Are we listening to young people?

The young person in the final panel is of course referring to the beautiful and heartfelt letter that Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote in 1966 to the Benedictine abbots of the world, pleading, begging them to maintain their tradition of Gregorian chant.

The Holy Father’s plea was specifically that of heritage. This is not only a linguistic heritage, he writes, but of prayers and chants that have grace, beauty, and inherent strength. Who but Benedictine monks would keep these prayers alive?

In his autobiography, Rembert Weakland explains candidly how he and his colleagues carefully avoided obeying the Holy Father’s instructions. They justified their disobedience by an expedient proposed by one of the English bishops, who said that as abbots, they would want to listen to their monks, and so the Holy Father would want to listen to them. They ignored Pope Paul, because he should not ignore them.  This method of obedience is probably not entirely true to the spirit of the Rule.

That was the 60s, and everything was a little confused back then. The media was eager to help everyone divest themselves of whatever shackles they had. Dr. Elvis Presley fell in love with Sr. Mary Tyler Moore, while Sr. Julie Andrews fell into the arms of a stern widower. I’ve spoken to folks who went through these times: a Norbertine priest who became a diocesan priest, because, as he said, when the Norbertine liturgy was no longer allowed, why bother? An active sister I know decided to leave the convent on the very night The Sound of Music was screened for free for all of the women Religious in DC.

Thankfully we are less confused now. Above all, from the example of liberal Protestantism, it is clear that playing Neville Chamberlain to the secular world’s sense of manifest destiny is a fast way to lose our identity, our mission, and our credibility.

Part two of the procession for the Global Climate Action Summit Multi-Faith Service. The cathedral was nearly silent. #GCASfaith #GCAS2018 Episcopal Diocese of California #GraceSF

Posted by Grace Cathedral, San Francisco on Wednesday, September 12, 2018


In my experience, the young people of today would be more likely to heed Blessed Pope Paul VI than Rembert Weakland and his colleagues. They are more formal than I am. As likely as any young people of any era to be fun-loving and exuberant, they do not seem to want to carry that casualness into Mass.

This was the first thing I noticed as a parish Music Director: the religious seriousness of the young people. The altar servers stood tall and seemed to pray at the Mass. Young families went to confession–a lot. Children wore scapulars. While I certainly wanted to provide them with solid hymnody and proper texts, what drew me to introduce chant and polyphony to them was my desire to respond to their own prayerfulness, with music that could feed their souls and lead them forward in their prayers.

The flourishing religious communities of today, those that attract the young, are truly religious. They are doctrinally solid, communal in practice, reverent in liturgy.

In parish life, the young are more reverent than the old. Young people are more likely to receive Communion kneeling and young women are more likely to wear veils.

Some would say that these young people are “rigid”–but that is not the perception of those who are truly listening to them. They have found the pearl of great price and they are responding enthusiastically in great numbers throughout the world. It is up to pastors of souls to hear the joy of the Holy Spirit ringing in their hearts and elevating their lives, to minister to their holy desires, and to safeguard the good things the Lord has in store for them.