Are Catholic youth now no more than rag and bone men picking over the scrap heap of their family history? If so, Benedict XVI wants to help them meet their ancestors, writes Tracey Rowland.
SOME people have described World Youth Day events as Woodstock for Catholics, and to some degree this is true.
There is usually a lot of sleeping on the ground and getting rained on while listening to music, making friends and even falling in love.
What will Pope Benedict XVI, successor of St Peter, the “vicar of Christ” and the head of the Vatican state, make of this? It is well known that when it comes to liturgy, he has no time for happy-clappy Masses.
He teaches that dumbing down the liturgy so that people can better relate to it is a form of apostasy, analogous to the Hebrews’ worship of the golden calf. For Pope Benedict, the liturgy is about the worship of God, not self-worship or the worship of the parish or school community.
While he has nothing against building up the emotional bonds between members of a parish, he recommends that this be done at barbecues, picnics or nights at the pub, not in the middle of Mass.
In his pre-papal works, Benedict wrote that rock music had no place in a liturgical context, that rock concerts were pseudo-liturgies that lifted people out of themselves but gave them a counterfeit mystical experience that didn’t link them to God.
In scholarly essays he compares contemporary rock music to the music of the Dionysiac cults in ancient Greece, as does the English philosopher Roger Scruton, who is not a Catholic, but shares the Pope’s concerns about this musical form.
Scruton argues that rock music arrests people in a state of adolescent psychological immaturity.
Some Christians, particularly evangelical Protestants, take the view that there is nothing wrong with rock music per se, just that the lyrics can be a bit crude.
This has given rise to Christian rock bands that substitute biblical lyrics for explicit sexual references. Benedict and Scruton argue that there is something wrong with the form of the music itself, quite apart from the lyrics.
Critics of Benedict say he is a middle-class Bavarian snob who plays the piano, was raised on a diet of Beethoven and Mozart and needs to broaden his cultural horizons.
Whatever one makes of the criticism, it is true that Benedict has had a very strong classical education with an emphasis on languages, history, literature and music and has been immersed in the world of European high culture and the great European universities.
In our postmodern times, members of generation Y tend to be open to an expansion of their own cultural horizons and find Catholic high culture fascinating.
They are like children in an attic, rummaging through old boxes and finding treasures.
Benedict is like a venerable grandfather who recounts the milestones in the family history and talks about things other people are too scared to mention.
“The spiritual highs come not from drugs but from meeting people who are brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the world.”
In his homilies he presents youth with the historical and cultural capital they need to make sense of their place in history, including their place in the history of the Church.
He helps to meet their need to establish their own identity. It’s impossible for them to do this if they live in a twilight zone cut free from historical moorings.
However, if Benedict is right that rock festivals are a symptom of a universal human need for an experience of self-transcendence, then the Catholic Church needs to rediscover its own ways of meeting this need.
Benedict’s prescription is a combination of rigorous catechesis, which presents the Christian vision in its synthetic totality, with elevated liturgy, and of course, plenty of opportunities to meet other young Catholics and realise that one isn’t the last surviving practising member of the Church on the planet. World Youth Day engenders a sense of belonging to something greater than oneself, of being a member of a vast universal family that transcends all national boundaries.
The spiritual highs come not from drugs but from meeting people who are brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the world.
Email addresses are exchanged, along with pilgrim memorabilia.
There is Christ’s saying that unless we become like little children we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
In other words, you don’t get in if you are sitting around like Eeyore on a bad day, bored with life and feeling sorry for yourself.
While rock music might be off the agenda, at least at the official events with Benedict, there is nonetheless some common ground to be found with the spiritually lost generation of Woodstock.
While Benedict would not agree that one can find the answers blowing in the wind, he would probably empathise with the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s Forever Young: May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true, may you always know the truth, and see the light surrounding you, may you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong, and may you stay forever young.
Perhaps one of the unpredictable consequences of WYD/SYD is that for a week at least we might all remember how it felt to be young and idealistic, and we might put aside our own personal psychological baggage and allow ourselves to be awed by the presence of someone who, (even if we don’t think he is the successor of St Peter, or the vicar of Christ) is a person of great wisdom and warmth that transcends denominational boundaries.
Reprinted with permission of the author. Tracey Rowland is dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne and the author of Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI.