Each generation attempts to fill the gaps in the generation that preceded it. In the pre- and Vatican II generations we have a situation where Catholics grew up in a religion. Everything was in place to enforce the rules and regulations that defined a good Catholic. There was an ideal to strive for. A bar to be reached. The line between good and bad behavior was clearly defined and publicly proclaimed. A good Catholic was one who toed the line. The gap in this approach was the lack of recognition that faith is a gift to be received, not a command to be obeyed. Faith elicits commitment, not subservience.
The post-Vatican II generations find themselves lost in place. Today's Catholic community is not stable. The values and practices it models are diverse and often contradictory. As a result, for many post-Vatican II Catholics there seems to be no firm ground to stand on. They are tired of an on-going search for faith which they believe is readily available in the formal teachings and traditional practices of the Catholic Church. Unlike their predecessors, they find value in rules and regulations and are drawn to more traditional practices and orthodoxy.
When we were born, where we were born and the experiences surrounding our growing up not only shape our identity but also influence our theological vision and tactics. They are our generational "mini-narratives" that always travel with us. As a result, we, as catechetical leaders, have a professional responsibility to reflect critically on our generational tendencies and biases and to be aware of how they impact our theological vision and pastoral practice. God placed us all in the exact moment in time where he wanted us to be; now it is up to each of us to be aware of the crucial key of generational differences in our interactions with each other and in our formal efforts to share effectively the light of faith.
For Further Reading The Next America
I recommend Paul Taylor's The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and Looming Generational Showdown (New York: Public Affairs, 2014). It is well-written and provides an insightful picture of the generational shifts in America that are redefining who we are and where we may be headed. Paul Taylor is the executive vice-president of the Pew Research Center and a former reporter for the Washington Post.
Dr. Tom Walters is emeritus professor of Religious Education at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. His research interests have centered on parish and diocesan catechetical leaders in the United States: who they are, what they do and their effectiveness.
He has served as president of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL), Midwest Association of Theological Schools (MATS), and Association of Graduate Programs in Ministry (AGPIM), and a member of the board for the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education (APPRE).
His most recent book is A Crucial Key (National Catholic Educational Association, 2009), a study of generational differences among current and future catechetical leaders, which he co-authored with his wife, Rita. Tom and Rita are the recipients of the NCEA's 2012 C. Albert Koob Award for outstanding contribution to Catholic education.