I saw this picture on The New Liturgical Movement today, taken at WYD Madrid. If there is a picture emblematic to me of the new generation of young Catholics, I think this is in the top few. While some are going on and on about “nostalgia” for the past among young people, I don’t think they get it. A good example that made me furious was a piece this past week in the National Catholic Reporter – albeit, not the best weekly to keep my blood pressure low. The piece was written by Eugene Kennedy and criticized the new generation of Catholic priests and religious as ” set decorators.” This piece criticized the “reform of the reform” Catholicism of the new generation as the cause of the sex abuse crisis! It claims that these younger priests/religious seek to turn back the eliminate Vatican II from the history books and “reinstate that Neverland age of Catholicism when priests controlled the church, lay people knew their place, the Mass was in Latin, God was in His heaven and all was right with the world.” It claims that these men are downright sadists – “Set-decorators know more about their props than they do about their people or themselves. They experience the unconscious rewards that arise from demeaning and humiliating other people.” It even makes insinuations that these young priests are gay! And from a man who criticizes the Church’s teaching for a “lack of compassion” for homosexuals, no less!
In short, it is a foaming, writhing, absurd, and hateful piece of screed that would not have been fit to post on the inside of a bathroom stall at a public rest stop.
Why read this? Well, I imagine my Purgatory will be these sorts of things playing over the intra-Purgatory intercom system, so I calculated that I best get it out of the way now. Honestly though, I read these articles to discover why some of these people do the things they do – people like the laicized priest who wrote that column. The same people who produced that column are firing a significant conflict in the Church today – a fight in which I have no doubt that people like Kennedy shall lose.
My challenge, on one hand, is to find the criticisms of the new generation that are valid and to right them. My other is to find ways to present a loving and caring outreach for precisely people like those who write columns like this one. If there is anything a reform of the reform ought to be, it ought to be a spiritual reform before, with, and in every other change it attempts to bring about. What good is it to gain a thousand conical chasubles, but to lose your soul in the process?
Instead, I take my battle strategy from St. Paul: “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head” (Rom. 12:20). Prayer and fasting, good works and love are the only forces with which we wage our battle.
So, looking again at that picture, it encapsulates in a shot what I think is precisely right with the new generation. Sure, liturgy is celebrated more reverently and with more faithful adherence to the Church’s liturgical tradition (and – ooh, scary! – ad orientem Masses). Yes, there also is a faithfulness to the Church’s Magisterium that is highlighted by these young people and a greater desire for doctrinal teaching. There’s almost certainly a missionary desire for a New Evangelization. But what else is there underlying all these things? A totally unmerited gift of God’s Holy Spirit and a deep desire for sanctity motivating substantial numbers of young Catholics. The new generation of “reformers of the reform” have no qualms about it – it is supposed to be about greater love of God. Just note the prevalent connections between contemplative prayer, contemplative monastic groups (Clear Creek, Carmelite Monks, Community of St. John, etc. I’d also count the Dominican friars and sisters!), and the reform of the reform. In this picture, you get a religious, traditionally tonsured and in his habit, praying in silent prayer with young people also engaged in the same activity around him. They are seeking holiness and a radical following of Christ together, either in religious life or in the world.
That’s where Mr. Kennedy’s follow-up piece about the reform of the reform is so wrong. In this piece, he claims that the “set decorators” were missing ” the fuel of neurotic guilt that these vehicles [of the reform of the reform] desperately need in order to wheeze their way back to that church whose imagined glories depended on making people feel bad even about being good.”
The reform of the reform is not reliant on any deep self-loathing, but on a consciousness that “we do not rely on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” It is based in a desire for God. This is why the sacrament of penance is being recovered by young people and promoted by the Pope. This is why indulgences are also being promoted – as signs of God’s mercy, as tools for greater unity with Christ, and as prayers for our loved ones. That is why the liturgy serves such a unique role in the movement. One only needs to visit or experience one of the centres of this reform: how many young people at WYD are neurotically self-engrossed with sin, despite the vast numbers of confessions? How many Carmelite Monks of Wyoming delight in punishing others for slight infractions, despite a thriving and joy-filled community intent on producing quality coffee (see the sidebar!)? Where is the cave-man retrogressive outlook to the “golden days” of the 1920s Catholic Church in my Dominican Order which, here and in other places with both men and women, continues to grow with young people and to evangelize with all the tools of modern media?
We – the new generation of the Church – are all sinners, are guilty of being hypocritical at times, are sometimes over-zealous, but we are not all neurotics. I leave neurosis to those who write columns like the one I cited.
Show us, instead, the face of the Father and we shall be content.
Yours in Christ,
Br. James Dominic, OP