On August 15–17, 1969, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was held on a 600-acre dairy farm near Bethel, New York. Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of this monumental cultural event that marked an epoch.
Woodstock changed America. It helped usher in a period of moral devastation. The event enshrined free love as acceptable in the national psyche. It created the idea that life should be dominated by the maxim, “if it feels good, do it.”
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However, the worst part of Woodstock was its role in creating the spiritual desolation of imagining a utopian society without religion or the Catholic Faith. Woodstock presented itself as a mystical experience with its own dark spiritual message. It was almost a liturgical act of an anti-religion of the unbridled passions that denied a moral law.
Reflection About Another Field
Reflecting upon Woodstock, it is hard not to recall another event held on a large field that gathered together a huge crowd. This gathering also changed history. The two events could not be more contrary to each other, and yet the parallels and contrasts are striking. They both happened amid a terrible crisis inside society. However, each proposed a radically different solution.
The second event took place in a tiny village in the backwater of Portugal called Fatima. The date was October 13, 1917. What attracted people there was no less than the Queen of Heaven. Our Lady had appeared to three young shepherd children and promised to perform a great miracle so that people might have faith and change their lives.
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Contrast on the Two Fields
At both events, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong.
At Woodstock, nearly 400,000 people appeared at the farm where they crashed the gates and entered the field. The organizers were overwhelmed by the crowds. The highways were clogged with cars trying to get to the event. At Fatima, some 80,000 faithful came from all over Portugal. They had heard about the apparitions by word of mouth. There were no organizers since it was a spontaneous movement of grace that called people to the site. Nevertheless, they clogged the highways and byways of the small nation to get to the event.
Both events prompted government action. When order broke down in Woodstock, the government stepped in by sending nearby Air Force personnel to the concert to prevent chaos and fly in stranded performers. At Fatima, the secular anti-Catholic government played an opposite role. It sent soldiers with fixed bayonets to prevent pilgrims from entering the huge field. When the masses of pilgrims overwhelmed the small number of soldiers, people then managed to join the orderly crowd that patiently waited with great expectation, prayer and faith.
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Heavy rains came down in torrents at both events creating seas of mud. At Woodstock, the mud mixed with the nudity, promiscuity and drugs to the point that the crowd became one with the quagmire of immorality and muck. Singer John Fogerty described an early morning scene as “sort of like a painting of a Dante scene, just bodies from hell, all intertwined and asleep, covered with mud.”
At Fatima, the rains also lashed out against the crowds and turned the field into a great muddy mess. However, the crowds accepted the rain and mire as part of the suffering and penance that would mark the Fatima Message. Many knelt in the mud in prayer.
While the circumstances of the open fields at Fatima and Woodstock are important, the context of these gathering must also be considered.
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The historical context of Fatima was a world in the process of abandoning the Church and Christian civilization. Europe was engaged in the bloody World War I, which would soon end. The people still had faith but were in danger of losing it. Our Lady came to deliver a message of tragedy and hope, inviting humanity to conversion and amendment of life.
Woodstock took place 52 years later in the context of a Sexual Revolution that would devastate what remained of Christian morals in society. America was divided, engaged in a brutal war against communism in Vietnam. The Church was also in a state of turmoil. Woodstock was an event that would celebrate a world without restraint that would soon become mainstream.
What Happened in Fatima
The events that took place in these two fields are what made them so important.
At Fatima, the crowd gathered in an ordered fashion as they awaited the appearance of the Mother of God. They were to behold a marvelous yet terrifying scene, which was the most witnessed miracle in modern history. Some 80,000 pilgrims of every age, educational level and social class were there. Believers and non-believers vied for places to see the promised miracle.
Our Lady provided it. The clouds opened up and the sun appeared as an immense silver disk. It shone with great intensity yet was not blinding. The enormous ball then started to “dance” across the sky, spinning rapidly scattering red flames. The bright light reflected on the ground, trees, bushes, clothing and faces. After going three times across sky, the globe of fire then appeared to tremble, shake and plunge toward the terrified crowd who thought the world was coming to an end. However, the sun soon zigzagged back to its place and shone benevolently upon the crowd. Many converted and believed. The people noticed that their sodden clothes were both dry and clean.
What Happened at Woodstock
The events at Woodstock stand in stark contraposition. There were no miracles there, but there was an aura that produced an eerie feeling around the event. The bad weather, food shortages and poor sanitation created a climate of generalized chaos. Witnesses reported an atmosphere of free love and nudity that shocked many unaccustomed to seeing such things in public. Drug use was also rampant, especially the use of marijuana and LSD. Thus, many were out of their minds as the music blared from the stage throughout the night.
Carlos Santana later recalled how he hallucinated throughout his performance because he was high on the mescaline he obtained from Jerry Garcia.
Meanwhile, backstage, The Who singer Roger Daltrey reported that “Woodstock wasn’t peace and love. There was an awful lot of shouting and screaming going on. By the time it all ended, the worst sides of our nature had come out.”
The scenes of partying, chaos and sin created a surreal and bizarre spectacle. It was a whimsical space without rules or law where you could “do your own thing” without consequence or risk. Some thought a new age was dawning, both inebriating and terrifying, where the unbridled passions driven by psychedelic drugs would liberate everyone from the staid constraints of the establishment.
On the trash-littered fields of Woodstock, a self-centered generation embraced an anything-goes culture of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. America would leave the Woodstock mud fest with sullied innocence.
Two Messages in Conflict
Both fields also produced messages that are still in conflict today.
The Fatima message was very clear and precise. Our Lady said: “Let them offend Our Lord no more, for He is already much offended.” Thus, Fatima called upon the world to repent by having recourse to prayer, sacrifice and amendment of life. If humanity did not repent, Our Lady spoke of a great chastisement, symbolized by the Miracle of the Sun. The Fatima message denounced the decadence of the modern world, the sins of the flesh and the abandonment of God and the Church.
Woodstock proclaimed an anti-Fatima message. It was an invitation to sin, indulge and offend God. In the name of peace and love, it called upon youth to “imagine” a perfect world where they might live together in harmony without property, Christian morals or God. Woodstock projected an empty world without meaning and purpose that seeks only extreme gratification and pleasures.
The clash between Fatima and Woodstock continues. Many Catholics have remained faithful to the Fatima message despite the great pressure to conform to the culture. Others have been mugged by the terrible reality that the Woodstock dream of sexual freedom was an appalling nightmare that left behind a trail of dead, unborn babies, broken relationships and shattered communities.
It is therefore not fitting to celebrate the concert’s fiftieth anniversary but rather to reject all that it symbolizes and represents. Instead, let us embrace Fatima’s saving message of prayer, repentance and amendment of life as the essential solution to a world gone awry.