An old priest sits on a bench in his garden, and thinks about the past. It seems like yesterday. A “nuChurch” was being born, and there was a widespread hope that this new approach to things would cause the Catholic faith to expand everywhere, facilitate reconciliation with non-Catholics, and increase the number of vocations. Guitars were being strummed, and tambourines beaten to the rhythm of the new times.
He was then starting his priestly activity. How proud he was of himself! He felt the epitome of the “modern priest”, so different was he from his old colleagues. He sees himself again, a young man devoid of any severity of demeanor, fully anti-authoritarian, concerned with social issues, friend of the people, friend – particularly – of the young. The young were, in those times, everywhere, the be all and end all. They were the bearer of a special wisdom, of a fresh, unquestionable truth. How proud was he to be one of them, a rebel like them in his own way; the bearer of a fresh wind, and of a new truth. How could anyone not be comfortable with such a chap? How could such a new priest not greatly help not only the cause of Catholicism, but the explosion of vocations? A priest in sweater and jeans…. what is nearer to the young than that? He felt in the middle of things, shaping a new world, shaping a new Church, making everything new. He thinks of himself in those time and a sudden question freezes him and causes him to shudder on his bench: where was heaven in all that?
He sees himself now, forty years later. He still wears sweater and jeans whenever he can, but he is now old and all that was natural in the past now feels increasingly uncomfortable, out of touch, even weird. The tambourines have started to become silent some years ago, and are now increasingly considered a ridiculous remnant of a very stupid past; and the guitars are so Seventies, only old people who were young in the times of “the Mamas and the Papas” can tolerate them in a church. He knows his parishioners, and knows who are the ones liking the guitars. They are the people like him, who were young in an era of mad, wild dreams and don’t want to awaken to the sobering reality of their utter and complete failure.
He reflects sadly on what everything has become, and must now admit that “nuPriest” was a spectacular fiasco. Many of his colleagues who got out of the seminaries in those years cannot even read Latin, let alone celebrate the old Mass. He can, but is afraid to. Many of his colleagues cannot, but don’t even want to. He sees them now with the eyes of the world outside, and realises that their refusal to come back to the past lets them appear such useless tools, such remnants of a past age of error, such ridiculous dotards as not even the old priests of his youth ever did. The sweater and jeans look increasingly more out of order to a growing number of his parishioners, particularly the younger he once so worshipped, and considered “the future”. The number of parishioners itself has been greatly reduced and consists now largely of grey-haired people; people who were young with him and have become old with him; like him, facing the smiles of the younger generation for whom a guitar in the church is a sacrilege, and a priest must be dressed correctly and according to the rules. The old people still want the guitars, poor souls, and he doesn’t want to embitter their last years. He is an old man, having patience with other old men and knowing that the young think the same of him: a relic of a past age of foolishness, a man whose retirement will be commented with half words of barely concealed satisfaction, and knowing smiles.
He reflects on the paradox of the “youth mania” of his young years. His generation, with its worship of everything young, should in fact be the first to admit failure now that the young clearly refuse their ways. It doesn’t happen, though, and those who were celebrating “the young people” in the Sixties and Seventies now seem to think that the young people are wrong, and the old people right; the same old people who have lived an entire life in the celebration and exaltation of youth. What an irony, and what a tragedy.
His ilk is dying. Not many young men followed the call for the “modern” priesthood. Worse still, a non indifferent number of those who did decided to do so for unspeakable motives, as the word started to go around that modern seminaries were a paradise for homosexuals, and an easy way to make a living whilst enjoying – if one was clever enough not to give scandal – impunity. He has known several of those priests, as they started to get a less and less infrequent appearance in the Seventies and Eighties. He knew, and he knew that they knew, and that they didn’t care of either him, or everyone else suspecting. Nuchurch allowed them to do so, provided they didn’t shout their perversion from the bell tower.
In time worse still emerged, with the explosion of cases of pedophilia, largely among those very same homosexuals who, having infiltrated the Church with one abomination, were now completing the devil’s work by humiliating her with another, even more terrible one. He felt humiliated, but he still couldn’t see the link between homosexuality and pedophilia. He didn’t realise that Satan will not stop half way, but will want the whole enchilada of abomination and perversion and destruction. He now does.
He used to be, and to be called, a “modern priest”; but he has now become old, in all possible meanings of the word. His model of “priesthood” is now considered obsolete and inefficient; not only is he aware of his being considered the same “methuselah” the young people of his generation accused old priests of being; worse still, he is aware of the ridicule now slowly but surely surrounding his way of doing things; a ridicule the old priests of his youth never had to fear, because they were surrounded by an authority he never claimed for himself. He belongs to an ilk who will die with his generation, and will be remembered as an unprecedented catastrophe.
