We moan about the lack of vocations, and as I mentioned last time I wrote, why would we expect children to choose religious vocations when there are no children, and the few whom have managed to beget are convinced, conspicuous consumers who think that God is Santa Claus and every day should be Christmas? (By this I mean the children’s feast of getting, not the Catholic feast of giving.) We are increasingly a society of old people, except in the case of my generation. We are, as the poet wrote, “forever young.” We are old people who still wear pony tails and backward baseball caps. When I was a lad, the film “Easy Rider” was very popular. It is about the deep spirituality of a motorcycle riding drug dealer.
Everybody who wasn’t able to play the acoustic guitar in coffee houses seemed to be avid motorcyclists. I never know whether to laugh or cry when I see someone about my age riding a motorcycle who has squeezed his 300 pounds into yesterday’s leather clothing, bandana or leather cap crowning the whole ensemble. In my generation, one did not have a “girlfriend.” She was your “old lady.” And she rode behind you on your “hog” (motorcycle). Now there she is still clinging to your love handles, a look of terror on her sun wrinkled face. She is now quite literally “your old lady.” Quite a sight, these 70-year-old young rebels, these knights of the open road who haven’t a clue that they are older than dirt and prone to hip fractures.
That’s pretty much my generation, born to be wild. Imagine the wrecks that our children are! My point is this: My generation thought that we were the pinnacle of human evolution, we, the Age of Aquarius, the generation that by its frank honesty and good will would end the oppression of the past! Free love, free drugs, free booze and, now, early liver failure. How has that all worked out, fellow baby boomer? We take to the open road with the wind blowing through what’s left of our hair, the bugs splattering our dentures. As we ride off into the sunset to visit our 1.8 grandchildren, does it ever occur to us that maybe we were wrong.
If you think the whole revolution of the sixties was a fine thing, maybe you should look at the kids, or the lack of them. Our 1.8 grandchildren have their faces glued to a screen. They seem frightened by everything, especially by their hippy grandparents. They are not capable of communicating except by text. Maybe we should admit the truth, sell the bike and find a nice nursing home with rockers on the front porch (By rockers I mean a kind of chair, not musicians). Our one-point-eight grandchildren are going to resent the whopping tax burden that we will impose on them to pay for the long-term health care that will be need when we fall off our motorcycles. There are fewer and fewer providing more and more. We old folks don’t want to give up our way of life. We’ve worked hard for this glorious retirement. Someone has got to pay for our Viagra! We are the ME generation, parents of the ME generation, grandparents of the ME and my portable TV generation. We are narcissists who have spawned two more generations of narcissists. We are consumers. We consume high end products, smart phones, computers, big cars mini mansions, luxury vacations, tickets to the big game, preferably sky box. If we don’t have all the stuff we see on TV we feel cheated. We have been raised to believe that stuff is our right! You are what you own!
We’ve had 1.8 children, because the average cost of raising a child born in 2013 up until age 18 in the U.S. is about $245,340, or $304,480 if you account for inflation, according to the latest annual “Cost of Raising a Child” report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We have no children out a great sense of nobility. It wouldn’t be fair to raise children on hand me downs. It would cost millions to have ten kids. We couldn’t give each of them his or her own bedroom in our suburban mini mansion, each with his own computer, I-Pad and designer dreck. If the meaning of life is smart phones, computers, big cars, mini mansions, luxury vacations and tickets to the big game, preferably sky box, why bring them into this world anyway?
Who is to blame for this mess? I am. I, the young hippy priest, I who believed what I was taught in the glorious 60’s, I am to blame. I was happy to encourage penitents in the confessional, “Oh, don’t worry, that’s not really a sin.” I had to be “self- actualized” according to Dr. Abraham Maslow. Dr. Maslow invented a hierarchy of human needs that had to be fulfilled before self-actualization could occur. Once all my needs had been fulfilled, I could be fully human. It sounds a little like the emperor Nero who said upon seeing the palace he had built for himself in the middle of Rome “Now at last I can begin to live like a human being.” The great Dr. Carl Rogers told us to strive for Optimal Development. That meant I had to have a growing openness to experience and to move away from defensiveness. (I am not making this up).
We were required to spend some time in what was called C.P.E., Clinical Pastoral Experience. We were farmed out to various hospital, and charitable institutions to spend a semester or so in a kind of apprenticeship directed by a kind of mentor. They were not necessarily Catholic, or even Christian. My mentor was a liberal Methodist pastor who advised me in my final evaluation to move in with some young woman in Sandburg Village, a very trendy apartment complex in the area. I found out later that this advice was given to most of the young Catholic seminarians. Pastor **** believed deeply in marriage, he himself had married several times. Another young seminarian in our group was told by Pastor **** that he would make a fine priest if he could (insert indecent activity here).
Maybe I should not be talking about these things, but I’m old and tired someone has got to tell the truth about these things at some point. This man, Pastor **** had the right to weigh in on my fitness for priestly ordination. He had the sexual morals of a ferret, but was fit to judge me and my Catholic Faith. I personally never studied canon law or St. Thomas Aquinas, but I did study Dr. Abraham Maslow, Dr. Carl Rogers, Saul Alinsky, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. In short I learned that it was all about me and my needs.
The Gospel was just one way to self-actualize, to develop optimally. And of course, I dished out this hogwash to the faithful. They, like I, were happy to substitute pop-psychology and folk music for the timeless morality and liturgical beauty of Catholicism. And so, who has time or money enough to be self-actualized with 10 kids? Better have 1.8 so I can afford that consciousness raising seminar at the Christian Yoga ashram at Big Sur. (Big Sur is a rather pricey bit of the Central Coast of California. It combines vast wildernesses and breathtaking views for those who want to get back to nature along with Starbucks availability, and Wi-Fi access.) I am not making this up either. Back in ’69 much of seminary faculty went on a retreat at Big Sur. I remember when Fr. Borisewicz, the math teacher, came back sporting love beads. I should have realized then that the train had jumped the track.
My point in all this whining? We are about to run out of the people whose generosity has filled the seminaries, the convents and the collection baskets of the Catholic Church for as long as anyone can remember. They are in their 80’s and nineties. Following them are the narcissists like myself and the narcissists we have raised in the past 40 years. I have this overwhelming sense that the visible structure of Catholicism in the developed consumerist world is about to pop like an overextended soap bubble.
Next week: a few suggestions