YOUTH SPEAKS—Age Listens
By Timothy J Cullen
“Look, I have everything: the lavaliere, the medal, the rosary… everything!”
Recently returned from walking the Camino de Santiago with my son, his fiancée had even more recently returned from World Youth Day in Río de Janeiro. She is young—24—and filled with energy and enthusiasm. She and her likely-to-be-numerous progeny (she is the fifth of six children) will fill a pew at the parish church, just as her family did in the little rural Argentine village from which she comes. She is in many ways, curiously and delightfully old fashioned for a young woman of her age: doesn’t smoke; doesn’t drink; drug use unimaginable; doesn’t cuss; says grace; no tattoos: no piercings; has homemaker skills as well as a profession; has a house full of religious images and objects; teaches the local toddlers catechism… and she just knows that Pope Francis is the greatest thing since sliced bread: “just look at all the people who showed up, everybody loves him, he’s the way the pope should be AND HE’S OURS!!”
The young woman’s “ours” is a mélange of the young, those of mixed race or black, those from humble working-class homes… in short, the Catholic majority in Latin America and a growing presence elsewhere. The Latin Mass is not something of importance to them when indeed they know anything about it at all other than it’s “once upon a time” quality affectionately associated with doting elders who insist on playing recordings of Gregorian chant and the songs of Hildegarde von Bingen, those nice old people you don’t want to offend, because they mean well, the poor dears, they really do, but, well, just pretend Granolian chant and the von Bingo lady are just as easy to listen to as the songs sung at DMJ (that’s “World Youth Day” in Spanish initials). Even the old bishops in those funny outfits did a little dance, and it was waaaay cool when the pope put on the hat the indigenous people gave him and showed he was just a regular guy.
A “regular guy.”
I’m translating from Spanish, but that’s what I was hearing. My smile felt as brittle as the deeply-freezing ice on a pond lost in a dark wood. But how could I say or do anything to diminish such innocent and heartfelt enthusiasm? I was tongue-tied and simply nodded my head to signal comprehension. In any case, I have begun to feel that I am running out of things to say because I have had my say and now must give way on the podium to the young who clamor to make themselves heard.
I sat and gazed with awe upon the giant television screen my son has installed as hundreds and hundreds of professional-quality photos pass before me, the young photographer captioning every one aloud. By the end of the show, I feel as if I had been in vicarious attendance at World Youth Day, a good feeling, because it appeared they were all having a good time, just as I was by being far, far away from them, listening to my Googoolian chant recordings in a language no one understands anyway.
I wonder if I and others like me are understood by good and sincere young Catholics like the tender-hearted young woman who simply cannot understand why an illegitimate child cannot be baptized, why a suicide couldn’t be buried in consecrated ground, why everyone can’t be like Jesus who went around forgiving everyone all sorts of things, I mean, even killing Him, for God’s sake! I wonder if I and others like me understand what these people are saying to us. I believe it might be wise to make sure we do.
There were about four million of them there in Rio. Four million! Probably more at one World Youth Day Mass than have ever attended the Latin Mass in all of the churches and chapels in all of the world since the implementation of the Novus Ordo nearly forty five years ago. They are marching to the beat of a different drummer than those of us who cherish tradition; to them “tradition” is history, not a part of their lives. Our voices are growing fainter as time passes; perhaps our hearing will become more acute.
If there is a voice crying out in the desert...but there’s no one around to hear it…