Sunday, October 15, 2006

Confessions of a Young Fogey

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.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Father Jay - If what you describe as being a "YF" is even 1/100 true, I'M IN!! Thank you for your obvious hard work in preparing your entries. I look forward to tomorrow's thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Father Jay--Well I got here all an my own by clicking on the "blog" thing in the e-mail you sent me. I can't wait to tell my 2 sisters about this site. They'll think it's a foreshadowing of heaven. . There are more people who will support you than I think you think. GO Holy Spirit!!!MM

Christiano said...

That seems to be a pretty good diagnosis of my condition (apart from being a priest...). Excellent stuff, Father. Thank you!

Laura said...

You keep right on fighting the good fight, Fr. Jay.

The Church (and that means ME) NEEDS YOUR VOICE! While you can't do anything other than pray for those "anonymous" souls who will try to shout you down to shut you up, rest assured that there's a growing number of us out here in the pews who echo your sentiments with a hearty 'Amen!"

Keep on listening to the correct voice. He's led you this far and He won't abandon you now! I can't wait to read what you write next! --Laura

Anonymous said...

Jay, great to read your "confessions". It's true. All we got from CCD was: God is love. Now, let's make a collage. I'm glad to be labled a YF. Keep up the good work! I have to go to the hospital now to visit a parishoner.

Fr. Antoninus said...

Father Jay

I think that the term Young Fogey goes back much further than Greeley's article. I remember in the mid-80's at university here in Australia being called the very same by a like minded priest. I'm on the cusp of 40, so I am not sure if I can still use the moniker. Best wishes for the blog.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Fr. Erik Richtsteig said...

Welcome to blogdom!

SomeGuyMouthingOff said...

Welcome Father Jay! Great to read what you've blogged thus far. Very thoughtful! Blog on! Semper Fi!

Guy Power said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I've been proudly calling myself a "young fogey" for years now! I love your blog title!

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Jay,

Thanks for beginning this blog. I'm not a priest, but I feel like a YF. I pray that I may eventually find a parish with priests like yourself. I'm already subscribed and shall find every post on your blog.

God bless.

The young fogey said...

I've been 'the YF' online for about three years. Good to have another here, Father.

Rob said...

God bless you, father.

And you should change your settings and not allow anonymous comments. Only worthless people use that avenue to make worthless comments.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

May God continue to bless your work! Things are turning for the better.

Mr. Bayardo said...

Father, that was "Right On." Being raised in such an orthodox family, I can't help but to say Holy Ghost. I was a 'bad' former seminarian in the late 70's and early 80's. I was toooo Orthodox for them. I was supposed to be sory for ejoying the hymn, "Holy god We Praise Thy Name?" signed the 'Bad (former) Seminarian'

Diva Mom Vicki said...

Amen, Father! Fantastic blog.

There needs to be a similar term for those of us Catholic women in our 20's and 30's who are embracing our vocation of Wife and Mother (stay-at-home Mom specifically) in spite of having been raised by feminists.

Magisterium Mama's?

Neuropoet said...

Young fogeys and Magisterium Mamas - I like it. :) It's these Mamas that are raising the next generation of young fogeys too. :) Thew new springtime of the church that JP the Great talked about is officially on its way in...

I wonder, will it come in like a Lion or a Lamb?

~Jenny

Sandy, csj said...

I really like your writing style and your explanation of YFs.

I was wondering if the deleted comments were by folks who were being rude, or if you delete comments by anyone who doesn't agree with you. I haven't yet read much of your blog, but from this page, it looks as if all your visitors agree with you. Is that really so?

Fr. Jay Toborowsky said...

Sandy,

YOU DARE QUESTION ME??? I'M DELETING YOUR COMMENT! hahaha. Seriously, disagreeing with me won't get you deleted here. Two things I tend to delete: 1) A comment that comments on another comment; and 2) Someone who is downright rude or uncharitable.

Jeff Pinyan (japhy) said...

Hi, Fr. Jay. I hear you on WFJS, and I finally figured out how to properly spell "fogeys", so I found your blog today.

It's nice to know there are priests in New Jersey who are not afraid to be faithful to the Church and to stand up for the true Vatican II, the one which declared abortion to be an "abominable crime" and affirmed that the Roman Pontiff is the supreme and universal pastor on earth of the Lord's one Church, the Catholic Church.

Deo gratias!

Elizabeth said...

Hello Father Jay,
I just found your blog and will be "following" you...in a GOOD way!
I am 45 now and thankfully had a First grade Nun, who really TAUGHT us...it seems to have helped me to eventually separate the gold from the sludge...and that after 8 years of Catholic school.
Sadly, I started reading Andrew Greely's stuff when I was in High school, and admired him for many years...Thank the Good LORD that I came to my senses. I had a tough time deciding what to do with the books of his that I owned...I didn't want to sell or donate them and have someone else's soul on my conscience. I putr them in the basement and prayed about it. About six months later our house was flooded...problem solved! It all went out with the rest of the sluge from the basement :)
God IS good!

Arthur said...

I am one of the fortunate individuals who received my core religous education from my parents and the good Sisters who taught us using the Baltimore Catechism. By the time I completed High School, post Vatican II, my religious education at my Catholic High School had taken a 180 degree turn. We had Mass in the school library sitting around a table, instead of in the Chapel, sang "Kumbaya" and "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore" and our Marist Brothers threw off their black cassock and white collar for a sport jacket and tie. My senior year religion final was to write a paper, wherein I had to pretend I was a writer for Playboy Magazine and I was interviewing Jesus Christ and asking for his thoughts and opinion on pre-marital sex. When I told my mother what the assignment was she replied: "You are going to Hell!" I laugh about it now, but Mom was serious at the time. Mom's only consolation was that I was graduating and wouldn't be exposed to that kind of drivel much longer. Little did she know it was just the beginning of 30 years of such drivel.

Fr. Jay,it is so good to find priests, such as yourself, who take me back to the days when I was an altar boy who loved the solemnity of the Mass, loved watching the reverance of the priest as he vested for Mass and loved the beautiful traditional hymns that I now listen to on CDs purchased from religious communities. I pray that the resurgance of Young Fogeys, like yourself, continues, and we will see the church pews filling up once again!

TaraS said...

Yes! I am a late-blooming Young Fogey! :-) This describes my experience exactly...except add in an entire youth of confused wandering before my conscience finally led me here.