Saturday, March 3, 2012

The JPII Generation Comes of Age

Some recent thoughts I've been having about the Church: about where we find ourselves and where I find myself as a young Catholic.

I am a JPII priest.  Seeing Blessed Pope John Paul at World Youth Day in 2003 swept away the final reservations I had about entering the seminary.  “Do not be afraid,” he told us, “to set out into the deep for a catch.” 

By then we knew, I knew, that entering the seminary meant setting out into the deep.  New revelations in the priest abuse scandals were breaking daily.  Every year it seemed that another priest left ministry with a lover, male or female.  The Church had been declining in youth and vigor in Maine for decades.  It was not hard to conclude that my ministry as a priest would be carried out during dark and difficult years for the Church in the West.

The seas had not always seemed so ominous.  I grew up in the Bernadine years.  The years of consensus leadership, of being welcoming and tolerant.  Dialogue was the way to address any disagreement, any difficulty. 

I don’t recall hearing anything about principles, about virtue, about sacrifice, about the truth.  It seems that a whole generation, the generation before me, had been turned off by such things.  They distained talk of objective right and wrong.  Of good and evil.  Of virtue and sin.  And they pointed out continually that such dichotomies were either the mark of simplistic and na├»ve thinking, or the propaganda of those who seek to control others. 

We were basically taught that the heart of the Gospel was to love others, and that that meant we should always compromise conviction in favor of the person.  The only virtue I recall being drilled into my head was that we seek to be on good terms with everyone, regardless of their point of view.  To be likable.  It was the underlying subtext in most moral narratives: the protagonist gives up his or her convictions or preconceived notions in order to love the antagonist.

I think 9/11 was the first sign that the Bernadine years were over.  People kept asking “Why do they hate us?”  We looked at ourselves, we all seemed likable enough to one another – so we were completely thrown by the idea that someone could possibly not want to get along.  Didn’t they know the golden rule?  What kind of rock were they living under?

Then, for Catholics, came the pedophilia scandals.  And all of a sudden many of us realized that many, many likable people, bishops, priests, and laity alike, had been so concerned about being likable that they had turned a blind eye to horrendous evil right in front of them.  Being likable, being kind, had aided and abetted some of the worst criminals in society while they perpetrated unmentionable crimes right before our noses.

It was all coming down around us in that summer of 2003, the summer of World Youth Day.  And I think it was then, as we looked upon the humble yet strong frame of that man of God, John Paul II, that many of us realized that the generation before us had sold us a useless bill of goods, rather than the Gospel.  We had not been taught the fullness of the faith, we were not given adequate tools to handle real life – to deal with evil, to seek what is good.  We were not trained in the virtues, we were not given a solid foundation in logic and critical thinking, we were not exposed to the cultural and religious treasures of our western heritage.  Instead, we had been brought up by a generation that was convinced that the way to show their love for us was by being likable and entertaining us.  The youth ministry mantra was, I’ll never forget, the “4 F words”: food, fun, friends, and faith.

But in the face of terrorists trying to kill us, criminal priests, divorce, substance abuse, psychological illnesses, violence, and promiscuity, the 4 F words just didn’t cut it, being likable and entertaining didn’t cut it either.  Many of my peers left the faith, tired of being around a bunch of people who seemed obsessed with being likable, rather than being good.  Who didn’t have any answers for the larger questions of life.  Who didn’t seem to want to talk about suffering and death and desire and addiction.

But there were some of us who, through God’s providence and grace-filled guidance, were able to hold on to our faith.  And with much struggle and prayer, we began an arduous transformation, a fundamental shift in the understanding of what it means to love and be loved as Christ has shown us.  To this day we are trying to make that shift, even as we remain a conflicted generation, this JPII generation.

The conflict within the JPIIs is caused by a dissonance between the appetite and the intellect.  Temperamentally, we are deeply uncomfortable with conflict and want people to get along, even if that means sacrificing what we know is right.  Culturally, we were raised on washed out themes – the words to “Hear I am, Lord” ring in our ears, reminding us of the tear-filled retreats of youth even if we know that half the time we were just being emotionally manipulated.  Even though we know we should, we don’t know how to live a life rooted in ritual prayer because our parents didn’t even know what that looked like.  And so even basic spiritual discipline requires herculean effort for us.   Intellectually we lack rigor, we were told that every opinion was valid for so long that we have a hard time being critical, even if we are suspect of what we hear.  We tend toward reactionary extremes, and toward a certain nostalgia for times when there seemed to be greater regard for human excellence and virtue.  But we’re really not sure what that looked like or how to achieve it, because we’ve never experienced it in a living culture.  Instead we grew up on the Nintendo and MTV, the St. Louis Jesuits and cut out butterflies.  A washed out culture, a decadent culture, and a largely secular culture.

