Both World Wars Were A Catalyst For Religious Growth; What Future Tragedy Will It Take For Another Revival?
Sadly it often takes tragedies for religious faith to grow. It seems an unfortunate part of our fallen nature. We have been hit by a spate of tragedies as of late; in its wake we often see churches full of worshippers seeking answers where once there were but a few. Following both world wars, there existed a religious resurgence that unlike the recent tragedies did not ebb and flow. It remained constant due in large part to the horrific loses of human life.
Modernism was alive and well and condemned by the likes of Pope Pius X even before the Guns of August began in 1914. The Catholic and Protestant churches were increasingly seeing relativistic elements entering their seminaries. However unlike recent times, they were quickly addressed. Though we are gaining the upper hand, it has been 40 years since Pope Paul VI lamented that “The Smoke of Satan” had entered the Church. In my just released book; The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn, I speak about the positive events occurring within the Church, as well as those movements who aim to do us harm. In addition, the book delves into how we got into this mess in the first place.
Following World War I there was a great return to religious devotions, especially those having to do with the Blessed Mother. The events of Fatima which had occurred during the war and were being followed closely around the Catholic globe. As I mentioned in my article on the Schoenstatt Movement, the likes of Father Josef Kentenich chastised theological authorities who were giving short shrift to these devotions as well as those who dismissed popular devotions to those who recently passed away like the future Saint Therese of Lisieux (The Little Flower.) Father Kentenich reminded these scoffers that Jesus did indeed say that we must become like little children if we are to enter the Kingdom.
The well heeled of Europe and many American ex pats found their way to Paris to rebel against the religious side of the equation. On the whole, they were a gloomy lot who seemed to drown their sorrows in all matter of drink and sexual exploits which only made them more unbearable. Some even found their way to more exotic locales like Casablanca, as did the fictional Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in the epic film Casablanca.
However there were some faithful thinkers and artists amidst the bunch; Antoni Gaudi being one of the more prominent. His masterpiece is the still unfinished Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona, which is expected to be completed in 2026 and has already been consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. Work on the epic church was begun in the 1800s and consumed much of Gaudi’s life. He remained a devout Catholic his entire life, though many of his artist friends were dumbfounded by his traditionalist beliefs. During the Spanish Civil War, anarchists and leftists forces tried to attack his work and even schematics drawings of future works (that he never completed before his death in 1926.)
The Depression of the 1930s only added to the back to basics approach to faith that had begun in World War I’s aftermath. However, it was World War II that really added to the worlds and especially America’s embrace of the traditional. As a matter of fact, some theologians and sociologists surmise that the period between 1946 and 1964 may have been America’s most religious, due in large part because of the religious structures that existed, especially in Catholicism and the mainline Protestant faiths. Remember American for a good part of her days was mission territory and until the First World War there wasn’t enough trained clergy to supply the religious needs of the faithful. Why was this so; allow me to use an excerpt from my just released book, The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn. The late Father Thomas Shonebarger was a priest in the Diocese of Columbus, who in his very early years was a secretary to Thomas Merton.
One day I asked Father Shonebarger why the faith was so strong in this period. He looked at me squarely in the eye and said, “You were born in the 1960s and you had no idea what it was like going through the 1950s in the aftermath of World War II. In the 1940s and 1950s too many children did not have a living father, too many wives no longer had their husbands, and too many brothers and sisters no longer had a brother. How could this happen and what did it mean? They took their concerns to the only place they could get an answer, their house of worship. I could remember going to Mass early on Sunday just so we didn’t stand…We had to make sense of the horror we experienced,” said Father Shonebarger.
Another bit of anecdotal evidence of how strong the faith was in this period occurred some 50 years ago, in of all places Hollywood. I have accrued a few DVD’s courtesy of Family Theater in Hollywood due to several talks I have given there in the last few years. In one of those DVD’s is a dinner-fundraiser for Father Peyton at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in 1962. It seemed all of Hollywood’s crème de la crème were there thanking the famed Rosary priest who gave us the famous term. “The family that prays together stays together.” Can anyone imagine this sort of gathering for a Catholic priest today? Unless they were going to pelt him with eggs, it would be hard to fathom.
Yet we know things are getting better in the Church due to a new crop of younger more orthodox priests and nuns, not to mention bishops. However, it has been 40 years since Pope Paul VI’s famous lament about the Smoke of Satan that it is finally being wafted out of the Church. Unfortunately some Christian churches are in an utter freefall because they succumbed to the whims of the world. CS Lewis spoke of the Golden Era of Anglicanism in the 1950, but how the mighty have fallen (and it didn’t take very long did it?) For more on this please read my article; The Coming Open Rebellion Against God as well as my just released book; The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn.
This begs the question; what is it going to take to wake the Christian body at large, another world war, some sort of health pandemic, or perhaps a miraculous biblical find (something akin to the Dead Sea Scrolls?) One thing is for sure, tragedies do bring about the resurgence of faith, and Jesus did promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. However, what price will it take for our hubris and narcissism to defer to God’s love, truth and reason?