O.K., I admit it. I’m a "Young Fogey". It’s not something I was born with, a nucleotide in my DNA, that I can claim I have no choice about. It’s not something resulting from the way my parents raised me, nor can I blame it on the school I went to or the neighborhood in which I grew up. I spent time thinking about this, I knew what was out there and what my options were, and, yes, I deliberately chose to be a "YF". I have to say that I’ve been amazed by the love and support I’ve received from my friends and family. Even if they don’t understand it at times, they’ve given me nothing but unconditional love and I am forever grateful. Even more amazing to me are the words of admiration I’ve received from total strangers. In my life the voices of those who have supported me have far outnumbered the voices of those who have condemned me, and to steal from Robert Frost, ‘that has made all the difference’.
Now I’ve got you hooked, don’t I?. "What is a ‘Young Fogey’", you ask yourself? ‘Young Fogey’ is a label, a stereotype, given by Fr. Andrew Greeley in an article which appeared in the January/February, 2004 issue of The Atlantic magazine. In Fr. Greeley’s world, a "YF" is the ‘catch-all’ phrase for Roman Catholic Priests who have been ordained in the last twenty-five years or so. In Fr. Greeley’s world (and using his own words), these are "conservative young priests" who are "counter-revolutionaries", "intent on restoring the pre-Vatican II Church". They "tend to want to restore the power that the clergy held not only before Vatican II but also before a large educated Catholic laity emerged as a powerful force in the Church after World War II." To back this up (and give his argument gravitas), he cites the criticism of older priests who see us as "arrogant, pompous, and rigid", with the compulsion of "lov[ing] to parade around in clerical dress." Whether these quotes came about after polling hundreds of Priests or around one rectory living room full of Priests, we don’t know. But this should hardly be a surprise: my generation has almost always known it was different from the generation of Priests we grew up with in the 1960s and 70s. At first we knew it as the butt of jokes, as older Priests lamented the fact that the rules and regulations of our seminary years compared to theirs was like comparing a country club to a concentration camp. Later we knew something was up when, while home from the seminary, we were asked what we were learning in the seminary When we responded about Humanae Vitae, Veritatis Splendor, and the "Theology of the Body", the looks on their faces told us, in the words of the movie Apollo 13, "Houston, we have a problem." The final confirmation of this came in, of all places, cathedral basements and sacristies (anyplace large groups of Priests vest for Mass), as stares and snickers and unspoken thoughts accompanied our vesting with such things as an amice and a cincture. Yes, we’re Young Fogeys, and exactly why some Priests resent us, we don’t know. What we do know is this: Fr. Greeley sees the YFs as a danger to the Church. We must be stopped like Lee at Gettysburg or Napoleon at Waterloo (even Alfred Hitchcock’s "birds" come to mind). Quick! Board up the windows! Tie down the lawn furniture! Head to the storm cellar! Here comes THAT generation of Priests!
The inaccuracy in Fr. Greeley’s stereotype revolves around timing; he’s overshot his target. Young Fogeys do not want to go back to the time before the Second Vatican Council. We know that things were not perfect in the years before Vatican II. Not every pastor behaved like Barry Fitzgerald, not every priest sang like Bing Crosby, not every nun looked like Ingrid Bergman, and not every Tridentine Mass was flawless and devout. We’ve never said they were. But in their years of studies for the Priesthood, YFs have come to realize that in many ways the teachings of Vatican II were misinterpreted, misrepresented, and sadly in some cases lied about, to a naïve and uninformed laity who had no access to the Council documents, but always assumed the best; their Priests would do what the Church taught. For years the lay faithful watched as the things they knew as distinctly "Catholic" were changed or removed, always with the reason, "It’s what Vatican II has called for", when in reality a truer sentence would have been, "It’s what I, Father X and/or Sister Y, have called for." But we’re a generation that learned wiffleball and football in schoolyards and backyards with the magic rule of "Do-over". That’s what we want. This "Young Fogey" generation of Roman Catholic Priests wants to take their best collective shot at learning the rich teachings of Vatican II, and then making these documents known, understood, and appreciated by the laity that has lived under their shadow for more than forty years without knowing what the Council actually said.