And yet even as conflicted as it is, I believe that gradual conversion was begun and continues in the JPII generation, my generation. Slowly, and with God’s grace, many are breaking free of the appetite for a Church experience that is characterized by a warm and fuzzy group hug among people who like each other, and instead developing the desire for a new and more profound ecclesiology that is rooted in a common fidelity to Christ and sacrifice for the sake of what is true and good and beautiful.  This conversion of appetite in my generation has been largely due to the reforms undertaken during the last 25 years to some of the fundamental structures of the Church.  Doctrinal soundness and rigor in formation has been restored in seminaries for the most part.  Core doctrines of the Church have been clearly expressed in the Catechism and in many wonderful encyclicals and other papal teachings.  The liturgical excesses of the 70s and 80s have for the most part been cleared up and the new translation has brought us into greater continuity with our tradition.  Bishops are for the most part speaking with one voice and in union with the Holy Father.  The basic structures necessary for the continuation of Christianity in the West have been buttressed in recent decades, and the JPII generation is the first to really experience the fruit of these reforms.  Thus we really bear the name of the great reformer: John Paul II.

Yet as much as the JPII generation has been graced by the reforms of these last years, I pray that the hell that is fermenting in the West does not break lose until our children come of age.  They will be much more competent to handle the wiles of the evil one.  They will have had the advantage of clear Catholic teaching from their youth, of being formed by a reasonably intact liturgy and reconstructed domestic ritual of prayer.  And they will not have to contend with an older, ideological and jaded generation that second guesses every effort at holiness and is threatened by any attempt at human excellence.

I am not sure how my generation would handle the full weight of what this culture of death is capable of throwing at us.  The reforms are so new and have only had a decade or two to sink in.  We are still very weak and our training cursory at best.  We are not well supported by family and friends.  Too often we foolishly resort to political power plays, are distracted by worldly fears.  We are easily side-tracked by minor skirmishes, we underestimate the cunning and force of the enemy.  And we are too attached to the things of this world – to our stuff, our esteem, our comfort.  God’s will is often not the first thing on our minds.  We lack the spiritual imagination, depth, and discipline required for the all-out pitched spiritual battle that approaches. 

Thus I think that it is critically important that the JPII generation realize in all humility its limitations, the limitations inherent in the time and place that we were born.  We came of age during a time that was nothing short of spiritually catastrophic.  The bastions had been razed.  Christian culture in the West had been devastated.  Through no fault of our own, we are building from scratch and our generation therefore lacks the sophistication of many generations of Christians who have gone before us.  We are largely incapable of the aesthetic beauty of gothic stained glass, of the heights of contemplative prayer, of the theological prowess of the great doctors of the Church.  Mounting such heights required the dedicated work of successive generations of Catholic men and women, not one generation alone. 

And so such heights are probably not for most of us.  Ours is instead the work of John Paul: the work of the quarry.  We have been called to lay the foundation for such heights to be attained once more.  To take up the backbreaking toil that falls to a first generation: slogging into the mud, into the trenches, working to gradually break up the rubble of vice and error and to lay the foundation stones of virtue and human excellence.  In doing so, we can work to ensure that the Church that is rebuilt upon our shoulders stands not upon the sand of likability and false tolerance, but upon Christ, clearly present in lives rooted in the sacrificial love and fidelity.  And this work, far from being a drudgery, can be a source of joy as we find comfort and consolation in knowing that, as a first generation in the process of building an authentic Christian culture, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the first apostles and countless missionaries who have undertaken such work over the course of the Church’s 2000 years.

In short, our holiness, the holiness of the JPIIs, is unlikely to lie in heights of virtue and excellence – it is more likely to lie in blood, sweat, and tears.  In fidelity: in sacrifice and toil unconditionally offered for the love of Christ and his Church.  It will not be particularly beautiful.  But foundations do not need to be beautiful – they just need to be solid.  And, with the grace of God, we can do that.


  1. Just to be clear. The terrorists hit us on 9-11 not because they hate America generally but because they hate that arrogant, greedy & self righteous aspect of the American character and culture represented most clearly by George W Bush, Dick Cheney and their ilk.


    1. Sean, I don't know how old you are, but you have no idea what you're talking about. Do some research: The 9/11 terrorists attacked because they belong to a religion (Islam) that hates anything Western -- including Christianity and Judaism, let alone secularism -- and wants to destroy so it can set up its own power structure (aka, the "Caliphate") that will repress and murder non-Muslims and will treat women as second-class citizens. It doesn't matter how "arrogant" Americans are; Muslim terrorists are even more arrogant because they view as "martyrs" those who die in the process of murdering the innocent.

    2. I agree with Joseph. You have been seriously misinformed. Islam hates everything non-Muslim. It is an aggressive, intolerant, violent ideology. Everything you value is hateful to them. They will gladly subjugate women and kill homosexuals. Democracy and art and individual rights have no place in Islam.

      As to Bush, Cheney and their ilk, they are clearly superior to monsters who constitute the current the lawless, illegitimate regime. A regime that is conducting open war against the Church and all its members.

    3. Bush had been in office less than a year when the attacks occurred and had been a benign presence to that point. The prior administrations had been advisedly passive in their response to the rising tide of terrorism targeting Americans around the globe. If you want to get into the blame game, look to our passivity, both Republican and Democratic in the 20 years leading up to 9/11.

