Disastrous changes such as wars, unsound leaderships, and other fabricated or natural catastrophes have influenced social practices and religion of generations throughout time. It is these very things that have helped man align himself with a certain way of thinking for a particular time in history. This can be categorized as generational thinking. As more generations come into fruition and in contact with each other, some traits are attained and yet others are discarded. Each generation appears to develop with the consistency of their surroundings and time. This in turn, can cause generational gaps and possible thinking turmoil amongst various groups as they come into contact with each other. Specifically in religion!
As we look at the Catholic Church, is it safe to say that this institution is also frayed with generational thinking issues much like the rest of the world and that this has impacted its direction in one way or another. The church also struggles with the “old” way of thinking against a more modernistic population that is strongly set on making changes within the church. These wanted changes can be anything from allowing priests to marry to realigning the church’s stance on homosexuality and acceptance.
Each generation has different beliefs, patterns, and positions in the church which help determine how they view the world and the church around them. Example, pre-Vatican II Catholics were living in an age where Mass was spoken in Latin and a priest stood with his back to the people. During this time, most Catholics believed you had to attend Mass or you would go to hell because you were not being a good Christian. This promoted a very high attendance rate for churches. In addition and during the beginning of the century, the church consisted of Catholic immigrants from European countries who altogether had a different life experience than many Americans. This not only caused differences in generational beliefs, but also dissimilarity in cultural beliefs.
As Catholicism evolved in a more modern setting, people tired of just paying their tithe, following mandated prayers, and obeying whatever laws the church had set down. The priests were now faced with parishioners who were not as easily led. In the interim, Vatican II brought many changes. Mass service would now be held in English and no longer in Latin. The people would actually be able to understand the narrative delivered to them and this began to foster the idea that the people were now the people of God. This new generation had a different experience and this caused dissent amongst the ranks.
This common mindset, inspired by Pope John Paul II, revolutionized modern Catholicism and he gained the apparent idolization of the people. His fondness of the youth, along with his popularity, assembled historic numbers during youth rallies that he attended. In addition, because of the times, the sixties and seventies also brought forth a mental attitude which challenged authority and its way of thinking. This included the woman’s movement and the Vietnam War to name a few. These attitudes also caused much disillusionment amongst the ranks and congregation – things were now being questioned.
Along with the outlook for individualism and the civil rights movement, people began to be set apart from the community of God, and at the very least began to question some of the dogmas and disciplines set in place by the religious order. In addition, during this time, the Pope began imploring abstinence of sexual activity, going to Mass regularly along with regular confession, and he strived to get more persons to follow natural family planning. Regrettably, the youth of that generation were inclined to ignore the Pope’s instructions and rather began to question the overall structure and religious messages coming from the church. It was a mixture of messages coming from all spectrums that caused much attitude changes amongst the population.
The Catholics who were coming of age in the 21st century (known as Millennials), appeared to empathize with John Paul’s focuses on the poor, on the environment, and the overall common good. They were also the first digital generation having handheld communication devises and globalization which gave them a new perspective on a more modern life. Catholics were trying to decide on how to deal with issues of sexual behavior that were prevalent in the early 1970s. This included the acceptance of homosexuality in many circles. The next decade brought a new generation affected by 9/11 and the Iraq war. This in turn brought a whole new way of thinking not only from a political point of view, but also from a religious angle. In addition, this new generation dealt with the death of the Pope John Paul, sex abuse scandals within the church, and a new pope. The continual changes within the establishment couldn’t help but have some impact on religious institutions; specifically the Catholic Church and their doctrine.
Even back in 1988, Eugene Kennedy’s book “Tomorrow’s Catholics, Yesterday’s Church,” captured the differences between generational thinking of that time. The book splendidly captured the many similarities and differences between Culture I Catholicism and Culture II Catholicism focusing on generational thinking. Both cultures valued Catholic identity, the sacraments, and core Catholic beliefs; however, they were different in how the church was viewed, an individual’s commitment to the church, and how they viewed authority and control by the clergy. Culture I generation was more geared on obedience to authority; whereby, Culture II was more geared towards having the church meet their spiritual and social needs. It appears that generational thinking has always existed no matter the times, and will most probably continue until infinity.
So does generational thinking have an impact on the Catholic Church? How can it not? With the many thought processes coming into play throughout the world, it can only create a less harmonious environment due to the very nature of this beast. It is inevitable that these differences in opinion will have some kind of impact on the Catholic Church one way or another – either today or tomorrow. Which direction it goes no one really knows as only time will tell.