What Comes Next, O Spirit of Vatican II?

Pope Francis left another trail of confusion and frustration with his May 23 homily to the 21st general assembly of Caritas Internationalis. In it, Pope Francis explained that, among other things, Christ did not want the Church to be a perfect model and that the apostles “did not need a bunch of doctrines and traditions,” but rather simply to announce that “God is love.”

Many feelings arise whenever Pope Francis speaks like this: disgust, incredulity, and concern. This time, however, the pope’s call to understate doctrine and simply announce that “God is love” reminded me of a hippie-styled mantra. To quote John Lennon’s anthem during the 1967 Summer of Love, “all you need is love.”

With that in mind, it is time to state what should be quite obvious: that the past 50 years of hippie-inspired Spirit of Vatican II Catholicism has been a complete failure.

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I was not alive for the hippie movement of the 1960s and ’70s, thus I never witnessed, much less embraced, the moral corruption it stimulated. Indeed, Woodstock for me is just a historical tale of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and misguided dissension. I consider Vietnam the place where my diocese “drafts” its priests from, and not a name evoking images of protesters throwing rocks at police officers while shouting “peace, man.” Bob Dylan’s music is, for me, merely tolerable — certainly not for listening to while meditating in a solitary, flower-scented room. No, the hippie generation, and its Age of Aquarius, where the Moon meets in the seventh house to burn incense at the altar of Man, never dawned on me as being profound or desirable.

I am intrigued when I meet elderly hippies who nostalgically remember those days of The Age of Aquarius, telling stories of partying with Mick Jagger (hasn’t everyone?). Deep down, I pity their lives. Only in God, and His precepts and doctrines, do we find true peace and love. The hippie generation has long since disseminated; it now rests like a baby-blue Volkswagen bus abandoned in an overgrown field.

Unless you are Catholic, of course. In our Spirit of Vatican II Catholicism, the embrace of the hippie Age of Aquarius culture endures, though few truly know why [i].

There is the obstinate lingering of pale green felt banners with cut-outs of grapes, the John Denver–styled worship tunes, the enigmatic preaching on peace and acceptance (as evidenced in Pope Francis’s homily), and the triumphal appointing of Man, or rather Human Beings, as the center of the Mass. Straightforward theology is labeled rigid; meanwhile, feelings reign supreme. Though the Mass crowds dwindle, every Sunday remains a little Woodstock in far too many Catholic churches.

All is not lost. I heard a worrying yet secretly gratifying tidbit the other day. It seems that an important youth coordinator for my diocese, a retired principal who now gives typical youth retreats filled with guitar ballads and watered down catechetical instruction, was asking my local parish youth group leader for advice. The diocesan coordinator openly admitted that children do not know the faith, that they are not coming to Mass, and that he no longer knows what to do.

Our parish youth group leader was puzzled. She wondered, “Why is he asking me what to do? Isn’t that his job to know?”

It is his job to know, literally — and it is worrying that he is paid to solve a problem he is utterly clueless about. Yet I am glad he is realizing that our Spirit of Vatican II Catholicism does not actually bring spiritual success. Would that all Catholics, from the top down, recognized that this hippie-styled Catholicism has failed miserably. It needs to be abandoned to an overgrown field, next to the secular baby-blue Volkswagen bus.

Yet, if this diocesan youth coordinator can recognize that the Catholic Church, as subverted by the Spirit of Vatican II, cannot remain status quo, the question is, what will he try next?

There are two options: to once again mindlessly press forward and receive newer “fresh air” from the world or, inversely, to simply reclaim the Church as it existed for its first 1,900-plus years.

The first option, to press boldly forward into modern culture, is sheer madness. The culture is no longer gaudy guitar ballads proclaiming peace, fueled by sex, drugs, and socialism. Rather, the modern culture is confused about what sex even is; it is inundated with technological habits stronger and more widespread than many past drugs; and it is rampant with homicidal videogames, fatherlessness, anxiety, depression, violence, and godlessness. Through the maelstrom, all the modern culture can assuage the damaged society with is a young man, dressed in marshmallow-headed attire, manufacturing electronic rhythms while, ironically, taunting: “I want you to be happier.”

The Catholic Church cannot go forward into this demonically fueled chaos of modern culture. Nor can it remain where it is, as a self-serving, hippie-styled, neo-Pelagian religion.

The only other option is for the Church to return to what it was for some 1,900-plus years. At this notion, that I imagine those imbedded in the Spirit of Vatican II Catholicism would start convulsing. “Madness!” they might declare. “The rigid dark ages!” they would bellow. “The priest turned his back to us!”

In those rigid dark ages, the priest turned his back to them, indeed, and turned toward God. The priest entered the sanctuary and offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as had generations before him. As the veil was lifted and God Himself came upon the altar, the people bowed and prayed to their Savior, and not to some “neon god they made.” They received reverently. They chanted God’s own hymns, the sacred psalms, in supplication, praise, and thanksgiving. Not just women and children, but men were present, too. The faithful learned to know, love, and serve God.

In traditional Catholicism, with the aid of the traditional Latin Mass, the Catholic faith was visible and, when it was done correctly, vibrant. Those rigid dark ages, indeed.

What would happen if the Catholic Church returned, not out of nostalgia, but love, to the way it believed and worshiped for 1,900-plus years? Perhaps more than 22% of Catholics would attend Mass on Sundays. Perhaps there would not be 51% of Catholics approving of abortion, or 89% approving of contraception. Perhaps the Church would look Catholic once again, and possibly even influence culture (instead of the other way around). Perhaps there would not be diocesan employees wondering why youths don’t care about antiquated hippie-styled faith. Perhaps all this and much more — if we but tried.

As Pope Francis presses forward with the tired and dying hippie-styled mantra, I ask: What comes next, O Spirit of Vatican II? The attempted Age of Aquarius has failed. Will the Church seek a return to its faith?

If so, there could be no greater spiritual revolution.

[i] I attribute an infiltration in the Church as a significant cause of our current crisis of faith. However, I believe that most Catholics adhere to Spirit of Vatican II Catholicism with little thought as to why.

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