All too often I hear the familiar refrain; “how can the tide be turning if the world seems to be increasingly at odds with the Church?” The skeptics of my book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism refer to many newsworthy stories in their query of my thesis. They point to elected officials and government czars seemingly supportive of ideas that not only challenge the core of Catholic beliefs, but conventional societal beliefs about the family as well. The skeptics of my thesis point to the latest Hollywood Cause Célèbre which involves rallying around a man (famed Film Director Roman Polanski) who has admitted to raping a child of 13 when he was 45 years old. They also point to the outright mockery of the Catholic Church at the hands of the entertainment industry by those who believe the tide is turning in their direction. In addition, the skeptics of my thesis also point to stories that barely get any media attention such as an abortion clinic who prominently displayed a crucifix in their window with Jesus replaced on the cross by a chicken. Another sign in the window of the same abortion clinic read “no job too big or too small.” How could the tide be turning if this is what we see and don’t see on television news, the morning paper or on the internet they asked? Thankfully, there are many reasons that tide is turning, and we need to look no further than the young to understand why.
Keep in mind that while the tide is turning for the Church, it is turning in the wrong direction for for the world. The Church is the only one who can save the world and it is something which has already been done many times in history, which is why the enemies of the Church are so upset. If the enemies of religion would be as kind to us as they are toward the liberal mainline Protestant churches, one would have cause to be worried. However unlike the mainline Protestant churches, the Catholic Church’s numbers are not in a free fall and vocation numbers are on the increase.
Some 35 years ago, orthodox minded Catholics must have felt the same way that conservative elements of the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist or Presbyterian churches feel today. Many orthodox minded adherents of mainline Protestantism see little hope in their church’s future due to changes in the official dogma of those respective churches. something that has never happened in Catholicism. Remember that until 1930, no Protestant denomination approved of birth control. The Anglican Church was the first to do so and the changes to age old beliefs didn’t stop there, which leads one to ask, what else is it that you don’t believe? However, when Christ gave the keys to the Apostle Peter, He promised the first pontiff that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church that Christ started (Matthew 16:16-20.) The Catholic Church has seen some horrible low points in the last few decades but the new vocations boost is helping those who follow such religious trends realize that the Church is embracing her roots and not running away from them, as are many mainline Protestant churches.
It seemed the midterm Election of 2006 emboldened the cause of those militant liberals and secularists who have contempt for much of what orthodox minded Catholicism holds dear. Following the results of the Election of 2008, many pundits proclaimed the results as a sea change for America. Agnostics and atheists gleefully announced that their numbers were on the rise. They also proclaimed that a world where religion and especially conservative or orthodox minded Catholicism held sway was being replaced by a humanist brand of religion where age old teachings were being replaced by the ideas of “enlightened” religious leaders, agnostic and atheist thinkers, and even the latest musings of pop culture celebrities. It seemed this new brand of liberal thinker was less idealistic than their 1960s predecessors and displayed an anger and hostility that was a far cry from the over the top idealism displayed some 40 years ago. Fortunately, beneath the surface and below the radar screens of many news organizations, lies the hope of the Catholic faithful. They gladly hold on to the ideas imparted by Christ, His Apostles, Popes, Saints and laymen and laywomen throughout the centuries.
In the seminaries and motherhouses throughout the US, other parts of the western world and especially the Third World lay the hope for tomorrow. Young men and women who eagerly embrace the Church’s teachings ready to be allied with those who have been recently ordained or vowed along with those who long ago were ordained and or took their vows. A couple of anecdotes point out the orthodox-minded nature of these young people. One seasoned seminary professor, who has taught for several decades, told me that in his seminary he has never seen a ten year period where to a man each seminarian held such solid orthodox credentials. One priest told me that when he was ordained earlier this decade, his diocesan priests thought he was very conservative, now they think he is pretty moderate compared to those who have been ordained in the last few years.
Hope doesn’t merely rest on those being ordained or vowed, but also on those young people who attend Mass. Recent data shows that the 18-30 age group, who attend Mass regularly, are the most supportive of the Church’s teachings and the most pro life of any generation, including their grandparents. How can this be one asks? These young people have seen firsthand what has happened and what is happening to their Catholic friends who have checked out of regular participation in the Faith, to say nothing of their friends and acquaintances who have turned their lives into sad real life television reality show. Because of this sad reality, many young people are embracing Eucharistic Adoration and the rosary as a peaceful weapon against the forces of hedonism, self absorption, doubt and fear. The Doubting Thomas’s need look no further than the Catholic blogosphere where orthodox minded sites run by young people run in the hundreds, while liberal leaning sites can almost be counted on one hand.
