“See How the Church Is Alive Today!”

The last forty years have witnessed a flowering of faith in the Church, despite numerous challenges and difficulties

“But we see how the Church is alive today!” — Benedict XVI, Final General Audience, Feb. 27, 2013.

Upheaval in the Church and confusion among the faithful.  The late 1960s and early 1970s were dark days indeed, as reported by Kenneth L. Woodward in his memoir of big changes to the Church in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, in the February 2013 issue of the journal First Things.  Woodward at that time was religion editor at Newsweek magazine.

But Woodward’s account takes us only into 1971.  It is only the beginning of the story.  Then, gradually, came a flowering, the evidentiary work of the Holy Spirit, a great happening, a turn in salvation history.

First stirrings were the emergence of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in February 1967 with its appreciation for the work of the Holy Spirit, which spread throughout the Church; publication in 1971 of Malcolm Muggeridge’s Something Beautiful for God, which brought to the public’s attention the ministry of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity; founding of the international journal Communio in 1972 by Joseph Ratzinger and other prominent theologians who in 1970 broke with the progressive journal Concilium; the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in January 1973 which prompted into existence the anti-abortion/pro-life movement; appointment of Fr. Michael Scanlan in 1974 to be president of the College of Steubenville and to begin the rescue and spiritual transformation of the college (re-named Franciscan University of Steubenville in 1985); and the “Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation” of February 1975, which was a response of fourteen Christian thinkers to current distortions of Christian faith, “the casual jettisoning of Christian orthodoxy,” and included identification of thirteen “false and debilitating” theses.

Multiple fruits of the Spirit appeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s, most notably the papacy of Bl. John Paul II, beginning in 1978 and continuing for 27 years. John Paul II started World Youth Days; added luminous mysteries of the Rosary; was a factor in the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Empire; gave a series of weekly audience talks on the theology of the body; wrote fourteen encyclicals, four apostolic exhortations, and six apostolic letters; made  apostolic visitations and/or pilgrimages to many countries; wrote a book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, responding to questions of an Italian journalist; called attention to the culture of life v. the culture of death; exhibited significant pastoral experience and sensitivity; throughout his time in office was an energetic public witness to Jesus Christ.

Then came several foundings:  Ignatius Press in San Francisco in 1978 by Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ; Catholic Answers, an organization devoted to apologetics, by Karl Keating in 1979; Casa Juan Diego in Houston by Mark and Louise Zwick in 1980 as a refuge, in the spirit of Dorothy Day, for Mexican and Central American immigrants; Renewal Ministries by Ralph Martin in 1980 for evangelization; the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) by Mother Angelica in 1981; The Word Among Us, monthly practical help publication in reading Scripture and in praying, by Joe Difato and others in December 1981; and the ecumenical Food for the Poor organization by Ferdinand Mahfood in 1982, providing food and other assistance to the poor in the Caribbean. 

In January 1984 Bishop John J. O’Connor was appointed Archbishop of New York, bringing to that office great vigor, able leadership, and earnest solicitude for preaching the Gospel.

Significant developments within the Church that got underway following Vatican Council II were: the language of public worship made mainly the language of the people; synods of bishops convened every two to three years to advise the Pope about particular topics such as, in 2012, “The New Evangelization”; an enriched process for receiving adults into the Church — RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults; increase in roles for the laity in the Church, especially as permanent deacons, lectors, and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist; and increase in Bible study programs and Bible study groups.

Further multiple fruits of the Spirit appeared from the late 1980s to our own time.  These included prominent converts among whom were Scripture scholar, Scott Hahn, evangelist Marcus Grodi who founded The Coming Home Network in 1993; evangelist and author Steve Ray, and many others.  They also included the journal First Things, first published in March 1990 by Richard John Neuhaus and associates, concerned mainly with defending the right of religious people to take part in public discourse; publication in 1994 of the English-language edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which Avery Dulles, SJ, depicted as “the boldest challenge yet offered to the cultural relativism that currently threatens to erode the contents of Catholic faith”; the Liturgy of the Hours (the Divine Office) made available daily on-line at universalis.com beginning in 1995; and the monthly Mass book, Magnificat, which was first published in English in December 1998.

In the new millennium the Papacy of Benedict XVI began in April 2005 and would continue for almost eight years until the end of February 2013. Benedict delivered a shaking up address on faith and reason and the nature of God, at the University of Regensburg on September 12, 2006; wrote three encyclicals and four apostolic exhortations; issued an apostolic letter in July 2007 approving use of the Latin language Roman Missal of Pope Pius V (re-issued by Pope John XXIII) as an extraordinary form of the Church’s liturgy; established the Anglican Ordinariate; gave a series of weekly audience talks on the saints; made apostolic visitations and/or pilgrimages to many countries; proclaimed a Year of Faith (from October 2012 to November 2013); called attention to the danger of relativism with regard to what is true; had special competencies in biblical theology and liturgical theology; wrote three Jesus of Nazareth books; throughout his time in office was an energetic public witness to Jesus Christ.

Fourteen months earlier, on Ash Wednesday in February 2004, Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ” had opened at movie theaters all over the country. Witnessing and evangelizing initiatives continued with Fr. Robert Barron’s production in 2011 of an acclaimed 10-part film entitled Catholicism, part of which was aired that year on PBS and the remainder on EWTN, and released as a 5-DVD set.  A book with the same title was also published. 

Especially strong public voices on the American scene promoting and defending the Faith in the period 1966 to the present included:  Richard John Neuhaus, Mary Ann Glendon, George Weigel, John Cardinal O’Connor, Karl Keating, Jimmy Akin, Robert George, Archbishop Charles Chaput, Malcolm Muggeridge, Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi, Fr. Joseph Fessio, Avery Cardinal Dulles, Fr. George Rutler, Francis Cardinal George, Ralph Martin, Fr. Michael Scanlan, Peter Kreeft, Helen Alvarez, Fr. Frank Pavlone, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Kathryn Jean Lopez, Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, and Fr. Robert Barron.  A formidable cast.  Faithful and enthusiastic.  Spirit-filled.

So, yes, there was a disquieting revolution of sorts within the Church in the 1960s into the 1970s.  Some changes were caused by the Council, some were made possible by the Council, some had not much or anything to do with the Council as rightly interpreted (that is, from the words of the Council documents rather than from “the spirit” of the Council).  For in the wider society there was a cultural revolution taking place—William F. Buckley later called 1968 “the high holy year of the cultural revolution”—which included a sexual revolution (Walter Lippmann at the time spoke of it as “the revolution no one understands”).  These greatly impacted the Church. The Church however revived by reasserting what it was about and by members living out the Gospel in new ways.  It was the work of the Holy Spirit – exhibited especially by the clarifications and pronouncements of Vatican Council II plus the faithful and fruitful papacies of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  And all notwithstanding the dark clouds of the sexual abuse scandal.  The answer to unfaithfulness is ever to be faithful. 

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About Paul Erich Menge 0 Articles
Paul Erich Menge has graduate degrees in political science, worked for over thirty years in administrative positions for the people of the State of Wisconsin, lived through the same difficult times as Ken Woodward, and published a booklet, What Catholics Stand For (Early Morning, 2002), to help end the confusion of those times.