The Harvest is Plentiful But the Laborers Are Few

On Sunday, Jan. 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII proclaimed that it was time to drag the church out of the Dark Ages and into the modern world. It was time, he said, to open the stained-glass windows and let in some fresh air. Shortly thereafter he convened the Council of Vatican II to implement his “Aggiornamento”. Unfortunately, this “bringing up to date” of the Church’s practices and structures quickly took on a life of its own when it lost its tether to ressourcement (i.e. a return to the sources of tradition) and became a vehicle for constant experimentation and change. Eleven years later, in his famous speech of June 30, 1972 Pope Paul VI shocked the Catholic world by stating that he sensed “the smoke of Satan”was within the Church.” It was believed”, the pope said, “that after the Council of Vatican II a sunny day in the Church’s history would dawn, but instead there came a day of clouds, storms and darkness.” That day of infamy continues to dawn inside the Church with increased intensity. Catholics today in large measure feel lost, confused, perplexed and disappointed. Ideas opposed to the truth are being scattered abroad in abundance. Heresies, in the full and proper sense of the word, have been spread in the area of dogmas and morals, creating doubts, confusions and rebellions. The root cause of this chaos is Modernism which has affected almost every area of church life. One area especially effected is the priesthood and religious life.

The crisis of the priesthood, which has seen mass defections, corruption, and a steady decline in priestly vocations since Vatican II, is principally spiritual in nature and can be traced to the church’s excessive desire to conform to the world’s way of thinking. On a purely religious level, there is an impoverished understanding of freedom which prevents one from joining his free will absolutely to something absolute. On a supernatural level there is a failure in faith, that is, doubt about the existence of the absolute to which a priest dedicates himself.

After the Great Council, the church began relaxing canonical discipline allowing post-conciliar priests a wider authority to invest their own private opinions. This enabled priests to publish books without prior approval from their bishops, issue statements, hold protest meetings, speak on radio, television and the internet, go onto the streets to demonstrate against papal decrees, mix with non-Catholics and take full part in their meetings. They can, as it were, now preach their own ephemeral and transient opinions as if they were the message of the Gospel and the doctrine of the Church. Even Pope Benedict XVI has stated in the forward to his book Jesus of Nazareth: “Everyone is free to contradict me” suggesting that everyone’s subjective opinion of Christ is worthy of being advanced today.

Then too there is the post Vatican II tendency to dissolve the sacramental priesthood into the priesthood of the faithful and thus reduce the priest to the same level as all Christians. Speaking to the Roman clergy in February 1978, Pope Paul VI lamented this “mania for laicization” which has “undone the traditional image of the priesthood [and] removed from some men’s hearts the sacred reverence due to their own persons”. Pope Benedict XVI also bewailed what he called the “secularization of clergy and the ‘clericalization’ of the laity.” The two Roman Pontiff’’s were not just speaking about a false sense of equality and a denial of the church’s hierarchical structure, but about a new kind of corruption which consists in a refusal to acknowledge the nature of things. This trivialization of the commitment involved in being a priest, robs the priesthood of the air of totality and permanence that appeals to the noblest part of human nature, by persevering through trial and hardship.

The new theology revives old heretical doctrines, which came together to produce the Lutheran abolition of the priesthood. Obvious practical consequences flow from this error. Manual work and utilitarian productivity is placed above contemplation and suffering. Being a man like all others, the priest will now demand the right to marry, dress as he wishes and take an active part in social and political struggles; so too he will join revolutionary struggles that look upon a brother as an enemy to struggle against, unjust though this be. But it was the regular clergy, those more separated from the world, the men in the cloisters, who exercised not only the most powerful religious but the most powerful civil effects in the world around. They shaped civilization for centuries, even gave birth to it, since they were the ones who produced the structures of culture, and of social life, from agriculture to poetry, from architecture to philosophy, from music to theology.