    4. Do not say that "Islam hates everything non-Muslim." There are indeed Muslins--many--who do hate everything non-Muslim. However the Qur'an reads:

      "O mankind! Allah created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)." Nobel Qur'an (49:13)


      "Worship Allah and join none with him (in worship); and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is stranger, the companion by your side, ... "
      [Quran, chapter 4, verse 36]

    5. Oh really Eileen tell this to Our Coptic Brethren in Eqypt who watch while the "tolerant" Muslims burn their Churches to the ground

    6. I am not saying there isn't hate or even that that isn't the attitude of the majority. Given the tone of this thread, it appears to be the attitude of the majority on "THE OTHER" side as well. And that is how we humans have always operated. So why expect anything to change or improve? Black and white issues are so much clearer. If we refuse to acknowledge that there might be even a glimer of goodness and hope in the opposition then there is no hope. How will we ever get to the point where all men are our bretheren?

  2. Really powerful stuff - as a 32 year-old Catholic, this piece certainly resonates. The metaphor of our role as layers of a new foundation is aptly put.

  3. Really well said Father. As a convert it has been disheartening to see a lot of the issues you raise but the growth of the John Paul II generation into leaders gives me hope.

    The gates of hell will not prevail against God's Holy Church. Amen!

  4. This is an excellent reflection and quite accurate. As a 32 year old Catholic (is this a theme?) this hits close to home. While religious formation based on the 4 F-words and lacking the intellectual rigor have kept me from being able to fully combat this culture of death, it is important to keep in mind Christ promise and that the Church is already assaulting the gates of hell and "the gates of hell will no prevail against it".

    1. I'm 41 and it still fits for me. I'd say it would fit for everybody in the 25-45 range, the generation that professional Catholic Catechists call "The lost generation".

  5. Thank you for this, Father. I'm in my early 30s as well and this absolutely resonates and inspires. My family and I converted when I was 13, and my catechesis was laughable. Although I respected and admired my faith, I fell away in college and after, as did many of my friends. It was only in my 20s when I began to do my own reading and research that I discovered the true beauty of the faith I almost left behind, in particular the writings of JPII. Like Moses, we may do all the leg-work and not see the promised land ourselves. But we are making it possible for our children to do so.

  6. I'm 68, the Pope Pius XII generation, that came of age in the early 1960's. Not everything we learned in that generation was right either,though I often look back to it with nostalgia. Perhaps the bar was set too high, with the idea that holiness was a do-it-yourself project, rather than a cooperation with God's grace, and many of us felt it was out of reach, and some of us gave up for a while. The psychology was often not very good, more Victorian than Christian. We were expected to know how to deal with life and growing up and not given much help,so a little love and respect for others seemed like a positive thing.(And they still do). A change from the authoritarianism and judgementalism that was often there. But like the frog in the warm water, many of us didn't realize where it was all leading, until things had gotten out of hand. It's easier to look in hindsight to see where things went wrong.
    But there are many, many of my generation still active in the world and in the Church and right behind the PJPII generation.
    I for one can never express my gratitude to God that he came along. If ever there was a man for his time, he was.
    And now we've got Pope Benedict and he's darned good too. Both a sign that God hasn't forgotten or abandoned us.

  7. I am 40. I was also at WYD in Denver 1993. I was already in the seminary and have been a priest for 14 years now. Your feelings and sentiments describe my formation exactly, both before seminary and during. The greatest sin was to say that anything was a sin. In seminary guys would hang pornography on their walls to prove they weren't gay. The homosexuals, protected by the faculty, would carry out their lifestyle without repercussions. The faculty never told us that any of this behavior was wrong even though we were preparing for the priesthood.
    Fortunately I was able to go to Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg for theology. There I began to see that a priest was supposed to be a man of God.
    John Paul II faced the Nazis and Communists and the secular West. We like him must be ready for the fight.

    1. Amen Father Weldon. Many Catholics and other Christians have gotten comfortable and may have forgotten our responsibility or out of convenience choosen to refrain from challenging those in our familes, neighborhoods, work places, government and churches, that it is our responsibility to support and defend our faith, families and freedom.

      This past Sunday's Homily focused on our responsibility; however, the message needs to be direct, in common language that we must support and defend religious liberty and our Constitution which reflects our God-given rights. So, my brothers and sisters, please stand up together and insist and yes we must demand that our Constitution be restored. If we think we can just attend Mass and go home and continue to absorb the humanistic, secular culture and refrain from living, practing and reflecting our faith in every place we walk, we will eventually be surprised to find ourselves and our nation in arevolution/civil war to restore our liberty.

      We have given up so much freedom already. The time is now to stand up and demand religious liberty be restore and all of our liberties. God bless. Peace, Peter ~

  8. Just to resonate the theme, I turn 32 in several days and Father Seamus sums up quite well the insecurties and worries for our generation of Catholics. We ARE the JPII generation and I pray God gives us the strength and courage to defend the Faith and help lay the foundation for the Re-Christianization of Western Civilization.

