T IS HUMAN NATURE to rebel, especially at certain times of one’s life including adolescence in which fighting authority is instinctive. The 1953 Marlon Brando classic, “The Wild One” comes to mind in which someone asks, “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” Johnny (Brando) immediately replies, “Whadda ya got?” Sometimes this happens in the Church as well!
Aside from physiological reasons, youth and young adults are trying to create an identity for themselves and demonstrate independence. This is not a bad instinct at all. In fact, it can be quite good. For example, artists often need to push boundaries to discover their identity and establish a unique voice. This sort of rebellion or pushing of boundaries can create extraordinary art, oftentimes forcing others to think in ways outside of one’s comfort zone. These are good things that foster growth.
But what I speak of is of the individual. In corporate prayer, this becomes tricky and problematic, as the focus is not on us, but on God. It fosters unity with each other. The self—the ego—is subdued, which is an act of humility, something most necessary when praying as a community. Yet, this is often seen as stifling self-expression or creativity. Of course this is missing the point entirely (something I have learned only slowly over the years).
O, IN THE LAST FIFTY YEARS SINCE Vatican II’s first document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, we know what followed was a period of great misunderstanding of this text. Enormous experimentation ensued to say the least. Coupled with great societal change, to rebel against “The Man” – or in this case – “The Church” or “The Liturgy,” became a knee jerk reaction. Perhaps the Church was experiencing a new period of adolescence, painful and perhaps necessary. Only now, fifty years since, has the Church begun to understand its awkward struggles and hopefully mature in its worship. In the meantime, the result was more than a generation of lost tradition.
Here is a truth of human nature: When we can’t have something we want it. When something is forced upon us, we often reject it. Forcing traditions upon others is no way to pass them on. Take them away, and we’ll demand to have them back. In part, it is the latter that seems to have transpired more recently. It is the latter that in part drives the movement towards more reverent liturgy and restoration of our sacred treasury of music. In short, the rejection and denial of our traditions to more than one generation has greatly fueled the Reform of the Reform.
ODAY, I AM PRIVILEGED to correspond and converse with many young people and seminarians who are embracing our traditions. To seek out tradition when I was their age was unheard of! Is it possible that since they were often deprived of them that they are rebelling against the older generation, and in doing so, forging their own identity? This may in fact play a part, but I think there is more to it than that. These are young people who truly hunger to understand our faith and its foundations. Time will tell if it has taken root.
Therefore, how we pass on our traditions matters. Forcibly so is a recipe for rejection and failure. It is only our love that can evangelize, especially to our children. It is this love for the mass that will in time be instilled within them. This is our responsibility so that they are not empty and meaningless words and gestures.
As such, our traditions must not be left as relics of the past—monuments to antiquity. Tradition lives and breathes within us today. In doing so, it informs us of who we are. Fascinatingly, tradition helps each of us find our unique voice.
So at times, our children may rebel, make mistakes and forge their own identity. They need to find their own voice. When they do, their faith will take root even deeper, because it will be their own.