Today people want real priests. They do not want a sociological priest with a theory about the evils of society, they do not want a relativistic priest who sees no evil in anything, they do not want a politicized priest so busy organizing revolution that he has no time to see them. They want a priest to tell them about Jesus Christ. In place of the promises of Christ, we have been given belief in something called “community,” where we can make up our own religion, share our memorial meal, forgive one another, answer each other’s prayers, get our reward from the State and live for today not eternity.

The biblical account of miracles is too often relegated from pulpits to a first century propensity for myth-making. Yet people go to church looking for miracles. Their job is on the line. Creditors may foreclose.  A daughter is shacked up with a punk. They want miracles. The churches are filled today at the noon hour Masses with young men and women, heads bowed low over the back of the pew in front, transfixed, praying hard for a reprieve from sickness or death. These are humble people not at all unlike the disciples who followed Jesus around Galilee. This is the laity many of our priests and bishops have abandoned. Too many priests today have listened to theologians and are somewhat ashamed of the promises of Christ.

Today the church has been invaded by people who have very little interest in religion, but who regard it simply as a means to get ahead. If you are the mainstay of the Parish Council, or the head of the Liturgy Committee, or Director of the Building Committee, you can have your way though you may not know your way around the Bible, or the Sacramentary, or the Anointing of the Sick.

This is where I miss the days when the priest was the power behind the parish and when you knew what to expect and you got it, or you simply went away.

Religious Orders

While we continuously hear about the present day priest shortage, few seem aware that all religious communities, great and small, male and female, contemplative, active or mixed, if not strictly decimated, have been reduced to a fraction of their former selves in the course of the past fifty years. The cause of the decay has been a false reform and the distorting of the evangelical councils by taking them as a psychological and sociological outlook rather than as a special state of life structured in accordance with the counsel Christ gives in the Gospels. True renewal means an adaptation of external activities with a view to a more effective pursuit of holiness. It is begotten by a disgust with weakening of discipline and by a desire for a life that is more spiritual, more prayerful and more austere. Post conciliar reform tends to move from the difficult to the easy or less difficult rather than from the easy to the difficult or more difficult. Today, a religious order questions itself, confronts experiences, demand creativity, searches for a new identity (which implies that it is becoming something other than itself), moves toward building “true communities” (as if for centuries past religious orders had consisted entirely of false communities).

Ultimately the crisis among religious is the result of an excessive conforming to the world, and a taking up of the world’s positions because one has despaired of winning the world over to one’s own. A by no means small or unimportant sign of this alienation is the change in the dress of members of religious orders, inspired by a wish that it should no longer differ from that of secular persons.

This drift in reform of religious life today is parallel to the one governing the reform of the priesthood. On the one hand there is the obfuscation of the difference between the sacramental priesthood and the priesthood of all believers; and on the other, of the difference between a state of perfection and the common state. What is specific to religious life is washed out or watered down in thought and behaviour. Take for example, the three evangelical councels (chastity, poverty, obedience) that are essential to religious life. Today, there is a certain distaste for chastity. A certain decline in delicacy and care are obvious not only in the widespread slackness in clerical dress, but in the more frequent mixing of the sexes, even on journeys, and in the abandonment of the precautions adopted even by great and holy men. In regards to poverty there is a habitual and at times uncontrollable use of such technology as the television and internet. Of all the councels, obedience is the one where the drift towards relaxation in religious orders shows itself most clearly. The concept of obedience has been lowered by lowering the principle of authority and mixing it up with a kind of fraternal relationship by means of a fruitful dialogue. True Catholic obedience, however, implies submission to the will of the superior – so long as the command is not manifestly illicit – and not a re-examination of the superior’s command by the one obeying. Catholic obedience does not seek a coinciding of the wills of subject and superiors.

In 2005 Pope Benedict XVI issued a resounding call for reform in the Catholic church. He lamented “How much filth there is in the church, and even among those … in the priesthood.” In May, 2010 he reiterated this plea stating: “Today we see in a really terrifying way that the greatest persecution of the church does not come from the enemies outside, but is born from the sin in the church,” These exhortations were widely interpreted as references to the sex- abuse scandal affecting the church’s standing in North America and other parts of the world. However, the Pope’’s comments were also directed more widely to the phenomenon of modernism that is poisoning the church at its core – the result of decades of liberal exegetical, theological, and “pastoral” creativity in the name of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council. One of the key areas where modernism has been allowed to take root, fester and spread has been the priesthood. Unless the priesthood is revisited with a profound desire to restore true Catholic identity, the Church will fail to recover that honored credibility and vibrancy it experienced before Vatican II.