  9. I am 24 going on 25 shortly. I would count myself as the last few of the lost generation of Catholics. it was about the time when I was in high school and JPII passed away that I began to truly recognize a definite shift in towards orthodoxy within the Church. JPII taught my generation to be kind toward everyone, being mindful of different beliefs and always to show the love of Christ to others. Yet, with his example we also learned that being mindful of others does not mean that we lose our convictions. With the coming of Pope Benedict those convictions have been reinforced, and the foundation is becoming solid. Standing upon this new ground, my generation now has the strength and soundness of mind to be firm in our convictions and to portray the teachings of Pope John Paul II without losing ourselves to the secularist left.

  10. Dear Father, I am 42, a married father of two, and a graduate of U.Maine Orono! I am currently reading George Wiegel's "Witness to Hope," and I am learning to appreciate the legacy of Pope John Paul II more and more each day. My own Catholic upbringing was like what you described above: weak tea instead of strong coffee. I left the Church for 18 years, came back (instantly becoming a Protestant), and--slowly but surely--have come to see the power of Truth that so characterizes our Catholic faith. What the Church teaches makes more and more sense to me each day.

    We are where we are, but tonight, as I was reading a children's book about St. Francis to my daughter, I was struck by God's word to that most humble and loving of saints: rebuild my church, for it is in ruins. Good advice for us all!

    God bless you, and thanks for the great post.

    Michael :)

  11. Great post, Seamus! Very true for me too. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 10. Although since it is Lent, maybe I'll just give you a 5. Even the comments are great. Very inspirational, keep up the good fight.

    -Ryan M. (brother of one of your college friends)

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  13. Fr. Seamus,

    I share your thoughts. Your article is an answer to an inner awareness that I have lived with for my entire life. This awareness, or calling, has lead me to seek Truth and Love down the paths of discernment for the priesthood and ultimately, marriage, and also in many hours (though not enough) in Eucharistic Adoration. I have known that God has called me for a special purpose, as we all are, but for something much greater than I could imagine. This article seems to capture it well, "we have been called to lay the foundation" so the heights of Christianity can be reached once again.

    Recently, I have been pondering the depths of this call and what sacrifices it may require. Given the signs within our country, and Cardinal Francis George's recent words, paraphrased, "I will die in my bed, my successor in prison, and his successor in the streets of the public square", I have realized that according to that timeline, my generation fits the latter option! Prior to your article, and actually on Ash Wednesday, which was also my 29th birthday this year (this was Divinely planned for what I'm about to say), I visited a local parish during lunch for 30 minutes of prayer. This prayer culminated with a prompting to lay prostrate under the Crucifix (they have a big one!) to fulfill my desire to be washed clean with the blood and water flowing from the side of Christ. While there, in that act of humility, I prayed, "Jesus, I surrender my heart to you. Make me according to your Heart." Instantly I felt, did not see, but felt the presence of the blood and water wash over me and fill my small heart. Truly, I have been warmed. He is preparing me for the sacrifice we all may have to give, a sacrifice where "our holiness, the holiness of the JPIIs, is unlikely to lie in heights of virtue and excellence – it is more likely to lie in blood, sweat, and tears." And I've given myself to him for that.

    Thank you for your openness to respond to the prompting to write this article.

    In Peace,

  14. 33 here, mom of 3 girls, wife, married 13 years (lots of 3s, ha) and this definitely hits home with me. I certainly am breaking free of the final vestiges of "getting along" and the 4 F's. Like my mother always says, Heaven is busy. Thank you and know that many of us are praying, fasting, and fighting the good fight.

  15. Dear Fr Seamus, thank God for you! I am 74, a convert of 14 years who was dismayed at the statenof the Church. But I love it still and with priests likebyou --and Fr Guarnizo--we will eventually flourish. The archdiocese of D.C. Seems to fall into the category of those you describe who" just want to get along" but your generation will save us. And the oldest among us, I believe, are thrilled to stand with you. Stand your ground. We are praying for you.

  16. Fr. Seamus,
    I'm almost 25 and your article really resonates with me.
    All of my family were practicing Catholics--which basically meant we went to church on Sundays and received the Sacraments. I went to Catholic schools from kindergarten until university, and it wasn't until my third year of college that I realized that I knew almost nothing about the doctrine of the Catholic Church beyond the golden rule and a few prayers. What I grew up learning was humanism and relativism, not Catholicism.
    Now on my own, I'm trying to turn that around by studying the Bible and the Catechism and incorporating prayer in my daily life. It's difficult though because I don't always know where to go for resources, and I'm currently living in a country that is predominantly non-Christian and non-English-speaking.
    Your article has given me a lot of hope and encouragement to continue zealously in the struggle for true faith.
    Thank you and God Bless,

    1. "...Now on my own, I'm trying to turn that around by studying the Bible and the Catechism and incorporating prayer in my daily life. It's difficult though because I don't always know where to go for resources..."

      1. Make sure your bible is a study-like bible with proper Catholic teachings (I recommend the Haydock It is worth every penny of the $125 dollars!)
      3. Attend the Tridentine Mass (Extraordinary Form), even if you must travel distances.

