Archbishop Di Noia about young people

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.

10 comments

  1. I speak as someone who falls between the cracks of GenX and the Millennials (I’m 32), so take it for what it’s worth:

    This statement rings very true to me: “20- to 30- somethings have experienced the moral relativism and eclectic religiosity of the ambient culture… and recognized it as a chaotic but radical alternative to Christianity with which no compromise is possible.”

    There’s a huge difference between the way young and older Catholics frame questions of the Church in the world. Granted that I am speaking in wild generalities, older Catholics (and, I’m assuming it’s Fr. Ruff, you’re intro above is a prime example) tend to ask the question, “How am I, as a mature person of faith, to reconcile my experience with the teachings of the Church?”

    Younger Catholics ask the question, “How am I to live as a person of faith in a culture that, in ways implicit and explicit, rejects that faith?” Questions of ecclesial authority and power don’t really enter into the equation, at least not as a primary concern.

    For younger Catholics it’s not about my internal position in the Church, it’s about my external position as a person of faith in the world. Will I embrace the culture or reject it? Will I accept that what the Church teaches is true or construct my own path? If what I’m hearing on Sunday is largely indistinguishable with what I hear Monday through Saturday, why go?

    How young Catholics answer those questions determines a lot, as polls have shown.

  2. Another misdiagnosis from the reform2 crew.

    Interesting list blamed on “signs of internal secularization,” that. The archbishop fails to list the crisis in credibility among bishops, perhaps the most grave challenge to the Church, as it strikes at the sacramental, teaching, and governing mission of the hierarchy.

    It might be that many Catholics (I hesitate to attribute this exclusively with the young, as I am young no longer) find leadership lacking. And by that, I mean heroic, self-sacrificial, and inspiring leadership. In a saint’s life, the very living out of the Gospel becomes a sacrament, an encounter with Jesus Christ. It leads the saint (and those who admire and imitate) into an experience of the Paschal Mystery: of death and triumph by the hand of God, by means usually unanticipated.

    I think we have little of this in the Church at large.

    As for liturgy, I sure wish it were more imbued with Christ and his heroic qualities. Does archaic language inspire a Gospel life? Or does it speak more to privilege, restraint, and personal safety for the prelates? We speak of the Church’s treasures, but what does the Gospel ask of us? Do we preserve treasures to bring them out on special occasions, like fancy table settings and jewelry?

    All Catholics, young and old, are hoping to find the ritual of the Paschal Mystery lived out in heroic examples. And some still whine on about rupture and discontinuity. As if metanoia isn’t supposed to accomplish stuff like that.

  3. Archbishop Di Noia seems prophetic in giving an insightful analysis of the post-conciliar period. It’s a sign of the times.

  4. I smell a HUGE rat here, and Fr Anthony Ruff, I suspect that rat is YOU!

    You’re quite deliberately and unashamedly assisting Archbishop Augustine Di Noia OP in his flagrant breaking of the very liturgical laws he’s supposed to be policing, and I am about to unmask you both!

    You state that Archbishop Di Noia is Secretary of the “Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments” quite deliberately, in my opinion, omitting the other word in the Congregation’s title: “DISCIPLINE” … yes, the dicastery’s full and correct name is (as you well know) “Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.”

    And I have a good idea why you have selectively omitted the important word “DISCIPLINE” . . .

    Do you think that we do not know that Archbishop Di Noia has made no secret, since his arrival in the United States in June, that he brought with him one of the very few copies of the red leather, gold-page-edged altar missals with the translation of the Roman Missal that had been prepared by Vox Clara for its sham “presentation of the Missal” to the Pope (even though the translation was yet to undergo some 10,000 further changes)?

    And do you also not think we know that Archbishop Di Noia has been using, at public celebrations of Mass, that very book, NONE of which texts are approved for liturigcal use, and none of which he has the power to approve for use?

    Little wonder you omitted “DISCIPLINE” from the title!

    NOW you are unmasked!

  5. Am I the only one to find it disturbing that young people are reported as being not only unwilling but unable to compromise with ambient society? What on earth does this say about their view of the role of the Church in the world? Has Gaudium et Spes gone out of the window? Does this mean a refortification, to use the title of another thread on this blog?

    I can totally understand a rejection of the moral values of today’s society, but it sounds as if De Noia is saying that it’s not just the moral values they’re rejecting, it’s society as a whole. That strikes me as singularly unhealthy, and does not bode well for the future. Are we to expect a generation of young Catholics who, in order to stand up against the world as they see it, will opt for the values of a previous culture whose eyes were not as open as ours are today? In other words, are they returning to the unchanging monolothic Church and liturgy, as we perceived it, of the preconciliar era, solely because this appears to be the only means they have of combating the evils of contemporary society?

