘The Church is right. Rome has spoken. That settles it.’
I said there was a third set. This set is made up of the vast majority of lay people I meet as I travel around the parishes. They accept the Church just as it is. Within this third group some are more committed. These are the Vatican II generation. Their title could be ‘dynamically orthodox’. They have grown up during John Paul II’s pontificate. They don’t know what the church was like before Vatican II so they don’t know what all the fuss is about.
This group are likely to have a clear idea what it means to be a Catholic. They don’t have time for ‘cultural Catholicism’. They want to commit themselves to a faith that is at once ancient and modern. They’re happy to use cool new music and worship styles, but they’re also interested in the rosary, confession, pilgrimages, liturgy, stained glass and Gregorian chant. They’re likely to start up a new website, take charge of a youth group, start a new movement or get going in social action. They don’t wait for ‘clerical approval’—not because they’re rebellious, but simply because they’re used to getting on with the job.
The curious thing is that both the disappointed radicals and the angry traditionalists don’t like dynamic orthodoxy. The old liberals think they’re far too traditional and ‘rigid’ while the traditionalists don’t like their modern music, willingness to evangelise, their open-ness to Christians of other traditions and their open minded-ness towards modern culture.
The problem with both the disappointed radicals and the angry traditionalists is that both are looking back in anger rather than forward with hope. Like a family, the Catholic Church is tough going sometimes. But all of us need to be alert to the good things God is doing rather than being upset because he didn’t fulfil our pet agenda. We need to see that the church is on the verge of a new age of faith, hope and charity.
This new age will spring up from the young. It will come from the poor. It will come from the Christians in the East and in the Southern hemisphere, and when it comes it will be the true fulfilment of Vatican II.
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Rev. Dwight Longenecker was ordained through the Pastoral Provision in December 2006 and serves as chaplain to St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina, and as weekend assistant in the parish of St. Mary’s, Greenville. He is the author of ten books on conversion and the Catholic Faith. Check his website
to discover more about his articles and books. This article first appeared in Crisis Magazine
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