After the turbulent years: the Church renewed

After the turbulent years: the Church renewed

Fr John O'Neill

At the end of the 1960s, Father James Tierney used to talk a lot about the revolution in catechetics. He was so disturbed he founded his own catechetical centre, and later took a year off to write his catechism.

He did this in a pioneer hut out near the mountain village of Hampton. The conditions were primitive, but he got the job done, giving us his Catholic Family Catechism.

Cardinal Silvio Oddi in Rome, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Clergy, which supervised catechetics, wrote to him: "It is to be hoped that your catechism will be used in all the English-speaking countries of the world." Most Australians ignored it.

James Tierney woke us up: at least those who were not too soundly asleep.

Until around 40 years ago, the Church, here and overseas, had plenty of priests and religious. Children came out of our primary schools like little theologians: they had a clear and precise knowledge of the Faith, and understood its technical words.

Seminaries were overflowing - extensions had to be built to house the applicants; even small parishes had at least two priests. Over 60 per cent of Catholics practised the Faith.

What happened to our Church? Perhaps the famous Dutch Catechism started it, but it was soon eagerly followed by similar publications in the USA, Australia, even Ireland.

Texts for maturer people soon joined the rising tide, clearly identifiable as neo-modernism, rising out of the grave of modernism dug by Pope St Pius X.

Modernism boils down to something very simple: putting naturalistic or symbolic interpretations on Divine Revelation. Miracles were out, nay, even impossible; the Gospels re-interpreted to the point where Jesus Christ became no more that some folk hero, if, indeed, He ever existed at all.

Most of all, His resurrection was explained in words which I heard from a very bright seminarian: "He rose in the faith of the people." Christianity had lost its foundational rock: "If Christ be not risen, your faith is vain," cried the Apostle.

Parents were still in dreamland sending their children off to Catholic schools (or state school "Scripture" classes using defective CCD material) to be taught by religious or lay teachers who had been trained, or by seminars retrained, in the new approach.

This had two glaring faults: it did away with the sound truths from Divine Revelation, substituting human novelties, and it did away with learning by heart - parrots could do that, they mocked, but they forgot that one loves with the heart.

They produced religious programs that were not memorable and not worth remembering anyway. So, sound content and effective method were hurled onto the rubbish heap. Thankfully they did not decay in all places, and are now making a strong and effective comeback.

For the determined modernists among the priests produced in this era, charity to Church membership, and to the modernists themselves, demanded that they be debated, opposed, if necessary exposed, and if possible, converted.

In all of this, and perhaps worst of all, the Mass suffered: the beautiful-in-itself Novus Ordo (the Ordinary Rite now) was torn to pieces by would-be creative liturgists and celebrants, producing poor theatre in our churches.

Trixie Blogg's latest poem replaced the First Reading and Beatles' songs accompanied Holy Communion. Hearts were not lifted and many were broken and disappeared from what was hardly recognisable as the Mass.

At this time came also artificial contraception, and many made their choice for that, cutting themselves off from grace-giving sacraments, and, ultimately, from attending Mass at all. Vocations had to suffer.

Some of us senior priests lived through all this: we knew the Church in her glory days, and were determined not to let her go.

She always had to put up with the faults and foibles of her members at all levels, in every age, but we were not prepared to lose our grasp on Revelation, dignified and uplifting worship, and all the true beauties in art, architecture and music that had refined and healed the world.

We knew something utterly beautiful, and one hesitates to say it this way: we knew that the Catholic Faith, its law, its creed, its worship, was not the product of the human being: it came out of the very natures, divine and human, of Jesus Christ, and knowing to our depths that love for Him was at the heart of everything, we came readily out of our trenches to defend Him, the unchanging Way, Truth and Life.

Therein lies the immense tragedy in all this unfortunately true story: the Heart of the Faith was lost! This was flung at me at a clergy seminar in 1977 at St Patrick's College, Manly, once our only seminary, founded by Cardinal Moran in 1885.

A brother priest asked me what I thought was the most important thing for priests "today". I replied it was the same as always: a personal love for Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

He almost laughed, and said this was a bit old-fashioned. The poor man! Whatever about one's own need to keep growing in his relationship with Our Lord, this man did not know, apparently, that from all eternity, infinite love was surging about in the Blessed Trinity, overflowing into the creation of spiritual beings, angelic and human.

Well, it seems His providence has brought us through the years in the desert. The modernists, too, have grown old, and are being replaced by men properly trained in seminaries.

Sound RE programs are abundant and, hopefully, the Sacred Liturgy is being preserved from all that vain nonsense. Sadly, most religious houses remain empty, resold to the world, except for an occasional contemplative order.

Where the good soil of true Catholic Faith and practice is restored, or was never allowed to become dust and blown away, the rich crops are growing, and being reaped.

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