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Some Thoughts on the “New Springtime”

I have frequently heard Catholics snidely comment that the “new springtime” of the Church that Pope John Paul II repeatedly mentioned is a heck of a lot more like winter than Spring – seminaries are empty, Catholics don't go to Church, churches are gutted far worse than anything the Protestants ever did, etc. How can this possibly be a new springtime?

Here is the answer. Spring is when new life STARTS to grow. It isn't when everything is in full bloom and ready to harvest. The Church has a saying that “The blood of the martyrs are the seeds of the Church“. More than any time in the past 100 years it is quite clear that the period right before and for at least thirty years following Vatican II were a new Winter of the Church. Orthodox Catholics were pushed out, Churches were destroyed, sacred music and liturgy were made a mockery of and good seminaries were shut down while most of the remaining ones rotted the Church's foundation.

But during this time, the blood of martyrs was planted. For the most part the martyrs didn't experience physical death but every grandma who was told to quit praying the rosary during adoration, every seminarian who was thrown out for being rigid, every defender of the Faith who was mocked and ostracized in his parish experienced a “soft martyrdom”. Many of those people abandoned the Church in despair but there were saints among them who stayed. Saints who stayed and faded into the background but never quit praying for the revival of the Church. These are the people who just wouldn't learn that there was a new spirit in the Church that didn't have a place for Catechesis, chant, beauty or truth. These are the seminarians that endured years of heretical teaching in seminaries because they knew they had vocations and weren't going to let the school shrink have the last word.

The fruits of the planting are starting to bud now. And like early spring, it is sometimes hard to spot the tulip bulb poking up through the snow or the new growth on the bare trees. But it is there. Here's proof:

  • Pope Benedict. His election can only be attributed to the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Can anyone explain how he could get elected so quickly after his very blunt homilies at John Paul II's funeral and the Mass opening the conclave?
  • Seminaries in America are reporting classes larger than any since before Vatican II. The Denver seminary has over 60 seminarians just for Denver. Colorado Springs has eleven seminarians. It's average before our new bishop arrived was two. Various other diocese have reported a larger number of ordinations than anytime in the past fifty years. The Nashville Dominicans, Fraternity of St. Peter, Society of St. John and many others are overflowing with vocations.
  • Catholic religious education is starting to show signs of orthodoxy again. Faith and Life and the Didache series are the yardstick to measure any other religious ed material against. For decades nothing was even on the same field let alone in the running. The bishops approved text list has an extremely low bar – nothing openly heretical can be in the books. The Faith and Life series was the only series to make the list on first review. the Didache series for high school wasn't out yet. Now, there are a lot more approved series. Most aren't very good but at least they aren't blatantly heretical anymore.
  • The liturgy is experiencing a revival. The Pope's letter, Sumorum Pontificum is sending ripples throughout the Church with reports almost every day of new Masses being celebrated with reverence, real sacred music and Latin. And who is leading the way in the parishes? The new priests who survived the seminaries during the last decades.
  • Younger Catholics are actually taking their Faith seriously. As much as people rightly complain about John Paul II's lack of leadership when it came to his bishops, his effect on Catholic youth was incredible and is where the springtime is starting. If you ask many of the young priests and seminarians in Denver when they started thinking about a vocation, it was at World Youth Day in Denver.
  • The Anglican / Episcopal exodus back to the Church.
  • The reunification of several Orthodox churches with Rome. (I'm checking on this. I know that a group came back in 1930 and I was sure I read of a couple of small rites coming back within the last twenty years but I could be hallucinating.)

There are plenty of other signs of the New Springtime. Granted, there are places such as Rochester and Los Angeles and pretty much all of Europe that are still deep in winter and may never come out but at least there are now places you can point to where things are going right. Here are some resources I recommend for getting a more optimistic attitude about the Church.

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  1. Ian:

    Thanks for posting the vocations information. All along, I’ve believed the explanation for the “crisis” as a crisis of fidelity, not of magisterial overlording, gender bias, etc… There are still many parts of the world struggling for vocations, but I pray they hold on a little longer.

    I think Benedict was chosen in part because they quickly realized he could be pastoral and wasn’t the “Rotweiler” that the press made him out to be. Those two homilies changed a lot of views about him both inside and outside the Vatican, and I’m sure when they got into the Sistine Chapel it is obvious that no one else was more electable. I was in St. Peter Square for the conclave and I admit that I selfishly wanted a couple more rounds of votes so I could extend my stay in Rome. 🙂 And while I felt he would end up pope, I thought it was a quick vote. I’m just praying that his health holds up long enough to keep his momentum going.

