Yesterday, I examined the decline of Commonweal from the 1920s through the 1970s, the magazine serving as a reflection of the radicalization of American Catholic culture. Today, I offer a similar examination of Jubilee. Tomorrow, I will conclude this three-part series with an exploration of America as well as the rise of orthodox Catholic periodicals in the 1980s.
Whereas Commonweal only flirted with radicalism, displaying from time to time some serious ideological tripe, Jubilee began as a traditionally-oriented periodical and, immediately after Vatican II, radicalized. For all intents and purposes, Jubilee started in May 1953 as the Life magazine for American Catholics.
Filled with stories, a nice layout, state of the art graphics, huge photographs, and pietistic articles, Jubilee rightly claimed to “bring a fresh approach to the lives of Our Lord and His Saints—and will show how His Truth is borne today by the ordinary people of His Church: housewife, worker, teacher, mystic, farmer, businessman, monk, priest, brother and sister—the living, working, praying, thinking Church.”
In 1957, for example, Romano Guardini, Yves Congar, Clare Boothe Luce, and Jacques Maritain wrote for Jubilee. In that same year, articles appeared on a broad range of subjects, including Christian history, Detroit’s Lebanese population, Frank and Maisie (Ward) Sheed, the stigmata of St. Francis, Billy Graham, and folk music.
A short decade later, Jubilee was publishing articles such as “A Modern Priest Overlooks His Outdated Critics.” Father James J. Kavanaugh wrote “The institutional Church is dying because it has lots its faith. It has lots its faith in man.”
But, the priest continued, the Church is very much alive. It has just taken on a new form, and it exists wherever two or three persons gather in the name of Christ. “The ‘two or three’ multiplying everywhere, are not bound by superstitious practice or archaic forms,” Kavanaugh wrote. “They are not afraid to question, to search, to sacrifice any ‘principle’ that ignores experience or prevents love. They are alive, concerned, zealous, responsible—the sons of thunder,” he continued, echoing the popular folk songs of the decade. “They do not care to honor their patron saints, but they desperately want to love their children. But even as they turn from the household gods of the ghetto, they find the footprints of the living and true God in alleys and elevators and super-highways.”
Kavanaugh, however, seems downright tame compared to other authors appearing toward the end of the run of this relatively short-lived periodical. In contrast to the stories it published in the 1950s, Jubilee in the mid-1960s published Old Testament stories, retold and explained by Leszek Kolakowski, a “liberal Marxist” from Poland. Each of these stories appeared with a sub title: “A Marxist Parable.”
The magazine also became intensely fascinated with the issue of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin, the psychedelic drugs, and their potential roles in what the magazine called “The Church of the Future.”
After describing in significant but fairly objective detail the nature and experience of a “typical” LSD trip [I plead ignorance in this, for I have no experience at all with any illicit drugs], Jubilee published an article by Jean Houston. “I can in no way conclude that people having this experience are meeting God in the depths of the psyche. But, I could not conclude such a thing even if I were observing the experiences of a St. Teresa or a St. John of the Cross,” she wrote. The experience of taking psychedelics, she argued, probably just intensified what was already in the person rather than bringing something new to the person. Still, she argued, sounding very much like Dewart and Balasuriya in Commonweal, the world seems to be in a state of spiritual evolution, a “mutation of consciousness that has been occurring for the past few years.” Toward the end of her long article, she noted that the “few priests and ex-priests in LSD session,” had discovered that the psychedelics made their faith “more meaningful to them. The idea of God became more than an intellectual concept. It became a complete psychological and physical bond. One in particular is a much better priest now.”
A year after Houston’s article, Andover Newton Theological Seminary professor Walter Houston Clark claimed that a number of serious religions outside of Christianity had experience using psychedelics. The seminary professor Clark claimed that the use of psychedelics increased religious awareness, friendliness, lovingness, and compassion, and “made more credible to me the stories of the friendship of St. Francis with the beasts of the forest.”
Such psychedelics, Clark claimed, offer a more profound religious experience than did the Church. “Here is an experience triggered by a drug which often leads to a more vital religious experience than most of the churches do. Not only this but the lives of the people have been raised out of hell,” Clark concludes.
Jubilee had fallen a long way since 1953, and one can only wonder how it managed to stay alive as long as 1968. It certainly would have been better for all concerned if it had not.