In the meantime, he clearly sees the Church growing in another direction. In the evening of his life, he must acknowledge that those who grow and attract young people to the priesthood are those with a completely opposed model, those who want to create the same type of priest he wanted to destroy. Conservative orders are on the march, whilst those who don’t want to change (the Jesuits, the Franciscans) have transformed themselves in hospices for failed sixty-eighters, pathetic shadows of their former self, echoing a social, feminist message that even to him – a priest in sweater and jeans – now sounds so ridiculously shallow. Even those whom he used to call “schismatics” – with a certain joy, and feeling so superior, and thinking them a small bunch of nutcases soon to be cancelled by the sheer force of time – thrive. He has just learned that the FSSPX is building a new, much bigger seminary in the US as the old one can’t accommodate the explosion in vocations. If they had told him as much when the SSPX bishop were consecrated he would have laughed very loudly. He was just plain wrong. He was wrong all the time.
How things have changed! The SPPX doesn’t know where to put their seminarians, even if all those young priest can count with a certain suspension a divinis the day they are ordained. But they believe in what they do, that much he can clearly see. They do their thing with a conviction and sureness of purpose that he never had, with a faith he has started to lose a long time ago and is now uncertain and almost shameful, with the energy of those who want at all costs to repair to the damage the he, and his, have caused.
He is old now, and will soon retire. The young priest who will substitute him will be, that much he fully realises, very different from him. He will wear clerical garbs at all times, and perhaps even a cassock. He will stop every one of the post V II innovations he is still keeping; soon, there will be no EMHCs – two old ladies, bitter and petulant; he is almost glad at the thought of their displeasure, but then refrains and recites an hail mary for them -, no altar girls – other two old ladies, poisonous old feminists, worse than the first! – no modern hymns; obviously, no guitars; he himself let the tambourines go a long time ago, and the old parishioners complained……
The entire world he wanted to create, the entire church he wanted to re-shape is going to die, one innovation at a time. NuChurch is old, and tired. She looks ridiculous in the eyes of a growing number of faithful, and he knows these faithful are more Catholic than he ever, ever was.
His older parishioners, they don’t see that. They still buy the “Tablet” (that he never had the gut to take away, though he has been long embarrassed by it), wave their arthritic arms, sing their hymns with a feeble voice, desperately want to feel young, and to feel right. They don’t want to understand, and he has no courage to try to make them understand. He must admit to himself that he is too cowardly to tell them that they are all wrong, that they always were, that the whole “spirit of Vatican II” was a huge failure, that – as they have said all their lives – the youth are right, and the methuselahs are wrong.
He reflects on his conduct, and shudders. Is he being charitable, or is he being accessory to their sins? Will they go to hell? If they do, then…… – he will go with them! Most assuredly he will! He who has carefully avoided – even when he started to realise it himself – to tell them they were wrong, how will he be able to escape punishment? He, a priest, the first responsible for their souls!! He is terrified now, and can’t stop the tears.
He must change, that much he now realises. Whatever damage he has done in the past, he must do his best to undo it, even if only for a few months, or a couple of years. He must start to speak clarly, to speak Catholic, to speak….. like the old priests of his youth did! He will have to apologise, to say that in his effort to be charitable, he was being an accomplice. He will have to. He will start to talk of those things he always carefully avoided: the last four things; the works of mercy; the sins crying to heaven for vengeance; the Vesper; the Sacred Heart of Jesus; the Immaculate Heart of Mary; the Rosary…… – oh Lord, the Rosary!! How could he keep the Rosary from his sheep! And what has he given to them instead? Guitars, talk of social justice, and stupid hymns! He has told them to be nice to the milkman, and tolerant towards the grocer, and a friend of the environment!
The tears are unstoppable now, he almost can’t see when he gets up and runs to his bedroom, kneels in front of the picture of the Sacred Heart – the picture his old mother had given him; accepted from him as an act of patient kindness – and cries convulsively, shattered, now completely surrendered, wrecthed and miserable as he never felt in his life.
And there, kneeling and crying, he slowly feels the sweetness of his wretchedness, and the grace of his sorrow. He understands, whilst still crying, that his worst day is his best too. A new beginning has been given to him, a late repentance, a shot – nay, the last shot at redemption.
He continues to pray, more composed now. As he prays, he begins to see in front of him the new old priest he has now become, and the new parish he will now give shape to. He will ask for his retirement to be deferred and will start to do things properly, old altar “girls” or no old altar “girls”. They can cry and complain as much as they want. He knows that he has now stopped to be a coward, and that God’s grace has given him the gut to be a true shepherd.
He stands up; dries his tears; and smiles.