When I returned to Rochester several years ago, the almost tangible feeling of having stepped into the midst of a civil war came as a shock.

The foundation of my Catholic formation was laid in Rochester at a time when much of the world, including the Church, was in flux with elements of both orthodoxy and dissent.  I attended a local high school where my memory of theology class was discussion if nuns should wear habits or street clothes; in senior year, a rather demanding challenge to the students’ beliefs; and someplace in there, Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

This was the time of Kierkegaard, Camus, and Sartre who wrote about existentialism, the idea that the world is absurd and meaningless. I looked them up in Wikipedia: their books were written before I was born and yet I remember them as assigned reading in high school and college.

 On a hunch, I looked up a title associated with this time and was surprised to learn that in 1999, ten years ago, Waiting for Godotwas “voted the most significant English language play of the 20th century in a British Royal National Theatre poll of 800 playwrights, actors, directors and journalists.”  (Norman Berlind inThe Massachussets Review found here.)  I find it hilarious  that a) the “most significant play of the century” came out of those focusing on meaninglessness and b) there was no agreement regarding interpretation of the play.  Then again, the sample population for that vote was not the general public.

Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaningis the only positive book I remember of this lot.  Frankl wrote of his experience in three concentration camps during WWII, basically that man can find meaning even in the most dismal circumstances.

Frankl’s book certainly was an inspiring read across all sorts of lines.  What is notable is was the only positive philosophy type book that I remember from a Catholic high school.  Lest I sound too harsh, the school provided many positive experiences, including role models in the brothers and nuns who staffed the school. 

It’s an interesting historical note that the 1950s were a time of both the existential writings and Bishop Sheen’s very popular television program.  The 1960s that followed was social upheaval.  I’ve heard Fr. Corapi say there was an escalation or intensification of evil in the 1960s, a very accurate statement in my opinion.   On the Church front, in Rochester, Bishop Sheen had already come and gone.   Changes in the form of the Mass and sacraments continued in the 1970s.  You can understand what I meant by a time of flux.  Such were the times when I entered college.

The Newman Community at the University of Rochester, as I think back, elements of orthodoxy and dissent.  The more orthodox students took one look and went to St. Anne’s, but my time there was very good.  There was a strong sense of Catholic fellowship, centered on the liturgy, that rippled outwards.  On one hand, it included delving into Scripture, reading Vatican documents, a taste of the monastic life via the Trappist Genesee Abbey.  On the other hand, it also included non-adherence to liturgical norms and talk of women’s ordination. ‘(edit: I removed guitar music from the list because it’s not in the same grouping as the other two.)  For me, it was a time of critically thinking through my faith – and consciously making the decision to stay in the Catholic Church, with all that came with it.

Someone in the Newman Community had been to Madonna House, which I subsequently visited and returned to several times, including a long-term stay.  By then, I had moved from Rochester.  When I returned to Rochester, I had anticipated picking up where I’d left off, even though I wasn’t quite on the same page as before.  What I hadn’t taken into account was that others had also moved, except that we had moved in opposite directions.  It was a very painful realization of being on very different pages.  In addition, there was an uncrossable abyss and the almost tangible feeling of being in the midst of a civil war.  But that’s for the next post.

Housekeeping note that in addition to the comment preview plug-in (TMC, I haven’t forgotten), I haven’t yet figured out how to place a widget about copyright and fair use.  It’ll be something along the lines of the WordPress suggested notice:

© Mary Kay Winchell and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Kay Winchell and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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