The Catholic campus group, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) has seen their presence on Catholic and public college and university campuses grow by leaps and bounds. In addition to a service oriented approach to those in need, the group is deeply committed to Eucharistic Adoration and the Rosary. The number of vocations coming from this group is truly amazing. Perhaps the most revealing fact about FOCUS is that all of these wonderful accomplishments have been achieved by a group who was only founded in the previous decade. The group’s spokeswoman, Nikki Shasserre had a wonderful response to a question I posed concerning a previous generation who wanted to change the Church. She responded to the question by saying, “We don’t want to change the Church, we want the Church to change us.”
The statistics don’t lie. To say that surging numbers and priestly vocations are tied to Church orthodoxy would be an understatement. An example from my 2006 book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism best illustrates this point. The Diocese of Rochester, which is considered to be one of the most liberal in America, has a Catholic population of 342,000. They have a total of six seminarians studying for the priesthood. The Archdiocese of Omaha has a Catholic population of 230,000 with 30 seminarians. In Nebraska, the Diocese of Lincoln (run by perhaps the most conservative ordinary in America, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz) has a population of 89,236 Catholics with 24 in their local seminary and 10 in other seminaries. Put another way, while Lincoln and Omaha do not have as many Catholics as Rochester, these two dioceses had sixty-four men studying for the priesthood while Rochester had only six men.
In conversations with seminary rectors and those in the Church knowledgeable about the situation a construct has emerged. Young men and women from faith filled families, and often residing in the rural parts of their dioceses, feel called to a vocation because of their upbringing and personal experiences, an upbringing that revolved around embracing and seeing the wisdom of the Church’s teachings. They have seen firsthand the implications of priests and nuns from their parishes who embraced those core beliefs. Sadly, the biggest impact may have been made by those priests and nuns who rejected them. During the 1970s, some of these young people’s parents were told that getting their future spouse to convert to Catholicism wasn’t a big deal, since everything would soon be homogenized. The same held true for some aspects of Catholic education, where Religion courses in some Catholic high schools weren’t taught every day, textbooks were full of fluff and school Mass attendance wasn’t always mandatory. The bad old days of the 1970s have come and gone, but their effects remain. Many young practicing Catholics feel called to right the wrongs created by Father Flash and Sister Sunshine who seemed so intent on being hip, cool and relevant in an increasingly secular world who not only mocked them, but more importantly mocked their Catholic faith. Despite the warning of Pope Benedict XVI about the Dictatorship of Relativism, these priests and nuns (sadly even some bishops) were drawn closer to those mocking them much like a moth seems attracted to a flame. The results for both are always disastrous.
These new priests and nuns are embracing the Church’s teachings, liturgy and devotions without apologies. Because of their courage they are not only making allies of those clergy and women religious who are older than them and were not caught up in the Dictatorship of Relativism, but are also making allies of those of all age groups clergy and laity who sense something is wrong in society and the Church is the only hope to correct it.
The doubters of the turning tide point to declining Church attendance and a litany of other bad news, real and imagined to state hope is all but lost. Yet it seems some of these folk seem to have forgotten about Jesus admonition that gates of hell would not prevail against His Church, the Catholic Church (Matthew 16:16-20.) They also seem to have forgotten about the great men and women of the Church who persevered against Roman persecution in the Coliseum, against the barbarous Viking onslaught, along with the Islamic invasions that swept through the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. In more recent times, the murderous rampage of Communism and Nazism ,whose sole intent seemed to consist of wiping out Christianity and specifically Catholicism, would seem hard to forgot for those old enough to remember it.
Perhaps some may have forgotten that following the Protestant Reformation, whole European cities were abandoned by some priests and bishops. Yet, a few years or decades later some of those same cities, with help from the likes of Saint Francis DeSales, Saint Robert Bellarmine and Saint Teresa of Avila came to be viewed as the Church’s most vibrant areas. The faithful remnant never stopped planting seeds, no matter how bleak it seemed. The seeds turned into shoots and blossoms, a telling tale of what we are seeing with the current springtime that Pope John Paul II nurtured and his successor Pope Benedict XVI is cultivating. Yes indeed thanks to the young the tide is still turning.