    2. Thank you very much for the advice. I'd have to travel to a different country for the Tridentine Mass, so that will have to wait for a little while, but I've bookmarked, and I'm saving up for that study Bible.

  17. I was born and raised Catholic from the late 40s. I see a great need for truth, absolutes, prayer and contemplation. But I also recall the need to be released from fear and terror, of near-despair from sinfullness and inadequacy. We need to pray fervently that God helps us keep the best from each attempt to correct wrongs and to know what to discard. We truly do need the faith and strength to fight evil, but we need to avoid the extremes that rejected the sunner with his sin.

  18. Father should place his birth date into the article, so the reader can more pinpoint his epoch. The epoch of JPII spans more than a generation. Born in May, 1968, I was immersed in the Catholicism of Pope John Paul. Now 43, I am disappointed by his reign. Catholicism was a disaster under his command, and I pray that the Church never has a Pope so adverse to confronting the obvious smoke of Satan.
    While I could include an exhaustive list of his failures, I will only discuss one: Solidly raised, Baltimore-catechisms Catholics, who became Catholic in name only under Pope John Paul's watch. Directly, I am speaking of people of my parent’s generation (born around '40). This generation lived the Tridentine Mass; Altar Boys; May Days for Mary; Statues; Kneeling for Communion on the tongue; They failed to pass this love to the next generation. Like Satan's Smoke, the sexual revolution and modernism were triumphant, and their children paid the price. This rapid decline in Catholicism is the mark of Pope John Paul's epoch.
    While I may be a JPII Catholic by epoch, I survived, and to my greater enjoyment, I can now consider myself a Pope Benedict Catholic, for, currently, I can not believe that I will experience a greater Pope than he.

    1. Mandzi,
      I am 33. So I guess it is no surprise to see that many of those posting with similar thoughts are right around the same age. I agree about Pope Benedict: he is truly a blessing to the Church!

  19. Father, thank you for your prayerful reflection. I am with you in thought and prayer. I am fighting the cultural influences on my 5 children. The battle continues as the effects of the post Christian era pervade every aspect of our lives, including the texts and curricula of our Catholic schools. Clearly the battle will be lost, were it not for our Father's will to save us. As St. Josemaria Escriva said, Many years ago now, I saw most clearly a truth which will always be valid: the whole web of society needs to live anew and spread the eternal truths of the Gospel, since it has departed from Christian faith and morals. Children of God at the very heart of that society, of the world, have to let their virtues shine out like lamps in the darkness -- quasi lucernae lucentes in caliginoso loco. (Furrow, 318)

  20. Like apparently half the commenters here, I'm also 32 (yay, 32). Like several other people, I also went to Catholic school. However, unlike them, I think I recieved a very good religious education. It was a lot more thorough than what some of the people describe above, and also much more thorough than what my mother recieved in the "Baltimore Catechism" era (seriously, she was deferring to us kids on matters of theology by the time we were nine or ten, because whenever we disagreed, if she looked it up, we were right).

    My point is, I went to a good school, with particularly thorough and thoughtful teachers, and that (or the reverse) can happen in any era. You can't blame these things *merely* on the age :)

    Incidentally, World Youth Day 2003? Don't you mean 2002? Or is there some WYD 2003 with which I am unfamiliar?

    1. Carolina,
      You are right, there was no World Youth Day 2003! I always get that mixed up. Well caught. It was World Youth Day in Toronto, 2002.

      I agree that it is dangerous to start speaking in generations, to overgeneralize, etc... However, there really is something to be learned by studying what exactly happened before we came onto the scene. There is an interesting book that I happened to find last year called "Second Spring" by Charles a. Fracchia that outlines the years 1965-1975 in the Church. To see what happened in those years, how dramatic, how destructive. And while yes, there were pockets that survived, the culture within the Church as a whole was seriously eroded. I don't have the numbers in front of me: priest who left, religious who left, professors who dissented, bishops speaking out against the pope, 30% decline in Mass attendance. It was crazy. And that profoundly impacted the experience of Catholics before us. We could also look at broader social factors. There is a great book by Robert Putnam that came out in 2000, "Bowling Alone," that traces the incredible decline in social capital over the same period.

      As to the causes of the collapse, I think it is incredibly complex and not something that I want to really take on - nor am I sure how useful that would be to us. Certainly things weren't perfect before the council - far from it. But I think it is pretty clear that most Catholics growing up in the 1950s and 1960s lived in a more robust and healthy Catholic culture than those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s.

      I myself grew up and lived in a bit of a pocket - I would say that I received a pretty healthy religious education as well. I was homeschooled for most of my childhood, then attended a good Catholic college where I majored in philosophy in a solid department. But I am not the norm. I have watched countless friends walk away, good friends with good hearts who were just not taught and never lived the Gospel in a way that was authentic. They figure that they can find what they need in the woods on a Sunday afternoon.

  21. Well, I'm 61 and I think you're all (including the good Father) deluding yourselves, at least insofar as the child-rape scandals. They didn't happen because the Bishops in charge were trying to be too nice, they happened because the priests and Bishops were not doing their job and wanted to avoid taking responsibility for the sins and crimes that were happening on their watch.