    Surely they can see that there are other equally positive ways of making a stand. Retreating into the trenches is not the answer, I feel, and does not sit happily with an evangelizing Church.

    1. +JMJ+

      I’m not done reading his talk, but could you provide a quote or two where he says that the youth of today reject society totally?

      Also, what do you mean by “compromise”? What compromises do you think Gaudium et Spes encourages Catholics to make? (I cursory skimming fails to locate the word in the document.)

    2. +JMJ+

      Okay, I have finished reading his talk, and I see that in the latter half he addresses several times the “radicial rejection of the ambient culture” encountered in some of the new vocations to the Dominican order.

      However, it is important to retain the context of that rejection:

      “[Recognition of] how much has been lost by accommodation of their forms of life to what they imagine will make them more acceptable to the ambient culture (itself, of course, in constant flux).”

      “[They] have experienced the moral relativism and eclectic religiosity of the ambient culture … and recognized it as a chaotic but radical alternative to Christianity with which no compromise is possible.”

      “[T]hese young people do not share the cultural optimism that many of us learned to take for granted in the post-conciliar period.”

      “[T]he Church seemed to be promoting an embrace of that culture and an affirmation of its humanistic values and its social advocacy [coinciding] 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…”

      “The young men … know that the post-modern culture of authenticity leads to moral chaos … and they want no part of it.”

      “They are also acutely sensitive to the eclectic religiosity, with its doctrinal and theological relativism, that they perceive as a dominant feature of popular culture. … [F]or them, with this culture no compromise is possible.”

    3. I don’t think he’s saying young Catholics are trying, consciously or not, to revert to an earlier culture, but rather trying to take from the past what can help them address what they see deficient in the present culture:

      “The young men who are being drawn to the Dominican Order today-from God-knows-what kinds of personal and social experiences-know that the post-modern culture of authenticity leads to moral chaos, personally and socially, and they want no part of it. They see-probably by a pure grace of the Holy Spirit, for their family backgrounds and catechetical training surely cannot explain it!-that human authenticity is possible only by living in conformity to Christ, and, in this particular case, to Christ as the Dominicans know and preach him.”

      More generally we might say that some young Catholics see “that human authenticity is possible only by living in conformity to Christ, and, in this particular case, to Christ as the Church knows and preaches him.”

      I say some because it certainly isn’t all young Catholics. Many fully embrace the culture which, if my friends and acquaintances are any indication (and polls seem to confirm), eventually leads them away from the Church.

  6. I enjoyed reading Archbishop Di Noia’s talk. The key points I take away from it are:

    1. The St. Joseph province of the Dominican order has, for the most part, retained its focus and charism through the turmoil that surrounded the Second Vatican Council.

    2. This constancy appears to have made it appealing to young men seeking an order built on a solid foundation in which to deepen their faith and exercise what they recognize as their own charism (i.e. study and preaching).

    3. The survival of the order depends on (the grace of God and) their zeal for their communal poverty (including sound theological study) and for preaching the Gospel in and out of their priories. Again, many young men (more than in the recent past) are attracted to this manner of Christian life.

    4. These young men know they are not cloistering themselves: they know what modern secular culture has to offer, and although not willing to make compromises with it (what, pray tell, would society compromise to the Church?) they want to engage it through the preaching of the Gospel!

    5. They believe the Gospel as taught by the Church, including the uniqueness of Jesus as Savior, the role of the Church in salvation, the reality of sin and the need for redemption, and the beauty and power of the Cross. They are drawn to the clear and thorough thinking of the Dominican order in this regard.

    In summary, these men are ready to make a radical decision for Christ!

  7. As someone who is in his early 20’s this is an interesting piece to read, though I agree there are some potential problems, not with the analysis but with how it’s interpreted towards the future. With how news and really any sort of opinion is piloted towards an extreme, people are often drawn toward one of the extremes. Since modernity is often pictured in the “liberal” extreme, the response is something which demonizes “liberal”, usually “conservative” or “traditional”. This is why there is a lot of heavy reaction which favors a lot of younger people. The other thing I would caution is a) what do we see as a radical call to Christ, and is this where the Spirit is authentically moving, and b) what can we still learn from Vatican II and the patristics in conversation with each other (see Luke Timothy Johnson’s section of “The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship” for more). If we assume that everything we’ve done is wrong and we don’t try to learn from the past, we’ll continually make the same mistakes in being over and over.

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