A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Support from Behind

Fr Denis O'Hagan SM

When I was a seminarian, my provincial superior Maurice Bourke told me, “There are so many angry young men around because there are so many stupid old ones.” I was astounded but he was exactly right.

But what do the word old and young mean? How old you have to be to be ‘old’? How old you have to be to be no longer ‘young’? People love to say, especially the oldies, “you are as old as you feel”.

Because as a general rule, there are lots more baby boomers than millennials in most church organisations it is inevitable that perceptions of age get distorted.

I remind the millennials (aged 22 to 37) I work alongside, that they are not young, and that they must assume leadership; look at our prime minister. And I have an urge to remind the boomers that no matter how healthy and energetic they may feel, they are old. I try to resist this urge, but I am not always successful.

Age does not automatically bring wisdom

Age is not just about counting of years; it is about the life you have lived through. The so called ‘silent generation’ experienced two world wars, an influenza epidemic and the great depression. It left its mark.

My generation, - I am an almost-baby-boomer - has in general lived in a time of peace and stability and reasonable prosperity. We had free education, free medical services and full employment. That left its mark. I will leave generation X (38 to 53) and the Millennials to speak for themselves.

In a stable society the kaumatua (elders) usually make good leaders. But we live in a rapidly changing society. The elders no longer have the relevant maps Now all they have, if they are lucky, is a compass. Each generation must use it to find its own way forward.

Marists are well suited for this age. The General Chapter of 2001 pointed out that the seeds of the Marist vision were sown in a time of rapid change and struggle.

So how do Marist boomers and Marist millennials work together? The boomers, if they have become wise, have the compass. The millennials want to do the driving, but they sometimes get lost and need directions. This is a perfect partnership.

The already quoted Maurice Bourke is said to have told the superior general at the time that he was “right behind him.” To which Fr. Buckley replied, “Yes, but how far behind?”

So, oldies, it’s not a matter of heading for the knacker’s yard. It is just about taking on a new role. Get right behind the upcoming generation… but not too far behind.

This edition of the Marist Messenger features some of the projects in which millennials are responding to that call, assisted and supported by Marists elders, who are right behind them.

Although it is not the language that they would use to describe their commitment, it seems to me that they are responding to Mary’s call, just as people in my generation did.

So, if you think the generations younger than you angry, go figure! Age does not automatically bring wisdom.

“Living unobtrusively among the people we wish to serve, we create environments that invite their trust and friendship”- 2001 Marist General Chapter. 

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