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Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Don’t tar all Baby Boomers with the same jaundiced brush

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Catholic baby boomers - The Catholic weekly
Parishioners celebrating Mass.

I’ve had lovely emails from three readers this week. The first one was a retired engineer who told me that he was 92 years old and liked my arithmetic.  

The second reader told me how pleased he was to see liturgical reform happening in his parish. He’d had a long hard run of it with groups of people in the parish who were of the felt-banner persuasion.  

As my correspondent knows, the felt-banner crowd have mostly run our suburban parishes since the 1980s. But there are signs at the grassroots level that the tide is turning.   

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This second reader is lucky enough to live in a parish where the church building has been restored to its former glory. He also loves seeing parish priests around “who identify publicly with their faith.” 

This reminded me of something I’d forgotten. Back in 2022, Francis Ridley of Emu Plains wrote to The Catholic Weekly letters page, taking me to task for tarring all Baby Boomers with the same jaundiced brush.  

I’m robustly Gen X. We often use the term “Boomer” as shorthand for the generation immediately before us, and it’s not always flattering. 

I wish Francis had emailed me directly as well, because I could have responded straight away. But I’ll do so now (sorry it’s so late), because his letter raised some good points.  

If you’re a younger massgoing Catholic, it’s easy to get mad at the Catholic Boomers and to feel let down by them. You may well see them as the architects and enablers of the current problems in the church.  

This mirrors a bigger spat we’re having in Australia where they’re blamed for the current housing shortages, the pension burden, and for having taken advantage of the good times to enrich themselves.  

Catholic baby boomers - The Catholic weekly
Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

The reason we’re having this spat right now is that at least some of this is true. The Boomer generation—especially the ones who still describe themselves as the “children of Vatican II”—was the architect of much of the mess we see in the church today.  

They spent the 1970s and 1980s changing the liturgy to suit themselves and settling into comfortable jobs as professional Catholics. These are the people whose liberal ideas, anodyne hymns, and clay chalices have made younger Catholics cringe for years.  

And they’ve been very persistent. The “reformers” of the recent Plenary Council were overwhelmingly Boomers, now retired but with active minds and a strong desire to continue trying to re-make the church in their own image.  

Baby Boomers are probably still running your music ministries, parish councils, church agencies, and local Catholic charities. But not quite to the same degree as they once were. 

Younger Catholics should remind themselves that the Boomers will be largely gone by 2050, leaving Gen X and Millennials responsible for the church’s future (and the recipients of the next generation’s criticisms, no doubt).  

You young whippersnappers should be taking stock of what’s going to be left behind in the church for you to inherit. This is where you can do your best work so that the (much smaller) future church can survive and thrive.  

Remember too that many Boomers at Mass on Sundays are the good guys. They’ve stuck around because they really believe.  

They’ve often felt isolated, helpless, and alone as their fellows forced their pet changes on everyone else. I’m not saying all the changes were bad; some of them were needed, but it was rough on everyone.  

They’ve run newsletters, magazines, prayer groups, and all sorts of other networks to support like-minded faithful Catholics during the very dark years when there was no internet to help them.  

They’ve borne the brunt of years of being treated as nuisances and troublemakers and are often badly shell-shocked from decades of fighting an undeclared guerrilla war in their own church.  

They want to see you reclaim the future church and thrive in it. So don’t tar them all with the same brush. This was Francis Ridley’s point in his original letter, and it’s mine as well.  

So who sent my third reader email last week? That was the best surprise of all. An Anglican rector found last week’s article “a powerful call to all the baptised to step up to their part in the work of evangelisation.”  

He wants to preach on it and to discuss it at his local deanery. I told him to go ahead. You just never know where The Catholic Weekly is going to end up! 

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