Many of us Catholics who are old enough to have endured the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s had front row seats to the spectacle of the Church in America trying to achieve suicide by lobotomy. Things just kept getting stupider and stupider as more and more people who could not tell you what, if anything, the Church stood for fled or drifted away, and ugly churches got built and beautiful churches got reckovated, good songs that everybody knew and could sing were replaced by stupid, hard to sing songs – and so on and so forth.
But then things turned around. St. JPII started it, Pope Benedict kicked it up a notch, and somehow the Spirit managed (again!) to survive and triumph over our own execrable idiocy. (Mostly – in a decade or two all the original balloon-heads will have died off, and their followers, being mostly sheep, may very well follow a better shepherd. One can hope.)
Inquiring minds want to know: can we be a little more exact as to the bottoming out and turning around? Although things were clearly better under Papa Benedict, they certainly hadn’t hit bottom until well into JPII’s pontificate.
Here is some evidence I gathered yesterday, while attending Brother Stephen Cox’s funeral mass (more on that much more serious topic later):
This is a corner of the very beautiful and holy graveyard of Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon. There are a couple hundred of the simple yet beautiful stone crosses marking the final resting place of the earthly coil of the monks who have died there since 1882. AND – there are about a dozen or so flat “pillow” markers for the brothers unfortunate enough to have died from 1981 to 1990. Then, without comment, as it were, the abbey switched back to the crosses, which are in use to this day.
So, I propose that the nadir in American Catholicism was the decade from 1981 to 1990, when monks of a 1500 year old most glorious and storied order, source of much beauty and art and science, with a good claim to having both created and more than once saved Western civilization – somehow, these monks decided that, no, despite a century-old local tradition on top of their order’s traditions, that it was time to stop marking the graves of the brothers with a cross – a slab will do.
And then the recovery happened. I assume the markers from 1981-1990 remain in place as a cautionary tale and call to humility.
I am happy to report that the odor of sanctity pervades Mt Angel Abbey these days. It was a lovely and holy place to visit.