Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sunday 5 February 2017

Dear Friends in Christ,

I was only six years old in 1968, so my memories of that momentous year are dim and mostly about life in the first grade. But in that year, it seemed to many that the United States of America was coming apart at the seams. Riots in more than 100 cities left charred ruins in their wake, the campuses of our elite universities were convulsed with Marxist revolutionary ardors, and two leaders of global importance – Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy – were gunned down in their prime. 1968 was also the year that the Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned into a disaster of violence in the streets and chaos in the hall. In short, 1968 was a year of violent deconstruction of the moral, cultural, social, and political fabric that was the foundation of public life in this country, and in some ways, we have never fully recovered from those dislocations. But it was not only in civil society that such upheavals were taking place; similar battles were being waged inside the Catholic Church.

The Second Vatican Council ended in 1965, and the forces of renewal unleashed by that epochal meeting of our bishops very quickly turned to agitations for upheaval. Settled ways of life in the Catholic Church that had prevailed for centuries were overturned almost overnight in the name of updating the Church for renewed fervor in fulfilling the Great Commission. But very quickly instead of our energies being directed at our mission to the world, too many Catholics became obsessed with internecine struggles that began to tear at the fabric of the Church’s unity. The perfect icon of this inwards turn came in July 1968 when Blessed Pope Paul VI published his encyclical On Human Life which reiterated the Church’s ancient and constant teaching about the immorality of all attempts to separate sexual pleasure from openness to procreation. The violent rejection of the pope’s teaching – including by priests and theologians – was every bit as acrimonious as the chaotic Democratic Convention in Chicago, and it left the Church just as polarized as the racial and political upheavals left the nation.

I think now of 1968 – that year of turmoil and unraveling – because to many people it seems that fifty years later we are approaching a similar time of crisis in both the nation and the Church. The election of President Trump has unleashed furies that tear at the fabric of civility, and the leadership of Pope Francis has brought long simmering theological disagreements into public view. It can be disconcerting to see the president exchanging public insults with senators or journalists, and it is certainly bewildering to watch as cardinals, bishops, and theologians engage in rancorous public debates with each other and with the pope or to hear the pope hurling insults at those who disagree with him. So, in such a time of turmoil, what are we to do?

Search for wisdom. Work for the common good. And remember that Jesus Christ is Lord and His victory over sin and death is already won. Praised be Jesus Christ. Now and forever.

Father Newman