I was all ready to rant.
I was ready to rant something special about those smug, respectable, lukewarm baby-boomers who tried to remake the Church in their image.
Ugh, I was so ready. I mean, they thought that being open to the world meant becoming like the world. They tore down our traditions and jettisoned our sacred practices. Latin? Bah! Fish Fridays? Ew! Orthodoxy? Humbug! They decided that felt, glitter and irreverence was appropriate for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
They wanted to raise a generation of respectable, accommodating Catholics. And they got their wish. They raised a generation of respectable, accommodating ex-Catholics. (Which was kinda the point, wasn’t it?)
I was about to write all of this — and more.
Then I realised.
One day I’m going to be one of them.
One day, God willing, I’ll have kids and they’ll have kids.
And those kids of mine will look at me from their personal hovercrafts or whatnot, and they’ll wonder, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING??? They look at our generation and they’ll hold us personally responsible for everything that’s wrong with the Catholic Church. (And oh, they’ll be some doozies.)
Didn’t we realise that we were only repelling people from the faith?
Couldn’t we see that we’d gone too far in the wrong direction?
I won’t even presume to guess what our kids will despise us for. I’m sure that half of our crazy ideas and new initiatives are disasters-in-the-making. I just don’t know which half. Most likely, it’ll be something so ubiquitous, we don’t even think about it. (That’s always the way, isn’t?)
And I’ll look at my kids and grandkids, and think, yeah, well you weren’t there, cupcake.
You were nothing more than a Theology-of-the-Body-approved twinkle in your parents’ eyes. You didn’t see how the Faith seemed to have collapsed around us. You weren’t handed empty churches, semi-heretical priests, or a Catholic culture seemingly ransacked of all meaning and significance.
I’ll think they’re ungrateful, stroppy, wrong-headed whippersnappers who have it all figured it.
What would they know? They weren’t there.
But then, we weren’t there when our parents were young either, were we?
The Catholic world my parents describe is so far removed from my experience, it’s hard to believe we’re talking about the same Church. They describe a rigid, distant Church which majored on the Fear of God and kinda forgot all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. They remember being drilled on the Catechism but no one telling them that the Lord Jesus desired an intimate, personal relationship with them — that He was, in fact, crazy in love with them. They remember being terrified of nuns, terrified of priests, terrified of hell, terrified of Protestants and of course, terrified of God.
There’s more to the story, of course. The pre-Vatican II culture wasn’t the Dark Ages, but it wasn’t the Golden Ages, either.
It’s a good thing for us young whippersnappers to remember.
We weren’t there.
We all make mistakes. We all react and over-react to our particular circumstances. The spirit of optimism around the Second Vatican Council was something extraordinary. People truly believe that is was a new Pentecost. It was an exhilarating new experience of openness to the world and optimism about the future. The unruly Holy Spirit had come to blow away all the cobwebs of the hidebound past!
In one of his final addresses as pope, Pope Benedict XVI recalled his memories of this time.
We went to the Council not just with joy but with enthusiasm. There was an incredible sense of expectation. We were hoping that all would be renewed, that there truly would be a new Pentecost, a new era of the Church.
One sister who joined the Sisters of Mercy in 1962, at only 19 years old, recalled:
I found this to be the most exhilarating time in my whole life as a Catholic, because it felt like the petals of a flower were opening, and that there was a whole new fragrance in the air of the church.
Yes, they went too far but can we say that we wouldn’t have done the same? Judging our elders for their mistakes is an all too easy mistake for us to make. It makes us prideful and pride makes us stupid. We forget the real contributions of our parents and grandparents. We forget their circumstances. We forget the true riches they bequeathed to us.
So give them a bit of grace. Love and honour them. Reject what is false but don’t reject what is true just because it doesn’t come wrapped in a fancy, modern packaging. (Or fancy, old-fashioned packaging if that’s more you’re thing.) Rejoice in their faithfulness and, if need be, let them sing ‘On Eagles Wings’ for the seventh Sunday in a row.
And remember, hindsight makes prophets of us all.