Friday, July 16, 2010

The Greatest Generation

Many have said the greatest generation that ever lived was the one that fought WWII as young men. I know most of the people that have said this are part of that generation but that is another matter. They did accomplish a lot. The number of big leaps forward in technology and society was amazing in the 50's 60's and 70's.

They took the experience of serving in the army and saving the world from Hitler by working together and following orders. They became quite willing to continue to work as a part of a large team. Big corporations and government departments were not considered bad places for the best and brightest to spend their entire career. The Catholic church was attractive too. The number of men and women choosing religious life was very high. Being a cog in a machine that was doing something good was an attractive proposition.

Most of that generation were quite religious. As I mentioned, many even choose to become pastors or priests. But where was their faith? They turned to God in time of trouble during the war but did they really see God as their salvation? It was more human accomplishment that they saw as bailing them out. Even those that chose a career in the church were often attracted to the church as a great human institution rather than as the instrument of God.

The member of this generation were the parents of the baby boomers. The baby boomers hated "the establishment" in a large part because they saw a lack of joy in their fathers who were company men. The fathers had given their lives to building large organizations and had been left unfulfilled at the end of the day. Rather than assuming the problem was something missing the boomers to throw away what was there and add very little. So they ditched the work ethic. The ignored morals. They broke down structures.

Now it might make a generation seem great when the next generation is so bad but how much blame should the parents get? I think quite a bit. Sure there were new technologies that made a difference but nothing impresses a young person more than true holiness. The fact that so many wrote off religion so easily tells me that all those faithful church goers were missing something in their walk with God.

We have to always remember that the means of grace are not the goal. God's word and sacraments are there to change us. They give us the opportunity to become holy. We still need to cooperate with the grace and actually live holy lives. Church is a tool. Even avoiding mortal sins is a tool. The goal is to grow the fruits of the Spirit. That is what will impress God and man. No gardener shows off his tool shed. He shows off his garden. But we do that when we feel smug about how much scripture we know or how often we go to mass. In today's gospel Jesus wants us to contemplate "I desire mercy and not sacrifice". Sacrifice is a tool. Mercy is the fruit. 

People measure this generation by their sacrifice. They attended mass. They entered religious life. They said their prayers. Great things to do. But did they allow those tools to till their hearts and produce a crop of love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, and self control? If they did I don't think their children would have abandoned the faith they way they did.

It is a question for all of us who use these tools. Are they the end or the means? It is easy to get caught up just going through the motions. Are we really letting God change us the way He wants to?


  1. I have no doubt that those who fought and endured during war were a great generation, but they had greatness thrust upon them, and anyone is only as holy as their last confession (and only then if it is recent). The goodness is always God's and our own holiness will not reflect our parents, except to the extent that they prayed and pray for us and remind us of God's goodness. The biggest change I can see is from the privation that they faced (which makes apparent one's need for God) and the current negligence in praying for the dead (the number of Masses being offered by children for deceased family members has declined as their attendance at church has). So we're praying less for them, and isolating ourselves from the communion of saints. This represents a dereliction of duty (to be merciful) and it was a decision we made with our feet when we were old enough to choose. These choices are haunting our generation as those (we 40 to 60 year-olds) who decided that they didn't need to go to Mass every Sunday will have to look further and travel farther to attend Sunday Mass in our old age. This echoes for me the reading (in the book of Jeremiah--I think) about people looking everywhere for the word of God and not being able to find it. It was a description of a faithless generation (not because it had no roots, but because it abandoned it's roots). To say that our parents didn't sell it well enough is a copout. I think it's closer to the truth that we looked at what sacrifice was required (especially in terms of accepting all the children God sends) and found their choices unpalatable and we were given other ones (the pill).

  2. I don't think it is either/or. The baby boomers did reject the faith for many reasons. Some were their fault and some were not. But there is a modernist form of the faith that looks real but has the guts ripped out. It is faith as a form of self help. A crutch for the weak but not something competent humans will need. Certainly not something worth spending your life on. That kind of faith can say many nice things about Christianity but not be very compelling to the next generation.

  3. Well, we baby boomers didn't re-invent the wheel. The "modernist form of the faith" used to be called "heresy" and when faith had no guts, it was called "hypocrisy" and if it is about God (centred around Mass), than it is not "self-help." And none of us are relying on our own competence (efforts). That's why they call it the good news. As St. Paul said, "My only boast is Jesus, and Him crucified." And there you have it straight from the horse's mouth--you want compelling, your eyes must remain fixed on the cross. And if somebody is insisting on having a cross without that messy corpus, then expect a whitewash (it's been done). As a parent, in times of hardship, when I felt alone, there is only the cross. I tell my children. Look hard at it and see the truth--if love doesn't cost you absolutely everything you've got, you're probably not doing it right!"