    This is obvious to the whole world, and for a priest to claim otherwise speaks incredibly poorly of the Church.

  22. I agree with many of the individual points Father makes and the concerns he has, as well as the essential thrust of the conclusion he draws: that ours is the humble task of laying a foundation in the midst of the chaos all around us.

    Some of the post seems over-generalized.

    It may be because I generally dislike labels, or that I am (probably to an unreasonable degree) on guard against the allure of the cult of personality, or that I just personally felt no connection with John Paul II (I began to darken the doors of the church again precisely when John Paul II was dying and if there was anyone of such prominence I found appealing, it was Pope Benedict - I read my way back into the Church, in part, thanks to his writings; and others who are perhaps older than me likely had a greater exposure to John Paul II than I did), but the "JPII Generation" narrative is not something I've been able to identify with. (Of course, none of that has anything to do with John Paul II himself necessarily. I realize only now, as I understand the faith better, how profound of an influence he was and how much I personally value his thinking, such as the "Theology of the Body" and his personalist philosophical perspective which I share.) And I don't think the dichotomy that Father draws is indicative of everyone's experience, either pre or post John Paul II's papacy.

    My faith, at least growing up, was largely formed by my parents' faith. And that decidedly was about "being good" - probably, I'd later conclude, to a fault: self-perfectionism and mere morality can leave little place for salvation. Being good growing up was "about principles, about virtue, about sacrifice, about the truth," at least on some level. If a kid was made fun of on the playground, I should stand up for him, or at least refrain from joining in. Lying was absolutely out of the question, regardless of how I felt. Work (homework) came before play.

    My parents' faith was largely formed, of course, by their parents' faith, which often seemed to have as its fruits "Catholic guilt." They grew up with "strict nuns" and a lot of discipline. Even the element of prayer, which was primarily making sure everyone went to Mass every Sunday, seemed to be more a matter of morality than of prayer itself. One was good in so far as one did the moral things that one should be doing - like going to, or maybe rather not missing, Mass. You "said" your prayers and "did the right thing." This doesn't mean by any stretch that it was all a pretense; it was profoundly serious.


  23. ...

    My Mom especially, with her Irish and French blood, was a Jansenist from the moment of conception. Her and my grandmother, I think it's fair to say, revered God and probably feared Him too. I'm not sure they knew what it was to know His love for them the way many Catholics would happily and freely speak about such love today. When my Mom's sister died suddenly at the age of 24, my grandmother was terrified for a while that her daughter would be separated from God for all eternity because her daughter had not been going to Mass regularly even though she was a good kid with a great personality who everyone loved to be around, etc. Being "likable" was exactly not the point, no matter how likable one was regardless - that's what sense my grandmother and Mom got from their experience of the Church - and it was that fact which was difficult to reconcile with the rest of their lives and experiences otherwise I think. Does God have no liking for our human goodness? Is holiness a matter of rigorous legalism?

    I guess my point is that I think it's a worthwhile question to ask, among other questions, why and/or how we ever got to "the Bernadine years...The years of consensus leadership, of being welcoming and tolerant." What was that movement about? What was it in response to?
    And that in mind, I think a sense of reservation is called for before we hang the black-and-white, we're the ones really- and finally - "setting out into the deep" banner across our entire "generation" (however you want to label it), thus giving the impression that whatever transpired and whoever lived within a certain period of time before our own generation was in all-out defiance of the Gospel.

    I'm not sure that such a firm line can be drawn between those who came before the JPII generation and those who are off that generation. According to that understanding, it seems we'd have to conclude, as Father does, that "the generation before us had sold us a useless bill of goods, rather than the Gospel." But if we were to consider the work of Cardinal Bernadin, for example, and his emphasis on finding common ground, on interfaith relations, on non-violence and world peace, might we find evidence of someone who was conscious of and concerned with - even if his actual attempts at realizing such goals were misguided - certain strands of the Gospel wherein Jesus yearns for all to be one, or for turning the other cheek?

    I'm skeptical of the notion that it was simply an all-or-nothing affair that was handed over wholesale to the secular culture. It doesn't seem to me fair to say that the last generation offered nothing meaningful.

    It can be a real challenge to authentically communicate and integrate the Gospel amidst continual challenges to it and the many social changes and cultural shifts that come about. The truth is the truth is the truth. But grappling with the truth amidst a new batch of chaos is part of the deal, I think, and misguided attempts at such grappling is not necessarily faithlessness.


  24. ...

    I don't mean to homogenize history such that there are no better or worse times, no times of particularly grueling difficulty and other times of greater faithfulness and peace, which may result in a kind of consequencelessness or a practical relativism.
    I also don't want to offer a blanket defense of "the Bernadine years," say, either. The chaos after Vatican II, and the priest sexual abuse crisis most especially, is a sufficient indicator to me that something was radically wrong with however it was we were going about being Catholic and understanding the faith during that time. Further, I do not think that a "culturally accommodating Catholicism," as I've seen it described, is at all desirable.

