The church needs a new pentecost and there can be no pentecost unless there is first an ascension. Such are the dynamics of the paschal mystery.
Today, in the church, both the conservatives and the liberals are effectively blocking a new flowing out of the Holy Spirit because both groups refuse to reverently grieve a death and let a certain body of Christ ascend and give us its blessing. What does this mean?
The pre-Vatican II church is, theologically-understood, the pre-ascended body of Christ. Thus, today, for us to receive the spirit, the Holy Spirit, we must, like the original disciples of Jesus, let the church we once knew give us its blessing and ascend to heaven so that we can receive the spirit for the ecclesial life that we are actually living. And this is not happening. It is being blocked by our failure to understand what has happened in the church and to properly grieve it. Let me try to explain this:
The church that many of us grew up in, the church of the 1950s and early 1960s which was irrevocably changed after Vatican II, was, despite its flaws and imperfections, both a very beautiful and powerful expression of the body of Christ. Indeed it was, as history will show, one of the better incarnations of Christian church, especially as regards its universality and its gathering around the eucharist. It had its shortcomings, admittedly, but it gave life and meditated grace and helped millions of women and men to salvation, most of our own parents included. It gave us the faith and taught us many of the very things which we are now using to criticize it.
But it had its time and eventually it was crucified – by time, by change, by secularization, and by its own imperfections. Vatican II simply recognized this, it didn’t cause it. For its part, mostly it named a death and claimed a resurrection, a new life.
We are already living that new life – enthusiastically or begrudgingly. But we have yet, on both sides, liberal and conservative, to really receive its spirit. Why?
Because none of us has really grieved what we lost. The Catholicism that so many of us grew up on was, in truth, one of the more powerful expressions of Christianity ever incarnated. It died – and nobody grieved it! Conservatives are not really grieving. They’re angry and in denial. They haven’t accepted that something has died. They’re still trying to resuscitate it. Liberals aren’t grieving either. They don’t admit that the pre-Vatican II church is worth grieving! They’re happy that this particular incarnation of Catholicism has died since, for them, it was not a very healthy expression of church in any case. In both cases, there is no ascension, no reverent letting go of the old in such a way that it can bless the present. The conservatives block that blessing through denial, the liberals through self-hatred.
So this is our situation: We are living in a post-Vatican II church, but the body of the pre-Vatican II church remains with us -ungrieved, unreverenced, unascended, and unable to give us its blessing. And the atmosphere within the church precisely manifests this debilitating situation. Thus, for example:
It is no accident that Catholics my age (i.e., those of us who had an experience of the pre-Vatican II church) are, for the most part, more focussed on our own reactions to Vatican II, for or against, than we are with passing on the faith to the world at large, let alone to our own children. As we do all our infighting, and think it’s important, the world and our own children are indifferent to us … and don’t really give a damn about Vatican II! We’ve too much internal baggage right now to have much in the way of genuine focus beyond ourselves. That shows itself too in our hardness towards each other – the rages, the anger, the bitterness, the ideology, the disrespect of others, and the plain lack of charity that emanates from both conservative and liberal circles. What is evident from all of this is that we lack fresh spirit, we lack the Holy Spirit, on both all sides. There is too little of charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, long-suffering, fidelity, mildness, faith, and chastity left. We need a new pentecost.
And that pentecost will happen only when all of us, liberals and conservatives alike, with deep reverence and love, let the old ascend and give us its blessing. But this will happen only when we understand the church of the past for what it was and is, the resurrected body of Christ, waiting to ascend, calling us to the Mount of the Ascension to impart its blessing.