Thankfully, there remain good priests and Religious who – though forced underground by the event since Vatican II – have never given up the vision of the Eternal Church and have passed this on to younger priests and Religious, who in scattered places preserve the Apostolic faith, much as the monks did on their lonely islands during the Dark Ages. It is with this hope that the church will again be revitalized and become once more a vehicle for re-Christianizing a world so desperately in need.


Mr. Paul Kokoski holds a BA in philosophy from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. His articles have been published in several journals including, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, New Oxford Review, and Catholic Insight.

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  • pamelanak

    “Even if Catholics faithful to Tradition are reduced to a handful, they are the ones who are the true Church of Jesus Christ.” (St Athanasius)  That rather says it all I think.

  • Josephkelly

    Great piece here Mr Kokoski

  • Ontheroad1

    Excellent article, I believe it is time for true Catholics to be heard.

  • Veronica

    I’d really like to see this article picked up by some secular media.  What’s the chance?

  • SK

    “Even Pope Benedict XVI has stated in the forward to his book Jesus of Nazareth: “Everyone is free to contradict me” suggesting that everyone’s subjective opinion of Christ is worthy of being advanced today.”

    I would be careful if you are implying the Holy Father has relativistic tendencies. He has proven himself to be a lover and promoter of truth and orthodoxy, as your other quotes from him demonstrate. In the foreword to Jesus of Nazareth the Holy Father wanted to emphasize that, even though he was writing while he was Pope, the book was not magisterial. That’s not the same as saying “Jesus is whoever you want him to be.”

    • Sbvarenne

      I resonate with all my heart with all that you said.  Yesterday I listened to a sermon by a priest prominent in the archdiocese of New York who made fun of St. Peter as a bumbler, of the Church as a know-it-all, of the current Pope as a bumbler like Peter, and of the heroism of unwed mothers whom he likened in self-sacrificial holiness to Christ himself.  What a jerk! 

      • publiusnj

        The portrayal of St. Peter as a bumbler is a commonplace in Protestantism for clear reasons.  We Catholics ought not go along with that because it is based on little anecdotes that obscure Pater’s real importance and contribution to the Apostolic Church.  We Catholics ought therefore to proudly proclaim the centrality of St. Peter and of his leaderrship of the Church.  Acts Chaps. 1 through 12 clearly show that Peter was the undisputed leader of the Church up until the time he fled from Herod’s jail.  After that Peter essentially disappears from the scriptural record except for appearances at uncertain times in the Antiochean Church and at the Jerusalem Council.  Paul’s descriptions of Peter’s indecisiveness at Antioch on the circumcision, etc. issues raised by James’s judaizers are sometimes deemed to have occurred after the Jerusalem Council but that is an illogical assumption.  Peter RULED clearly and unequivocally on the question when Paul presented the issue to the Council.  So, the logical assumpotion is that Peter was reluctant to rule at Antioch but then was prepared to give his ruling at Jerusalem.

        Why would Peter care where the ruling was going to be made?  Probably because he wanted to be in the same room as James and the other apostles when he made his ruling, so it would be done once for all the Church.  The Antiochean Church was being buffeted by the differing claims of Paul and Barnabas on the one hand and of James’s judaizers on the other.  So far as the Judaizers were concerned, James–the “brother of the Lord”–was an ultimate authority.  By getting in the same room with James, Peter’s clear precedence over James could be asserted in a room where the other apostles who knew of Christ’s statements about Peter were present .  And so, Peter went back to Jerusalem even though he was a fugitive from Herod Antipas’s justice (it is unclear whether Herod was still reigning or had been replaced by Agrippa).  And the proof is in the pudding: once Peter spoke (Acts 15:7-12), James backed down.  Notice too that Paul took a back seat to peter when the matter was finally resolved at the Council.