    Thanks to John Paul II and Pope Benedict, we are being encouraged to talk about the truth as such, about the danger of relativism, about good and evil, and sin, and to point out quite vividly the mistakes of the past and the present.

    But it's holding those tensions together meaningfully and with fidelity to the truth, which seems to be a challenge potentially inherent in any generation, that's the real arena for discernment, for openness to the Holy Spirit, and grounds for any authentic pronouncement of who we are called to be and how we're called to live in a given period of time.

    If we are the ones that will indeed need to lay the foundation stones for an authentic Christian culture, my sense is that we should do so with humility, prayer, and with an awareness that we're likely capable of our own share of blind spots. Otherwise, not only will the culture we build be without authenticity - so will we.

    1. Patrick,
      I entirely agree with the final sentiments of your last post. I had hoped that such was actually the main thrust of my reflections... Too often I hear this idea that the JPII shock troops are going to come forward and save the Church. The point of my article is exactly the opposite: that far from being the saviors, we have been profoundly impacted by the weakness of the Church in the West since the council. That weakness is subtle, however - it is not doctrinal, strictly speaking. It has more to do with culture and the appetite. So - I am sorry that the impression that you had from the piece was that I was seeking to blame the previous generation and criticize. Not so much. I think there must, however, be a frank acknowledgement of what we received and didn't receive so that we can adequately understand, at least to some degree, the plank that is in our eye. I submit that there is a plank - and that the plank is praxis, it is the actual living out of a Catholic culture at home and in the community.

      It is true - the piece painted in broad strokes... One must in a couple of pages of text. But I would submit that my thoughts on the matter are far from black and white: Bernadine's vs. JPIIs. I do not resent the older generation for what they gave us - I agree that much of it was a response to unhealthy Jansenistic and authoritarian experiences. We don't need to go back to that. And the reality is that there are some deep and tragic flaws in the younger generation that is coming of age: my generation.

      I agree: tension on this matter is good. Humility necessary. If there is a central thought that I hope comes through in the piece, it is that JPIIs should not underestimate the damage that has been done so as not to become discouraged with ourselves and our own weaknesses as we seek to rebuild. I think there must be some humility with regard to what we think we can actually accomplish, with God's grace. This should not be a time for triumphalism, but for hard work - foundation work that is often done quietly and underground where no one notices - in the depths of the spiritual life. It is frustrating work, it is messy work, it is difficult work.

      I am in Maine, which may also account for some difference in perspective. The diocese of Portland has 10 priests under the age of 50 in a presbyterate of 156, we have seen a decline of Catholics from 300,000 to 180,000 in the last 40 years, in the number of annual baptisms from 6,000 in 1960 to just above 1,000 last year. It has been catastrophic here, and we have not seen the worst yet.

      I think that one of the important tasks for priests right now is to encourage the young and one another so that we are not discouraged by how dark things may very well get in the coming decades. I hope that my words offer some encouragement to the young who are living through this unprecedented decline in the Church in New England.

    2. Dear Father,

      Thank you for your gracious reply.

      I agree that the plank is praxis.

      And I was particularly struck by what you said here: “If there is a central thought that I hope comes through in the piece, it is that JPIIs should not underestimate the damage that has been done so as not to become discouraged with ourselves and our own weaknesses as we seek to rebuild. I think there must be some humility with regard to what we think we can actually accomplish, with God's grace.”

      That seems exactly right to me and it’s very encouraging to hear, as was your whole reply, which you intended.

      Thank you again, and for your loving service.

  25. I am in sympathy with several previous posters who caution against dismissing a previous generation's Catholicism out of hand. As a member of what I guess is the John XXIII generation, I appreciate this insight into how many younger Catholics think, though I don't necessarily agree with all of it. (As the Pius XII generation who formed me would not agree with everything I said as a younger Catholic.) I am going to respond more fully in my own blog, but thank you for sharing your thoughts. And please be so kind as to spell Cardinal Bernardin's name correctly, whether or not you persist in using it as a tag for all you feel was wrong with the Church of your parents.

    1. Joanne,
      Sorry about the misspelling... It is a flaw of mine and spell check just doesn't catch everything. I'll work to clean that up.

      I am sorry that you feel that my piece is about blaming... it's not. It's just about acknowledging what's happened. I actually have a great affinity for Bernadin and for many of the themes of the generation before me - as you point out, they are my parents and aunts and uncles and friends. But I have a great affinity for many of my secular friends too. I submit that while much of what was handed on to us was good, it was not the fullness of the Gospel. That is my critique.

      However, such a critique was not the main point of my thoughts. The main point was that my own generation has its own share of wounds and weaknesses. That we should temper our aspirations. That we should be content to work on foundations, not try to rebuild the glories of the past.

