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The Joshua Generation -- An Urgent Call to 60-Something Catholics

Are you a 60-something Catholic? An urgent challenge beckons! Rarely, the specific time when people were born defines their ability to create change in a critical area of human endeavor. For a small cohort of Catholics, who were born around World War II and came of age during Vatican II, the time is now! The endeavor is Catholic catechesis. I call this cohort the "Joshua Generation."

Joshua, son of Nun, was born amid slavery and came of age during the Exodus. Joshua defeated Amalek while Moses prayed. (Exodus 17:8-13) He remained at Moses' side during the 40-year desert journey, then led the Israelites into the Promised Land. (Num. 27:19-23) (Jos. 1:1-3)

Today's "Joshua Generation" was born during a global crisis and grew amid historically unique circumstances. Flourishing Catholic schools of the 1950s provided challenging, Christ-centered education. We followed the Mass response, "And with your spirit" in Latin-English missals. The horrific atom bomb tugged at the leash of deterrence as the "Cold War" against communism took shape. Those not shepherded into moral rectitude by family or nuns were welded to the Ten Commandments by the threat of nuclear annihilation and eternal damnation. We grew up, certain that we wouldn't grow up! Vatican II convened in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Vatican II's first session climaxed in sacred pomp on December 4, 1962; the missile conflict eased into a chronically tense blockade. Life would go on!

Is the parallel taking shape? Consider the Joshua Generation's resume'. Teens challenged segregation through "freedom rides" and the 1963 March on Washington [and changed society forever]. Many fought to contain communism in Vietnam. We entered colleges, novitiates, and seminaries while Vatican II stretched through 1965. We devoured the momentous Constitution on the Liturgy and other documents, hot off the press, before contents were misinterpreted. Religious identity flourished in the fresh air of Vatican II. Open to the Holy Spirit, young Catholics initiated the charismatic movement and wrote songs that supported vernacular liturgical development. We became priests, parents, and educators. The permanent diaconate opened unprecedented opportunities for married men to minister. Schools of Theology offered innovative advanced degrees to Catholics interested in lay ecclesial ministry.

Tremendous dissent fermented during the maelstrom of clashing ideologies that mauled the meaning of Vatican II. Vocal dissenters of the 1960s through the 80s belonged to previous generations; some Joshua Generation members dissented by absconding. Religious congregations, revisiting their founders' charisma, broadened their ministry beyond parochial school systems; various individuals sought Christian life outside institutional affiliation.

The Joshua Generation's children entered a shifting milieu that valued freedom over discipline and preferred self-fulfillment to self-sacrifice. A society increasingly at ease with diversity also tolerated sin, expelling God from the classroom. Peer pressure favored sexual expression over virtue. The Mass was sometimes explained as a communal gathering rather than as the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary and sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ. Catechesis was reformatted to accentuate experience and feeling over sound doctrine and objective morality. Dogma was fragmented and glued to arts, crafts, balloons and butterflies. Parochial schools became expensive. Religion was studied an hour per week, 26 weeks per year. Children were cajoled rather than commanded to participate in Mass and classes. Documents of Vatican II, which directed us to return to the pristine Apostolic Tradition, were paradoxically misinterpreted as breaking from more recent traditions concretized by the Council of Trent (1545-1563). This dichotomy between continuity and contrast characterized the forty-year journey of the Church since Vatican II.

In the 1970s, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults was implemented. Its format followed patterns of feeling-oriented pedagogy similar to the children's programs. Consequently, adults becoming Catholic through RCIA received a highly emotive introduction to Catholicism, generally deficient in doctrinal content. Discouraging retention rates have resulted from exhilarating encounters that lacked permanent commitment.

The Joshua Generation's children's children have become immersed in the secular culture of self-indulgence, drugs and sexual expressiveness. Prayer is forbidden in schools; sinful lifestyles are treated as rights. Catholic schools educate a few, at a price. For most children, 26 hours per year of catechesis are taught by volunteers who possess limited knowledge of Catholic doctrine.

Meanwhile, forty soul-shaping years later, Joshua Generation members have become bishops, pastors, deacons, catechists, and loving grandparents. Time to retire? God has given us added years, health, a bit of wisdom, a unique perspective, and wonderful opportunities. Like Joshua, we must lead the church in fusing our apostolic roots with our future.

On the cusp of the third generation of post-Vatican II Catholics, we urgently need a robust catechetical renewal to prevent a widespread, long-term deficiency of basic formation in Catholic Faith and morals. Thanks to the very timing of our birth, God calls 60-something Catholics today! We must replace inadequate catechetical programs with methodologies that both conform to the teaching magisterium of the Church and inflame the heart. We should mentor young catechists. Grandparents, help parents hand on their faith. All can pray for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, consecrated life, and dedicated lay ministry.

The church will continue as Jesus promised. (Matt 16:18) However, it has alternatively thrived and struggled in the past. If we allow a third generation to grow up with inadequate formation, recovering a vibrant Catholic fervor will soon become extremely difficult. The future begs us Joshua Generation Catholics to hand on the Deposit of Faith we received from our predecessors. All too soon, we will become the predecessors.

©2010 Joyce Stolberg. Joyce Stolberg is the author of God Calls You by Name, published by Mother's House Publishing of Colorado Springs, CO.


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