      • janinep

        It seems that today’s world in order to be a hero you have to be a sinner. Disobeying Christ has a whole new charisma. Gone are the days when the faithful shined. Now we have to polish up every evil and present it as an idol to worship.

    • Brian English

      Absolutely right.  Benedict was just pointing out that his conclusions on certain matters should not be regarded as the Church officially speaking on those matters.  He was writing as a theologian, not the Pope.

  • MLT

    Mr. Kokoski,
       Could you please clarify what you mean by “good priests and Religious” who have been “forced underground by the event since Vatican II”?

  • Paul

    The  article itself is a breath of fresh air.

    • Steve

       “Priest will become cesspools of impurity.”  -Our Lady of La Salette  Why?  Because Catholics work on Sunday and take God’s name in vain.  Next, Our Lady of the Rosary came to Fatima and revealed God’s wish that devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary be established throughout the world.  Our Lady promised to save the world by this means.  Every Pope up to the present one has ignored God’s wish.  The immediate future looks bleak, not hopeful.

  • Alecto

     Catholics today in large measure feel lost, confused, perplexed and disappointed.

    You forgot to add angry, frustrated, attacked, ignored and forsaken.

    • hombre111

      Remember, Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict have ruled the Church for thirty+years.  The situation we are struggling through happened on their long watch.  The buck stops at their door.  It is long past time to quit blaming Vatican II. 

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  • MCHultin

    I almost cried reading this article.  I am 78 years old and have tried hard to live up to God’s laws   – even if the “local” church did not.  To tell my children that the Blessed Sacrament” was the body of Christ and He was present body,  soul and divinity was very difficult when your “local” church was treating the Blessed Sacrament as if had no importance at all. I’ve been praying for years for a great restoring in the Church and you make me feel hopeful.  Many years ago Cardinal Medeiros of Boston stated that the only way to have a “Holy” church was to go back to a catachumin Church where all who were members followed the true laws of the Church.  Thank you very much.  MCH     

  • hombre111

    I notice Mr. Kokoski, who sternly lectures us on this subject, did not choose to become a priest.  What is his excuse? 

    Only seven years after the Council, Pope John Paul II saw the enormous challenge of steering the Church down the rapids but he chose to beach the boat.   The Council lasted only 4 years.  Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have been standing beside that boat for generations.  What is wrong with the Church is on them, not on the Council.  If Pope John Paul II had had the courage of real leadership, I wonder where the Church would be today. 

    •  Any  person can have strong opinions on a subject. Mr. Kokoski doesn’t need to be a priest to believe as he does. Priests have strong opinions regarding marriage, do they not?

    • MJC

      Please don’t forget that were all called to have courage and leadership in the way we are best able to. I wonder if you place on yourself the heavy demands you put upon Bl Pope JPII. His mission was massive and he was always working on it. How are you working on your mission in life?

      • hombre111

        I have been busy trying to be hopeful and fruitful in a Church whose leaders have betrayed me several times.  The first betrayal was the decision to abandon the Vatican Council only seven years after it ended.  Real leadership would have tried to plumb its deepest meanings, not minimize its bare beginnings.  The second betrayal was the vocation crisis.  As a pastor, I have been pastor of as many as three parishes at the same time.  The Catholic population of my diocese has quadrupled while the number of priests has gone down by two thirds.  This means that priestly ministry is hanging on by a thread.  Neither Pope John Paul nor Pope Benedict seem to understand the implications and here again is the kind of failed leadership that could get you fired if you were the CEO of a large corporation that had lost a huge slice of its middle and lower management.  And thirdly, of course, there is the sex abuse crisis.  The image of Pope John Paul embracing a man he knew had been accused of sex abuse still makes me sick. 

    • Adveritas

      I do believe, with all my heart, that Bl.Pope John Paul II probably suffered more than any of us could imagine, in leading the Church through the torrents of modernism without causing a massive schism.  Let’s not blame the Pilot of the boat for clearly proclaiming proper orders & his charges NOT following them.

