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  • Mgr Gerald Ewing


Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Gary Carter

In these turbulent times it is difficult not to encounter depictions of what media commentators call an ‘intergenerational conflict’. While current discussions on the environment are valuable, what has been concerning is the toxicity of public attacks from certain quarters. They attack ‘boomers’ whilst dismissing young people’s concerns as hysterical and illegitimate on any matter. For us as Catholics, this has to be troubling. Our calling must include the love of neighbour and living as one, united in His body. As society is getting progressively angrier, how can we bring the generations together in the love of Christ?

This is a question that Pope Francis has evidently pondered. In Christus Vivit (the Apostolic Exhortation to Young People), the Holy Father comments:

“The world has never benefited, nor will it ever benefit, from a rupture between generations. That is the siren song of a future without roots and origins. It is the lie that would have you believe that only what is new is good and beautiful. When intergenerational relationships exist, a collective memory is present in communities, as each generation takes up the teachings of its predecessors and in turn bequeaths a legacy to its successors. In this way, they provide frames of reference for firmly establishing a new society. As the old saying goes: “If the young had knowledge and the old strength, there would be nothing they could not accomplish”.’ (Christus Vivit,191).

How do we then address the ‘rupture’? Even without our current extraordinary circumstances, grumblings between generations seem part of everyday life, exemplified by attitudes such as ‘in my day’, ‘it isn’t your day anymore’ or ‘when it is my day?’ These attitudes ignore a fundamental truth: the ‘day’ is the Lord’s and we are all living in it. Pope Francis seems to agree when he refers to St Paul ordering children to ‘obey their parents’ as well as the order from parents not to ‘discourage’ their children so that they ‘do not lose heart’ (Colossians 3:20-21; Christus Vivit,15). These verses remind us that intergenerational strife is not new. For St Paul, all Christians are to love, for when we love we live in ‘perfect harmony’ (Colossians 3:14, Christus Vivit,13). As natural as it can be to fall into hostile attitudes, we must remember the love that we are all called to live out.

The life and ministry of Our Lord can prove helpful as we meditate on how to live this out. St Peter is often depicted as an older man, who brings with him the experiences of a fisherman’s life, while St John is depicted as much younger. This reminds us that the other disciples would have been of different ages with differing personalities. They would have enjoyed life together, but they would also have irritated each other on occasions. This is the group that Jesus wanted as his disciples. They weren’t selected for reasons of demographics but for their response to the person of Jesus himself. At the Transfiguration, St Peter and St John (as well as St James) are present with Jesus (Luke 9:28). The young and the old are both there and are equal in their astonishment at the person of Jesus. This must be what we live out as Catholics. For this to become a reality, we would do well to go back to the words of the Holy Father:

“There are times when all our youthful energy, dreams and enthusiasm can flag because we are tempted to dwell on ourselves and our problems, our hurt feelings and our grievances. Don’t let this happen to you! You will grow old before your time. Each age has its beauty, and the years of our youth need to be marked by shared ideals, hopes and dreams, great horizons that we can contemplate together.” (Chistus Vivit,166)

For us as adults, no matter our age, we must work to make sure that we are interiorly youthful and to encourage others to remain so. With the phrase ‘you will grow old before your time’, Pope Francis is not being negative about those who are physically old but those have fostered an interior agedness. We have all met elderly people who seem to be so much younger in spirit than their age (I am very grateful to have family members with this attitude). How has this happened? By cultivating the fruits of the Spirit to remain spiritually youthful whilst becoming experienced in years. This encouragement is not only for the old but for the young. We should support our young people to air their opinions and get involved for the good of all God’s people as they respond to the universal call to holiness. When their opinions are expressed, they may be more rough than refined, but they still provide insight and challenge. The insidious nature of this generational conflict is that some forces are working to take away the ‘infinite horizon’ of what the young can do and replace it with blame and grievances towards the old. This leads to a defensive reaction from older people and a spiral into division.

Praise God that whilst this seems to be very visible across our news websites and newspapers we can, without too much effort, think of examples close to home which prove ‘together, we can learn from one another, warm hearts, inspire minds with the light of the Gospel, and lend new strength to our hands’ (Christus Vivit,199). One only has to think of how all generations love and serve each other with joy - in places of pilgrimage such as Lourdes or in our parish communities - to know that this can actually be lived out. We see so many young people who seek the advice of the spiritually wise amongst the ‘assembly of the elders’ (cf. Sirach 3:34-46; John 10:10). How many of our elder brothers and sisters in the faith take great heart and joy from the enthusiasm of their younger peers? How wonderful it is when we see those who have lived the Catholic faith for many years hand it on, cultivating a love of the Mass, prayer and the Catholic way of living. When we can live out this witness, we truly can bring about the vision of Pope Francis, challenge division and heal our hurting society.

Together, we can learn from one another, warm hearts, inspire minds with the light of the Gospel, and lend new strength to our hands. (Christus Vivit,199).

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