    2. Thank you, Father. I do read blame in statements like "we were sold a bill of goods, not the Gospel." But I understand. Each generation, to some extent, feels the same way about its predecessors. What is important to remember, and what I am addressing in my blog, is that each generation begins by being precisely the Church that is needed at that time in human history. Because human history is as flawed as the humans that make it, however, no one generation brings the kingdom, and over time its response to the world becomes ineffective--both because it has succeeded in righting some wrongs and because it loses its youthful immunity to the world, the flesh, and the devil. So the next generation rises up, not to take the Church back to some imagined Golden Age, but to help carry it and the world forward to the kingdom's fulfillment. That's proof, not of previous generations' failings--though those always exist, and are always most visible to those who come after--but to the living, dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit.

    3. Hmmm... I agree with much of what you say - but I'm not sure that every generation is as antagonistic. The reality is that the generation before me razed the bastions. They changed a lot, and they changed it fast. And the change that they made was destructive, not constructive. Look at the churches, look at the liturgy, look at the theology. It was a time that was incredibly antagonistic. I do not understand that, and that is not what I want, nor do I think that is what most people my age want.

      What I find interesting is that many older priests and Catholics in general think that the younger generation will be like they were - throwing out the old and starting anew. I don't think so. There's nothing else to throw out. We're trying to build.

      As far as blame in the phrase "We were sold a bill of goods, not the Gospel." I'm not sure who you would think that I am blaming. I am not blaming the Bernadine generation any more than the generation before it. I was simply pointing to a realization that we were given something and it wasn't the Gospel. That's what I guess I'm pointing out - that you could have received the 'catechesis' that was being taught in many Catholic parishes if you went to any good humanist or Jewish or Hindu community. Much of it was good - it just wasn't the fullness of the Gospel.

    4. Here's my response in fuller form.

  26. Father,

    I found this quote from Pope Benedict XVI written in his book Faith and Culture when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. I think the quote not irrelevant to your post.

    "The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.

    She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members.... It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

    And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man's home, where he will find life and hope beyond death."

    Pax et Bonum!
    Brother Rex

    1. Brother Rex,
      Beautiful piece. Warms my heart to read it. Although a JPIIer by birth, my heart has always been much more drawn to Benedict. We should try to meet up some time. God bless!

    2. Shoot me an email, Padre. We can meet up most anytime.

  27. I was a freshman in high school. Does that include me?

  28. Brother: are you sure Faith and Culture is the name of that book? I love this quote and could not find that title on Amazon though they have Faith and the Future? Thank you for this wonderful quotation.

    1. Perhaps he is referring to "Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures."

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    3. SouthernBelle,

      The title is actually "Faith and the Future." Sorry. :/

      Here is a link to the book.

  29. I agree completely with Fr Seamus. I find it interesting that though we are converts, I and my children, ages 39-53, want what went before--what I first saw in the Church when I was 18, in 1955. We hate the gymnasium churches and were unhappy with the missal now replaced, thank heaven. I do not want the priest to face me, but the east and the altar, leading us in worship as he worships. Of course I also love the Latin rite. If we desire changes, it is toward the past, not further shredding of it. We rely on priests like you, Fr Seamus.

  30. thank you, Brother Rex. Should have thought of Ignatius. Enjoying Faith and the Future in the meantime. Pope Benedict is truly wonderful!

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  32. This post (and the replies) sure bring a lot of memories, both good and bad. A young man considering seminary, I am trying to make sense of this dichotomy between "the lost generation" (my parents, my older brother) and the new springtime right on my heels (evidenced even by my youngest brother).

    In my youth, our pastors were lost (at best) on what ecclesiology is intact for a Church of foot out the door parents at the closed-door controversies of V2 (some left out of the conversation entirely) and the sex abuse scandals, not to mention a secularization that only recently do the elders see. I think of the young persons at the end of the lost generation, with parents inattentive and materialistic, pastors 'controversial' or absent or weak, and friends scouring for their souls in drugs, sex, and corporate success.

    For seekers, the flourish of New Age religiosity, reductionist psychology, and the lack of rigorous thinking, combined with the absence of the bulwark of Church teaching in faith and morals, is painful. The 20-25's stuck in the permissive, confused, pretentious, promiscuous secular culture with, as noted in this post, absolutely no reference point to Christian witness are, as always seeking the good, the beautiful, and the true.

    I hope this "new springtime" is age-pervasive and steeped in fraternal charity amid the confusion of spiritual and cultural reform(s). The deepest pains must bring the greatest consolations, and we can hope, the most profound witness.

  33. As one of many devout laymen who grew up defending the faith against the widespread apostacy and immorality promoted in this diocese during the last 40 years, especiall in Catholic school, I can really appreciate this post.

    When I began to study the history of the Church and especially Vatican II, I realized more than ever how much junk had been put forth in place of eternal truth.

    But God knows what He allows and why. The faithful have been abandoned, ridiculed, and harrassed, but a new dawn, a new springtime is on the horizen.

    Thefirst step in any road of correction is to realize the problem, and you have pointed that out quite well Father. Re-evangelization is what is called for, and laymen like myself are very encouraged all over this state to see the new batch of faithful priests that we are being gifted with. It is like a breath of fresh air!

    God bless Bishop Malone, the worn out faithful remnant of priests and laity that held on to the faith regardless of attacks from within the church, and those who are coming to know and love God through the efforts of priests such as you!

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