Is an American Catholic renaissance possible in our lifetime?
One sign of hope is the Under-35 Priest.
We tend to think about the shortage of priests in numeric terms. And we take hope when the latest reports show that there are more men studying for the priesthood now than a decade or two ago. But what fascinates me more is the quality of the men studying for the priesthood now and of priests in general under the age of 35.
One of the most striking features of these young priests is their orthodoxy, especially when you contrast their theological views with the set of priests who graduated seminary in the 1970s. Just as we talk about the shared characteristics among generations of Americans [i.e. the baby boomers, the “greatest generation” etc.] we can talk about shared characteristics among generations of priests. So many of the men who became priests in the 1970′s sought to change the world through the Church. Men under 35 become priests to serve the church.
Here’s a dynamic I’ve seen in parish after parish. The liberal monsignor is the pastor. He is in his 60s. His homilies and pastoral priorities are cryogenically frozen and preserved from the 1970′s. He never preaches against sin. The assistant priest [i.e. parochial vicar] is probably in his 30s, maybe late 20s. This under-35 priest loves St. John Paul II. He loves Latin in the Mass. He may have fallen away from the church in college, but he had a powerful conversion. He talks about sin and the beauty of confession in his homilies. He quietly tries to introduce Eucharistic adoration.
Does this sound like a parish you know of, maybe even your own?
It’s happening all across America. And it’s going to change the face of the church in this country.
Over the past decade I have met hundreds of seminarians and young priests. I can only recall a handful who didn’t fit the pattern I’m trying to describe.
I think it’s impossible not to trace this quiet revolution to St. John Paul II, and in particular the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver. So many young priests trace part of their vocational discernment either to St. John Paul II or a World Youth Day [Denver in particular]. This positive trend also appears to be more pronounced in America than in other parts of the world.
I think it’s also particularly revealing to note which bishops and religious orders are attracting the most vocations — orthodox ones. That’s why the Dominicans on the east coast are flourishing while the Paulist Fathers are having a harder time. Or why Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz can have over two dozen men in formation in a diocese that numbers less than 100,000 and another diocese did not ordain a single priest in ten years because the bishop refused to ordain another man until he could also ordain women.
The under-35 priest is not running the show right now. He is waiting in the wings, serving the church he loves. The vast majority of these young priests will not be old enough to be appointed bishops for another decade or two. But when they do, one of the pillars of an American Catholic renaissance will be in place.
The article comes from a Catholic Vote article by Thomas Peters.