Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Letter of '71 (part II)

Keep in mind that Sister Lucia was old enough to remember the oppressive aftermath of the Portugal Revolution of 1910, the First World War and the Russian Revolution of 1917. At the time of Mary’s appearances in Fatima, a new era had already begun for Europe. Unfortunately, more wars, dictatorships and even genocide would menace Europeans for decades to come. As bad as that was, this first diabolic wave was outside the Catholic Church and thankfully, outside the North American continent. However, by the time Sister Lucia had written her letter to her nephew in 1971, the principles of the culture of death, which brought about the concentration camps of the Third Reich and the gulags of the Soviet Union, overflowed to America’s universities, entertainment industry and abortion clinics.

In 1962 and 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court had rendered prayers and bible reading unconstitutional. By 1968 the pill and artificial birth control in general had gained favor and currency among Westerners. By the time Pope Paul VI had published his encyclical, Humanae Vitae- which affirmed the Catholic Church’s teaching that such practices were against God’s law –Western Civilization had already made up its mind. And what immediately transpired on the heels of the widespread use of contraception were the Sexual Revolution and its offspring- the culture of death. Indeed, in 1973, Roe vs. Wade, would be the law of the land and early in that same decade the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, had declared that homosexuality was no longer a disorder. This was the first major victory of the gay-rights movement.

When the Second Vatican Council first convened in 1962 the Fathers of that council had reason to believe that Christianity was on the ascendancy. Indeed, there was an air of optimism going into this gathering of bishops with the Pope John XXIII. As a matter of fact, the pope himself, during the opening speech, had at least hoped that the human race had matured to the point of recognizing its former errors and vices. More than this, he seemed optimistic that men were inclined to condemn those ways of life that despise God’s laws and which undermine human dignity. In his own words:

“[The Church] considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations. Not, certainly, that there is a lack of fallacious teaching, opinions, and dangerous concepts to be guarded against an dissipated. But these are so obviously in contrast with the right norm of honesty, and have produced such lethal fruits that by now it would seem that men of themselves are inclined to condemn them, particularly those ways of life which despise God and His law or place excessive confidence in technical progress and a well-being based exclusively on the comforts of life. They are ever more deeply convinced of the paramount dignity of the human person and of his perfection as well as of the duties which that implies.”

By the time the Second Council ended, the world was changing for the worse but a positive worldview was retained among many members of the Catholic clergy. From this hopefulness, a new pastoral approach would be employed in the post-conciliar era. Intended or unintended, the Church’s long held view that the ways of the world was an adversary to Christ and his Gospel would be relaxed. To be sure, when the Mystical Body of Christ needed it the most, many of its defensive measures used to guard against the spirit of the world were dropped. For instance, St. Michael's prayer after Mass, the oath of fidelity required by every priest to the teachings of the Catholic Church, the National Legion of Decency- an organization composed of bishops and laity to combat objectionable content of cinema, the disciplinary application of excommunication, the index of forbidden books and even the imprimatur granted to books consistent with Catholic doctrine were just a few of measures that were relaxed or dropped altogether.

The result of this new posture was a precipitous decline in priestly and religious vocations along with a drop in church attendance. Indeed, the infusion of the secular spirit had entered into the sanctuary. As for the title of being “Catholic,” it would come to mean anything from believing or doing what one believed as well as following Christ and believing all that he commanded. In a word, the distinction between the faithful and the unfaithful would hardly be recognized by the hierarchy of the Church. Indeed, a politician could publicly campaign against the human dignity of the unborn without the slightest reprimand or repercussion from Church authorities. The modern pastoral practices have made it possible for wolves to have equal status with the sheep; the fruit of which, to be sure, was spiritual and moral confusion. Thankfully, there are signs that this is changing.

Nevertheless, we come back cull circle to the comments of then-Cardinal Ratzinger when he said, “[T]he Church is becoming extinguished in men’s souls, and Christian communities are crumbling” and the assertion made by Pope Paul VI that “the smoke of Satan” has entered the Church. Both of these comments were made around the same time Sister Lucia wrote her letter to her nephew when she said, “It is indeed sad that so many are allowing themselves to be dominated by the diabolical wave that is enveloping the world, and they are so blind that they cannot see their error. But the principal error is that they have abandoned prayer.”

I proffer this interpretation of the long forgotten Peshtigo fire: Can it be that this infernal wave of destruction- the worst natural disaster in American history -symbolized the diabolic wave Sister Lucia was referring to almost exactly hundred years later? This wave not only menaced nations but it rocked the Church to the core. Indeed, in the decades following Sr. Lucia’s letter, the Green Bay diocese- where the apparitions took place –the archdiocese of Milwaukee (just south of the Green Bay diocese), and many dioceses in the Mid West region of the United States, served as an emblem of all that went wrong in the Church during post-Vatican II era. The Peshtigo inferno seemed to portend the spiritual darkness that would pervade the Church. But those devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, seeking her intercession and guidance, along with the universal Church herself, would be spared.

The Peshtigo fire would have little symbolic value if God did not interject himself into this historic event by first sending the Blessed Virgin to Robinsonville, Wisconsin in 1859 and then to have miraculously protected Sister Adele and her companions from those all-encompassing flames just twelve years after the apparition. God speaks through historical events. In hindsight, Our Lady of Good Help's words in Robinsonville, Wisconsin, and the tragedy that followed, seem to convey a message about our own time; a message that can no longer be ignored.

More on the content of the Sister Lucia’s letter…on the next blog.