Friday, March 16, 2007

Church Boomers: "Come to Jesus!"

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.


Anonymous said...

"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".

I am a 'boomer' and I am silent for the moment. I have been very active in my parish in the past but that was to bring in good , holy and orthodox speakers. I promoted adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Marian devotions. None of that is wanted now. I do things behind the scenes like keeping up with my own daily hour of adoration and daily Mass and visiting the sick and so forth.

But I am waiting. I am waiting to hear the Gospel preached; I am waiting for a holy parish priest who is not just in between vacations or the next 'social justice' endeavor. I am waiting for a return to reverence and true teachings of the Church.

I am waiting and hopefully building strength to be part of a true renewal which will embrace so much of what has been lost or stolen from us in our faith walk over the past 40 years.

Anonymous said...

"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."

This is an important point. Most of your note seems to make the case that a complete resetting of the clock would be a good thing.

I think it is important that we don't completely reset the clock. That is the equivalent desire of the sedevacantist who is only able to come to grips with the last 40 years by concluding that the Church has been run by a series of anti-Christs.

We must try to make sense of the last 40 plus years, to see the wisdom of some of their decisions, to think a little more honestly about the weaknesses of the Church of the 1950's that spawned this next generation. To show more respect to the Vicars of Christ who led us through these years. In short, to try to see what the Holy Spirit has been up to in these past 40 years protecting us from the gates of hell.

It is good to attempt to try our hardest to put a good spin on what the leaders of our church have done.

Venerable Aussie said...

I really enjoyed this post. This issue has been on my mind lately, and here's why:

I get on very well with our new (1970s Vietnamese refugee) priest and we were talking the other day about the upcoming Easter ceremonies. He had been reading Sacramentum Caritatis and had asked the (aging Boomer) music group to perhaps add a little bit of Latin or Greg.Chant into their repertoire for the Easter Sunday vigil. Well, he copped a universal "over my dead body" response (with a smile of course). They (including some of the orthodox parishioners) saw this as a thin edge of a "return to the bad-'ol-pre-Vatican2-days" wedge.

So here's the rub: there is much official documentation encouraging us to recover the sacred (including of course SC in the docs of V2 urging us to give pride of place to Gregorian chant). But where are the documents actually showing us how this can be creatively achieved within the context of your average parish? Where are the resources helping us to explain to the parish that this is going forward, not slipping back?

Even though we have an increasing number of late 20s-30s parishioners adding to the handful of us 40-ish types, I know that most of them would rely on me to do the heavy lifting. So where do we start? Where are the templates? Are there any liturgy offices in good hands that are putting their minds to this?

I have always believed that the attrition approach fails the dying generation. Sure, we'll keel over first before we get a mea culpa, but surely the thin ranks of the in-between generation of which I am part have some role in reaching out creatively to the disillusioned oldies.

David L Alexander said...


The generation that brought the iconoclasm is dying, and they cling to their illusions for dear life. But they cannot last, and you have to outlast them. To that end, your best resource can be found here:

The New Liturgical Movement

...and don't stop looking till you find it. Trust me, you will.

journeymanj said...

Agree -the preaching of the gospel and a rediscovery of grace by hearing about how great and good God is ,is the only way to lift us ALL beyond the deep holes in which we all can find ourselves - even in churches . How easily any little thing stands in the way of the bare altar of the plain gospel .
We are ALL still rebels-are we not?

Like other respondents , I look back in appreciation of the now denied structure of things like the catechism ( even though it was Luthers- shock horror ! ) recognising that "the reactionaries " ( They don't have any great ideas of their own ?) have denied our children an effective means of education by rejecting a variety of concrete ways we can use such things to help ( children in particular ) see what scripture is really saying about God's omnipotence and character in particular .

And yes, we all pray for something powerful to shake the reactionaries and ourselves out of our cynical perches- for the sake of a new generation of believers who, we trust, can see they can come - come , without any baggage at all.