      • hombre111

        Unfortunately, what the good pope taught us is that the Holy Spirit was not present in the Vatican Council, or with Pope Paul VI who tried to oversee its immediate aftermath.  As soon as he became pope, he spoke highly of the Council while reversing its most important conclusions.  No conclusion was more important than the collegial role of bishops.  For all intents and purposes, the bishops who attended Vatican I were forced by Pope Pius IX to hand their power over to the papacy.  This is as close as we have come in recent centuries to general heresy in the Church, led by the pope himself.  The bishops of Vatican II returned to the notion of collegiality, but Pope John Paul II took that power away so that, under his watch, bishops were little more than vicars of the Papacy, even though Pope John Paul insisted in Veritatis Splendor that this was not the truth.  Something ironic in that, considering the name of the encyclical.  This castration of the successors of the Apostles continues. 

  • hombre111

    You make my point.  Most modern Catholic young men have concluded that they don’t need to be celibate priests to believe as they do.  The emphasis is on celibate, of course.  When I was ordained 47 years ago, seminary was about discerning whether or not you had a vocation to the priesthood.  Their was little discernment whether or not you were called by the Holy Spirit to be a celibate priest.  We simply took it without much reflection as the price we were willing to pay to be priests.  Didn’t work well for so many of us.  Today, men who have discerned a call to the priesthood stop when they realize they were not called to be celibate. 

  • Ontheroad1

    Often I thought of becoming a priest, but I was more needed in my calling of being a father to my children.  Priest are the most important thing that influenced me in my up bringing as a child.  I will always be indebted to them for their sacrifice to show me the way.  Although, there have been some bad things that have happened, it should be understood that there are a great many priest who have dedicated their lives to others.  I am thankful for that.

  • Ontheroad1

    Vatican II was a far reach for most Catholics.  We  changed our way of celebrating and presenting ourselves to the world.  I believe that we should have the church take a long look at their silence and begin to open up our hearts to the needs of God.  Christ gave his life for all, but he also stated that not all will be saved.  Those who wish to do things their way have to answer for their actions.  We have a responsibility to tell others when they are going in the wrong direction, that is our Christian way and has been for centuries.  We must live Gods law not our law.  That is why I believe in the teaching authority of the church.  If they go wrong then they should be humble enough to change the direction of our ways, and put us back on the right track.

  • janinep

    Conforming to the world’s way of thinking will just separate you from God. After all, Paul said, “…be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Once you go off after secular ideals, you set yourself in opposition to Jesus instead of following him.

  • Selton

    While modernism is identified correctly as the root cause,  Vatican II totally rejected “the world’s way of thinking” on faith and morals.
    Any departure from dogma and doctrine by a priest is dissent and totally illicit. The quote from the Pope’s book is absolutely irrelevant to fidelity and discipline.

    The laxity in the priesthood arose from the dissenting theologians before during and after Vatican II.
    The obfuscation of the difference between the sacramental priesthood and the priesthood of all believers is not the result of Vatican II, but of the false “spirit of Vatican II” spread by dissenters.
    Vatican II strengthened Catholicism and the priesthood. The laxity of some bishops has resulted in the failure of reform to fidelity in some dioceses.

  • Ricdykstra1

    I joined the Church at the age of 7.  I have seen many changes, some of which I like, others of which I hate!  There is a lack of reverence for the Mass.  Sometimes the music is awful,  and the priest is anything but reverent when saying Mass!  As a cancer patient receiving Chemo, I was advised not to shake hands but there is no way to avoid it without offending others who offer their hand!  The confessionals were removed and I do not like facing the priest for confession!  The Blessed Sacrament is removed to a side location-difficult to find!  The inside of the Church looks like any austere Protestant Church inside-no stained glass, statues, paintings, vigil lights, sanctuary lamp or stations of the cross.  I think back to the days of the beautiful Latin Mass, and the beautiful inside of the Church!  It was an inspiration to go to Mass!  Now it is a chore!

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