    With JPII’s successor, Ratzinger was always the lead candidate. When Benedict passes on, I have no idea who would be a frontrunner.

  2. Good thoughts, Ian, thank you. I am a convert-to-be, joining the church at the Easter Vigil this year. Sometimes I am blown away by how watered down or even distorted the teachings in my RCIA class are and how almost anti-Catholic some of the older parish priests and lay teachers are. But then I am moved by the faithfulness of some of the other priests, and especially the younger ones (but some of the other older ones, too), and I’m so excited to be coming into the church during this quite, almost silent movement of Spring.

  3. Deo gratias!

    The Church is indeed experiencing a renewal of faith and tradition. The Lord’s promise is true, after all. The Church shall never fall to the powers of the Devil.

    I also hope Pope Benedict will live many more years. His great reforms are doing much good for the Church, especially in liturgy and doctrine. As for who will become pope after Benedict, I think we will have to entrust that to the Holy Spirit and PRAY PRAY PRAY!

  4. I was with you until I read the line “The reunification of several Orthodox patriarchies with Rome.” So far as I know, while there continue to be cordial, and in some quarters improved relations, with the Orthodox, no Orthodox Patriarchate has returned to full communion with Rome.

    I would be glad to wrong about this…

  5. Realizing that the church is in procession forward, the signs of spring need to shake off the vestiges of winters past. While Ian speaks of good things happening, we will never lose the good of the reform and renewal of Vatican II, its liturgy, laws and decrees.
    Great care must be taken to see what happens in the present future is not simply a reaction against but and incorporation of what has happened in the 40 years since Vatican II. Nostalgia of and by itself cannot govern the direction of the church — it will not be and cannot be and should not be the way it was.
    I hope we are not too easily blaming the problems of the recent present on Vatican II. Certainly we have suffered much recently because of the Pre-Vatican II church, especially through the recent sexual abuse scandal.
    The church has always been in a procession, look ahead, we cannot just look back hoping that the past somehow saves us.

  6. I have yet to see any proof that the sex scandal is a result of the pre-Vatican II church. If anything, it seems to be the result of a culture of homosexual acceptance that arose after Vatican II when good seminarians were canned and deviants were welcomed and protected.

    I think we are so close to Vatican II that finding the good that came from it is still difficult. The liturgy as it is generally celebrated does not appear to me to be a good of the reform, especially since the actual decrees from and after Vatican II are not followed in 99% of parishes in the US.

  7. Ian:

    Consider two pieces of data on sex abuse scandal. While many of the crimes were committed in the 1980’s the ordination years for the criminal priests was generally in the 1950’s and 1960’s with some or all of their seminary formation in the pre-Vatican II church. Many priests were not named or charged in crimes nor became a part of the settlements because they had died many years before. Issues of sex abuse are not new, what is new is the heightened awareness of the criminal nature of the acts.
    Unhealthy attitudes towards sexuality and arrested sexual development in adolescent males is part of the undiscussed nature of the problem we have faced. While there were some seminaries in which a homosexual subculture existed it is too simple to blame everything that has come to light on that issue alone.
    And the bottom line is, it was the tolerance of the Bishops as much as anything else, that enabled the problems to fester.

  8. With regards to the reunification of certain (eastern) Orthodox communities, I think it important to note also that Eastern Catholic (Byzantines mostly) churches, already in communion with Rome, are experiencing exponential growth in eastern Europe now that Communism has been overthrown. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is an amazing success story, with hundreds of new parishes under construction, a new Catholic university recently opened, and a glorious new Patriarchal cathedral under construction in the capital, Kiev. Although this growth is problematic, to say the least, for separated Orthodox communities, there is indeed a New Springtime in the East. Glory to God, forever.

  9. I think we’re still in deep mid winter. There are tiny little signs of hope but let’s be honest. The homosexual scandal drove a lot people away from the church. The weird stuff that happened in the 70s and 80s probably drove away millions more than the scandal did. For the souls who are lost and going to hell the signs of hope we’re seeing here and there don’t mean a thing. Where there is life there is hope but let’s not sugar coat it. The bright young priests we are seeing now have no power to change anything and won’t for another ten or twenty years. In the mean time all we can do is pray, fast and wait for winter to be over.

  10. Rev. Father 87654321

    Nice try. But Vatican II was a flop and post conciliar popes pushing the jargon of “New Springtime” are like desperate gamblers running to the ATM in a casino. Even if they will be charged lots of extra fees, they are desperate to break even or at the very least, win SOMETHING back.

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