As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lighten Up on the Grey Hair

If there's one thing I can't hear people say, it's this: "When I look around at Mass, all I see is grey hair."  Because I will tell you something.  The little parish that I live in has the strongest and most faithful community I have ever experienced.  They are the kind of people who know the name of every person in that parish, who rejoice in new members and go out of their way to introduce themselves to new people.  Who stop by your house and bring pie when you've just moved in.  Who host after every single Mass a coffee and sweets social in the lobby by donation, and who consistently have regular, well-attended social events and fundraisers outside of Sunday Mass.  And guess what?  More than the majority have grey hair.

People say it as a way of lamenting the lack of young people in a parish, and typically in a negative way. But here's another tidbit about my parish - while a good half have grey hair, the other half is made up of families and young adults, because these people make us welcome.  I think quite often we can be so condescending to our elders, when in reality they embody many of the traits that are lacking in younger generations.  They are faithful, they are there week after week, even though it's not easy or comfortable, because they've made a commitment.  Can we say the same of our peers?  No.

In younger circles we tend to think the church needs to cater to us.  "I don't go because it's boring, I don't like the music, there aren't enough young people, the time doesn't work for me, etc. etc. etc."  We feel bad as a church because we don't have the crowds the Protestant churches do.  We think if we come up with great programs that young people will come back in droves but you know what?  I'm not convinced.  I've seen it happen a number of times in our diocese - great programs where people donate time and money to produce these really great events that are youth-oriented and committed and focused, and guess what?  The attendance is never there.  We come up with a million excuses as to why, but for me I think it boils down to one thing - faith.

I had my conversion within the Charismatic Renewal, which is an ecclesial movement recognized by the Church that has the particular charism of manifesting gifts of the spirit, and looks quite similar to Pentecostal worship. It is lively and expressive, and just completely resonates with me.  For a long time I associated my conversion with that movement, and thought "gee, wouldn't it be nice if Catholic churches everywhere worshipped like this?"  I thought our Churches were dead, and that our little prayer group was the only place where the Spirit was alive and moving, and why couldn't everyone just follow our lead.  Then a LifeTeen parish was formed, and I thought it was just the best thing to happen to our diocese in my lifetime.

There was a band that did music and the worship was contemporary and lively, and there were skits following Communion to encourage youth to come to the LifeNight after Mass.  I thought this was the only parish that had things together, and rejoiced that I finally had a vibrant parish that wasn't a sea of grey hair.  We had my daughter baptised there, and I'll never forget my father - a fifty-something cradle Catholic, saying to me after Mass, "I will never attend a Mass like that again."  He did it for me, because we were baptizing our baby there and he would never miss that, but he was so uncomfortable the whole time.  It didn't resemble anything he had grown up believing, and at the time I just thought that he wasn't tuned in, that he didn't have the Spirit the same way that I did.  It wasn't until many years later that I realized how isolating it can be to try and cater Mass to a certain group or spirituality.

Since those days I've had a family, settled down, and my faith has experienced a drastic re-orientation.  I find myself drawn more to the tradition, and in fact my favorite parish to attend in my city is the one with the most traditional liturgy and organ music.  People tease me about this all the time as if I am the exception, or that I'm somehow more of a prude for loving tradition and that my kids won't relate but you know what?  They are much more tuned into the Mass in that environment than the years of attending LifeTeen. At LifeTeen things were so loud and energized that I had a hard time getting my young children to do anything but bounce off the pews the entire time, including during the Consecration and Communion.  "Let them be kids," people will say, but I never accepted that.  Partly because there is the assumption that kids are incapable of taking part in something truly reverant, and I knew that wasn't true.  I have always felt that the best way to let my kids be kids was to involved them in every aspect of the Mass, including the most sacred and solemn parts.  I feel like if they are running around and being crazy, or playing with toys or summersaulting in the aisle, then they miss it.  Jesus said, "Let the children come to Me", and I know that's true.  But for me, bringing my children to Jesus means introducing them to Him, showing Him to them, and giving them a fighting chance to actually notice Him.  And so, we find that the more solemn and traditional the environment, the more quiet and reverant our children are, which gives them an opportunity to notice the Lord because they aren't being distracted by a million other things.

In particular what I most love is traditional music and Latin, and people will always say, "Yawn, boring!" And yet, I read this article this morning which talked about a parish in Chicago facing the same challenge.  Where are the youth?  All I see is a sea of grey hair.  Then one struggling parish did something crazy - they started celebrating the Mass in Latin.  And guess what?  It filled up again.  Not only with old people, but with young people in droves.  And I couldn't help but think of all of this in the context of what we're living here in Saint John, the youth programs that come and go and just don't work, how we lament our grey-haired parishes when I realized that what we really are lacking is a true expression of faith.  You see the more I think about it, the more I realize that it wasn't music and skits and praying in tongues that drew me in - it was people who loved the Lord, and were living their faith authentically.  They weren't marketing to me, or trying to figure out how to get young people into churches, they were just loving the Lord.  Our Protestant brothers and sisters that we look to so often and say, "why are their churches full?"  They're doing that - they're loving the Lord.  That's what we're drawn to, not their programs.  But for them, it's an authentic expression of their faith - that's why it works.  When we loose our Catholic faith in an attempt to modernize ourselves, we lose ourselves - because for us, it is not authentic.  It is a reproduction of something that someone else is doing, and a turning of our back on the richness that is the Catholic Mass.  It's why a Latin parish will draw more young people, not simply because of the language, but because it is a true expression of Catholic faith.  It is not a gimmick or a marketing campaign - it is real.  And that's what we need more of.

"Some might say this Mass movement is reactionary. But millennials are unfamiliar with 1960s church politics -- they weren't even born yet. The "spirit of Vatican II" means nothing to them. They're offended by their church's attempts to look cool. Church is cool, they say, when it is true.", this article says.  Let's stop degrading the grey-haired people in our parish who are the only embodiment of true commitment and faith that we have, let's stop trying to cater to young people and change things so that they will think we're cool and want to come back.  Instead, let us start trying to live something true ourselves.


  1. Wonderful post! I love the tradition too! And I like to go to churches and see the older generations there. I feel their prayers may carry the younger generations into the faith.

  2. WOW! This is so great and so true. I've looked forward to this post after our numerous conversations on the topic.