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.
- The Catholic Church at the End of an Age
- The Tide is Turning Towards Catholicism
- Enduring the Winter of Unbelief
- Springtime of Evangelization
- The New Faithful (written by a high school classmate of mine)