Christ the King Cathedral was the location of the annual diocesan conference on vocations this past Saturday, August 4, 2012. The keynote speaker was the Very Reverend Denis Robinson, OSB who is the president-rector and assistant professor of systematic theology at St. Meinrad Seminary. He also taught one of my deacon formation classes about two years ago. If you ever get a chance to listen to him lecture, GO…you will not be disappointed! His sense of humor definitely can keep anyone’s attention.
The conference gave us a chance to learn and reflect on how can we best support vocations to the priesthood and religious life in our local church. Fr. Denis focused his discussion on the characteristics of those called to the priesthood and religious life in the 21st century. In other words, how do different people think and how does this relate to how they worship. He broke it down into four different generations: pre-Vatican II, Vatican II, post-Vatican II and Millennials. Each generation had a different “church experience” and processes things in a different way.
The pre-Vatican II group tends to have a lot of visual cues to their worship experience. During that time religious wore habits, the churches were full of stained glass windows, statues and high altars and the clergy had more education than the people sitting in the pews. The Vatican II group experienced a total opposite shift. The habits were tossed out along with the statues, artwork and such. This was done because people didn’t want to be told how to worship because their worship experience occurred mainly in their own mind. Much of the visual stuff that was removed was seen as a distraction. The post-Vatican II generation, unfortunately, had the joy of trying to combine both experiences. However, as Fr. Denis pointed out, what resulted was more of a division. Half the people wanted the visual “traditional” church while the other half wanted the more whitewashed “progressive” church. People during this time were also becoming much more educated on church and religion and often had more education than the pastor. Now enter the Millennials. This younger generation is made up of people who don’t want to be told what to do and how to think. If they don’t agree with something, they tend to leave and join a protestant church. However, the ones still remaining tend to be very passionate and lean towards the visual experience similar to the pre-Vatican group. They are highly educated, very energized about their faith and are the current seminarians of our diocese (your future priests).
Hopefully you’re still with me! Fr. Denis described these different generations or movements as a pendulum swinging. At one point the pendulum is on the far left then it swings to the far right. If you are standing on one side and refuse to budge, the other side seems very far away and scary. Blessed John Henry Newman said, “to live is to change and to grow perfect is to change daily.” We must all be willing to change to some degree. An evolving, changing church is one that is alive! Obviously there are some things that will not and should not change. But we will all get a better church experience when we realize that one group is not more right or wrong than another. They are just different experiences. So matter what side you are on when that pendulum is swinging, remember that the common place for all of us to meet is at the altar of Christ!