Meeting with the Cardinal

Today I attended a very special meeting between the Cardinal Archbishop and his younger priests. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the gathering, but I was pleasantly surprised. My brother priests expressed themselves quite openly regarding the challenges they face in their ministry, and the Cardinal himself spoke quite candidly regarding the current state of health of our presbyterium. Our topics were (1) our living out of the mission of the Church, and (2) the question of solidarity within the presbyterium, especially between generations of priests.

The second question is of particular interest to me. I have heard several times of individuals complaining that many younger Catholics, including many young priests, are very “conservative” and that they have a misplaced nostalgia for pre-Vatican II times. They cannot understand, for example, why younger Catholics would want to attend a Latin mass celebrated according to the pre-Vatican II form. But I don’t believe this is “nostalgia”, as Catholics of my generation and younger weren’t even born at this point. What this is, is a desire on the part of some to connect with something that makes sense. There is a generation prior to our that seemed to do a fine job of exploding every “taboo” there was, and in the process making a fine mess of things, especially family life. So imagine yourself growing up in a broken home, or seeing yourself surrounded by friends from such homes, where you are told that the reason for the generally permissive atmosphere is to allow for greater possibilities for happiness — and yet you can’t seem to find it. So you look for a solid foundation, something to base your life upon, and you find it in the Catholic Church: it’s been around a long time, it believes in Truth as something attainable, it has a Tradition that is both internally consistent and consistent throughout history, and it challenges you to excellence while promising that it is possible. Suddenly you are home, part of a family that includes brothers and sisters all over the world, both on earth and in heaven, some of whom are real saints.

And so why are such Catholics so “conservative”? I think the answer is obvious: because they want to defend their home. To be honest, I prefer the term “traditional”, because what they are really seeking is not to “conserve” anything, but to plug into a Tradition that is greater than themselves which they in turn can pass on to others. In general they are open to reasonable development within the Catholic stream, *as long as* such proposals do not make a mockery (or worse, risk damaging) the very thing they hold dear. It strikes me as a reasonable position.

As for the pre-Vatican II mass people, I respect where they are coming from. For many, Vatican II seemed to be a moment when a lot of craziness entered the Church. I do not believe this was the fault of Vatican II, but for people who are particularly trying to connect to a grand Tradition (especially for those with kids, who want to surround them with good defenses against the poisons in our culture), I can see why some of them might want to keep a bit of a greater distance. They aren’t necessarily saying that Vatican II was crazy, but just that it seems to have at times been surrounded by craziness that they’d rather not have to deal with. In the long run I don’t think mere avoidance is healthy, but I believe in being very patient, understanding and encouraging for those trying to find their way in faithfulness.

I think the one big danger that does exist, though (and this applies to people of all generations and opinions) is the danger of bitterness. This is especially true of the young Catholics I just described, as they often find themselves trying to buck a culture that they know is try to entice them to a negative path (but still it isn’t easy) and receiving very little encouragement (or downright criticism) from other “older, wiser” members of the Church. Critism from “the world” they can understand, but from fellow Christians? Aren’t they supposed to friends and mentors? And so bitterness can set in, and when it does charity quickly disappears.

How do we avoid this fate? I think it comes down to having a properly centred faith. Catholic faith is ultimately *not* a faith in a theological or traditional system, it is faith in a Person, Jesus Christ, whom we encounter through the Holy Spirit and who is leading us to the Father. Our Catholic faith can supply us with so much on the human side of the equation — it is an incarnate faith after all — but it can’t just be something that “supplies our needs” from the outside, even if they are noble needs like a desire for meaning and purpose. Jesus is more than an “answer”, he is Love incarnate, and he must be encountered as such if our faith is to come to full maturity. And when we do, bitterness has a much harder time taking root — because Jesus wasn’t a bitter man, and he leads us away from poison.