Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, OP, Secretary of the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, has some highly interesting comments on young Catholics in today’s culture. The excerpt below is from a series of conferences he gave to his fellow Dominicans this past June.
Oh, how old this topic makes me feel! I’m only in my 40s, but as I read this, it feels like I’m about five generations removed from today’s young people.
The issues raised here seem to me to be terribly important for the future of liturgical renewal. We old people (by now is that anyone over 45? over 40?) are pretty good at having all the usual arguments about Vatican II and the (alleged) desire to return to preconciliar days. We frame the debate within all our usual categories and assumptions. We share enough of a common framework to allow us to go on for quite some time rehashing all the familiar positions. We know each other well.
I have the distinct impression that the life experience of young Catholics pretty much blows all that out of the water. I think that’s a good thing. I for one find it highly interesting, even exhilarating, to have so many of my assumptions challenged – or overturned.
I think the Archbishop might be painting a few things too broadly and making his distinctions a bit too sharply. I’ll name just two such possible cases before I turn it over to you. First, some “sexual immorality on the part of priests and religious” might well be a “sign of internal secularization.” But even more of it might be a product of oppressive traditional institutional structures which gave almost unlimited power to those in authority. Second, the “widespread embrace of contraception by Catholic couples” could well signify secularization. But I think numrerous dissenting theologians (which has included laypeople, priests, and bishops) would probably claim that it signifies faithful discernment of God’s will for Christian marital life.
Anyway, after my longish introduction, here is the excerpt. Read the whole thing here. — awr
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There is something new… I have noticed it over the past few years, but it seems more pronounced or at least more evident to me in the people born in the mid- to late 80s and early 90s. My sense is that these 20- and 30-somethings have been radicalized by their experience … in a way that we were not. I am not certain how they would articulate their experience for themselves. It is as if they had gone to the edge of an abyss and pulled back from it. Whereas we tended to experience modernity (and then post-modernity) as a kind of adventure that never or rarely touched the core of our faith, these 20- to 30- somethings have experienced the moral relativism and eclectic religiosity of the ambient culture-and possibly of their own personal experience- and recognized it as a chaotic but radical alternative to Christianity with which no compromise is possible.
It may be hard for us to comprehend, but these young people do not share the cultural optimism that many of us learned to take for granted in the post-conciliar period, even if with deepening unease and disillusionment as the years of the late twentieth century wore on.
The Second Vatican Council, even for those untroubled by the hermeneutics of discontinuity, was nonetheless seen as an affirmation of modern culture. There was the perception that the Church had previously adopted an overly negative view of the culture, creating a Catholic culture that was insulated from the wider culture (cf. Philip Gleason, Keeping the Faith, University of Notre Dame Press, 1987). But now the Church seemed to be promoting an embrace of that culture and an affirmation of its humanistic values and its social advocacy. In hindsight, we see the terrible irony of this move, as it coincided precisely with increasingly radical departures from the Christian worldview throughout western culture, as the sexual revolution gathered momentum, as abortion came to be legalized in more and more societies, and as a media-driven materialistic consumerism spread widely in the West and elsewhere (see Trace Rowland, Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II, Routledge, 2003). With these and other developments, the already fragile social, cultural and, in some countries, political legitimation and reinforcement of Christian values in the wider society began to unravel. The Church now finds herself at odds with many powerful trends in western culture. What is more, “In the powerful yet soft secularizing totalitarianism of distinctively modern culture, our greatest enemy is…the Church’s ‘own internal secularization’ which, when it occurs, does so through the ‘…largely unconscious’ adoption of the ‘ideas and practices’ of seemingly ‘benign adversaries'” (Aidan Nichols, The Realm: An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England, Family Publications, 2008, 141). There are many signs of this invasion of modern cultural assumptions.
The disenchantment of the liturgy is one of the most striking instances of this development (see Jonathan Robinson, The Mass and Modernity, Ignatius Press, 2005), and one to which young people are particularly sensitive (as witnessed by their enthusiasm for the 1962 Missal). But there are many other signs of internal secularization: the erosion of belief in the uniqueness of Christ as savior, and of the Church as the indispensable means of salvation; the widespread embrace of contraception by Catholic couples; sexual immorality on the part of priests and religious; the displacement of the missionary impulse by social advocacy; the collapse of recognizable religious life among many communities of religious women in the U.S.; and so on. In the broadly influential strategy of the hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture, many of these developments were promoted as if they had been warranted by the Second Vatican Council itself.