Still recovering from food poisoning. Now, in DC. On my way to Milan tomorrow.
I had a lovely lunch with Amy “Open Book” Welborn and Greg Erlandson from OSV. It was actually my last good meal before the attack of the cranberry trail mix.
In the course of our conversation, I proposed to them a thought I have been brooding over quite a bit lately, which I guess we could call “An Appeal to the 60’s Generation: Towards Saving Something from the Wreckage.” (I don’t mean every Boomer of course. There have been lots of good ones. But they aren’t the ones who have defined their generation. The ones who have been so problematic have been the ones whose life has been dedicated to tearing down, sneering at the past, ruthlessly being hypocritical and unjust in the pursuit of some large overall good, and then maintaining stunning denial that they have actually done much more harm than the evils they were trying to uproot.)
Now, clearly, there is a tremendous amount of stored up resentment in Gen Xers and the Millenials towards the Boomers. I know I’ve been simmering for years under the intolerant tolerance of the grim socially activist but individual people-despising folks who have dismantled every social and ecclesial framework in the last forty years, not to mention making taboo the idea of anything ever actually being taboo.
I’m just wanting to talk in an ecclesial sense here, though.
I see in the generations now wresting power from the Boomers, the inclination to set back the clock to before all the insanity started. I think this inclination is only going to gather momentum in the next few years. Some of this is fueled by rage at having so many things jammed down our throats – like, for example, the way a boomer pastor at any area church is grimly determined to wreckovate our beautiful church despite the fact that nobody in the parish wants it. He keeps bloviating in the Sunday bulletin and from the altar that “we can no longer do worship according to the current mind of the Church in this worship space.” There has been picketing and people fleeing the parish and parishioner rebellions, but the grey-haired Crusader continues grimly on. He will drag us all into the revolution and rip apart our gorgeous sanctuary whether we want it or not, damnit!
The lesson that the Rebellious Generation has never learned is that, just because people fall silent, does not mean you have won them over. It just means that they are waiting for their moment. Knowing that eventually all tyrants fall.
History tends to move in pendulums swings. I am afraid that when the Boomers pass, the pendulum will swing away from everything they advocated. It will no doubt be enough to win an argument in a few years to be able to say, “Well, that was one of those stupid things they used to say in the 70’s.”
It seems to me that there must be something good that has come from the last forty years in terms of ecclesial development. I am just hard pressed to say what.
Can we say that catechesis is better now being run by the laity as it is in most churches? My experience is to say, “no”, because I have found many people teaching RCIA and catechism to be frighteningly ignorant of the teachings of the Church.
I have had people tell me that lots of folks are still becoming converts. But to what, huh? I can testify that some of the folks I know who have come in to the Church probably couldn’t pass a twenty question quiz on basic knowledge of the faith. And somebody told me recently that something like a third of them fall away again because of the fact that their catechesis was so bad in the first place.
How about priesthood and religious life? Well, considering that the numbers of clergy and religious in the States are well below replacement rates, it’s kind of hard to maintain that we have made great strides there. What good is better understanding if there is nobody left to embody it?
(Greg gave me a copy of the book Sister in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s religious Communities. I surprised myself by reading the whole statistic riddled study filled account over the last two days. I haven’t let myself go back to my convent days too much in the last few years. But I guess it was time. Anyway, I was stunned reading the book to remember the constant, soul-wracking, nightmare inducing upheaval of being a postulant, novice and junior in the 80’s. It is amazing, in retrospect, how incredibly fast and unreflective the changes came down in my own community, the Daughters of St. Paul. And it was even more ridiculous because we had the model of the other failed communities that had already revolted themselves into irrevelance before us. But the Boomers were out of their minds in a way. I remember them being kind of manic in making the changes happen urgently fast. If I could ask them anything today it would be, “What the hell was the rush?!? I’ll tell you what it was. It was their lives that were going by, and they didn’t want one more day of the discomfort of some of the essential elements of religious life. In the name of respecting the sisters freedom and rights, they were deeply unjust and cruel at times. All in the name of doing whatever it was they wanted. There are so many stories I can tell, but what is the point? They don’t ever admit wrong. They don’t ever apologise.)
How about positive developments in Church ministries over the last forty years? Um…Well, most Catholic schools, universities and hospitals seem to have all but lost their distinctly Catholic identity. So that can’t be a net plus.
How about the arts in the Church? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA….Oh, sorry. Ahem. Let’s see. We are singing songs at most parishes that would be rejected by Barney. Our priests and bishops have zero aesthetical training and have completely lost the desire to bring “new epiphanies of beauty” (JPII) to the Church.
Anyway….. I know I must be missing some really positive great things that have come from all the Boomer’s innovations in the Church. But I don’t think we are going to be able to save those unless we have a real, real, real serious “Come to Jesus Moment” on the part of the grey-haired revolutionaries. I think, the Baby Boomer Crusaders need to shake off the self-righeous denial and help us out here by admitting where they went wrong. They need to say, “We over-stepped here.” “We lost a value there.” “This was a big mistake. HUGE.”
See, if they do that, they will give subsequent generations permission to forgive them, and perhaps then, a complete resetting of the clock can be averted. And we need their help. Their job now is to be the voices of wisdom in our midst…as startlingly unprepared for that mantle as they may be, that is the job of the elders in any society. The Boomers are the ones with the perspective. They have seen the way things were (before they destroyed things in the guise of reform). They have seen things now. They can tell us what was good that was lost, and what is better now. But will they?
It could be a big moment of grace for the Boomers in the Church to own up, take responsibility and apologise. If they don’t, they will no doubt die in their disappointment and bitterness, which will only exponentially increase as they watch their lives’ works dismantled.