"Why do we need to re-implement Vatican II?", you ask? "Its all been done before", you opine? Well, yes and no. Young Fogeys who grew up in the 60s and 70s have lived through every "gimmick" Mass imaginable. As children they attended the "clown Mass" and the "folk Mass". They sang the songs from "Godspell" at Mass, along with more versions of "Kumbaya" and "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore" then they care to remember. Even today when they hear such overused Catholic music as "Here I am, Lord" (published in 1981) they realize it sounds remarkably like the 1969 theme from TV's The Brady Bunch, while 1982's "Gather Us In" resembles 1976's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". They remember the self-styled "cool" Priests who wore blue jeans instead of the usual black pants, the ones who let their hair and beards grow in an effort to look like Jesus, and even the few who got to wear sandals at Mass when parents made kids wear shoes and socks. The YF’s experiences with religious education were mostly benign. It may have taken an hour out of playtime, but it usually involved arts and crafts and music, and at least they didn’t have to sit with a book and memorize questions and answers like their parents and aunts and uncles (another thing we grew up hearing about as family gathered for holidays). The generation before us may not have understood as children what they memorized, but when they grew up the facts were there in their head to tap into like a safe deposit box; our generation left CCD with lots of pictures for the refrigerator door and ornaments for the Christmas tree, but not a whole lot in our heads. Just because it was done before doesn’t mean it was done well.
In the midst of all of that (and some would say "in spite of all that"), some of them found their vocation. In the best case, Young Fogeys had contact with a Priest who gave them the sense that being a Priest was not just a career choice ("Dear God, should I be a Priest or a CEO?"), but a call from God, something indescribable, and a little bit scary (something Pope John Paul captured in the title for his reflections after fifty years of priesthood: Gift and Mystery). These Priests, who told the truth when it was not so popular, who came to the hospital or the nursing home when called at 4am, and who showed by their demeanor that this was something bigger than themselves, inspired many to give their lives to God, and for that I pray God abundantly rewards them. They did what every Priest used to be charged to do: they "replaced" themselves in the next generation. In the worst case, YFs remember parish Priests who left the Priesthood and became therapists and counselors in the same towns in which they used to be assigned ("Dad, doesn’t his girlfriend look a lot like that nun that used to be assigned to our parish?"). They remember getting ready to serve Mass while overhearing Father X complain to a sacristy filled with Lectors, Cantors, and Eucharistic Ministers about how saying Mass or hearing confessions on his "day off" was driving him crazy, and about how, if he were to "quit this job" and get another one, he could be making a lot more money. I firmly believe that amongst all the questions that every Priest will face from Jesus Christ when it comes to whether we merit heaven, the one that could help us the most or hurt us the worst will be something like, "Did your example of priestly identity inspire others to follow you into the priesthood?" I think what has Fr. Greeley so upset is that his research shows him plenty of (to use his term) conservative young priests and a scarcity of any liberal young priests.
Herein lies what’s at the core of the resentment of "Young Fogeys". For all of the changes and gimmicks and watering down of the Faith that was done while we were kids, YFs didn’t buy into it. The crowd that resents us now faces their retirement realizing they have not replaced themselves with Priests "in their image and likeness", but rather with men who say, "Been there. Done that. Don’t want the T-shirt." (Religious sisters have fared even worse, but that’s another story). The faction of Catholic Priests who didn’t accept Humanae Vitae’s teaching on contraception and told couples to "use their consciences" actually ended up "contracepting" themselves out of existence, by not being open to new Priestly life and through their own lack of desire to promote priestly vocations and intentionally blocking the seeds of vocations from growing. Don’t you just love the irony? YFs were told as kids to "let their consciences be their guide", and now that their consciences have told them that what they were told as kids was wrong, they’re resented and despised by the gang that taught it to them! Some of today’s Young Fogey Priests learned "what to do" from the previous generation; other YFs saw some of the previous generation and determined that they would never become like that.
That, in a nutshell, is where I'm coming from. If you've found this blog and it provokes a response, keep coming back. If you came here by accident and want out, I respect that too.