In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of “generations.” We use the word “generation” to signify the changing of stages. Most often we use it in the sense of biological generations. When parents have children, the children began a new generation. Grandchildren would be yet another generation. Used in this sense, generations have been seen as about twenty years.
Of course, people are waiting longer to have children today. One might think generations would be getting longer, say thirty years. However, we can also look at “generations” in the sense of how the world is changing. In the last 50-60 years, the world has changed greatly because of advancements in technology, most especially high-speed communications. These changes seem to make for a greater difference in how the different generations view the world. Some of the oldest people alive today in our country have never owned a computer and don’t want to. The youngest can’t imagine life without it. This affects the way the different generations communicate.
In the church we can use the word “generations” to describe long eras in the church. The change in eras come from distinct changes in the way the people believe. The first generation is from the time of Adam and Eve to Abraham. Abraham trusted in the Lord and the people began to practice faith according to a covenant signified by circumcision.
Then came a generation that began with Moses and lasted until the first coming of Jesus. This was the time of the Law. The Law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The people didn’t always follow the law but it is what defined them as a people.
Then came Jesus. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law. He came to fulfill, to help us know what the Law really means (see Matthew 5:17). Jesus came as the Messiah but not just as a political messiah, an earthly king. Jesus came as the Messiah who saves us from our sins. Jesus willingly laid down his life for us because He loves us (see John 15:13). After the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, the Father and the Son send us the Holy Spirit. Knowing what Jesus teaches, knowing that He died for us, and our receiving the Holy Spirit, changes our relationship with God.
Of course, there have been other times when the Church has faced change. Most recently one might think of the Second Vatican Council. If you grew up before the Second Vatican Council, the church you experience now may be very different than the church you grew up with. The most visible differences are Mass being said in the vernacular (local language) and the priest facing the people.
Today we celebrate the optional memorial of St. John XXIII. When he was elected pope at the age of 78, no one expected him to do much. He surprised everyone by calling the Second Vatican Council. The Second Vatican Council is understood with varying views today. Some think it changed too much. There are some who want to go back to the old ways. Others think it hasn’t gone far enough.
I don’t want to debate the changes today. What I do want to speak of is why the changes were made. The world was a changing place. St. John XXIII called the council to aid the church in facing the changes. In my article, “What Sort of Church Should We Be?”, I spoke about how the gospel message does not change but we do need to find new ways to communicate it.” The Second Vatican did not change the teachings of the Church. It was about how we live and celebrate our faith.
The changes of the Second Vatican Council were rushed in without adequate explanation to the people. The council did not bring radical new ways to our church. Before St. John XXIII called for the council, scholars were finding old documents of the way the early church practiced the faith. At the time of the Second Vatican Council people were used to receiving Communion on the tongue. The ancient documents showed that in the early church Communion was received in the hand. Likewise, RCIA, which seemed new to people actually follows the “old” practice of the way new people became Catholic.
What we need is better understanding of why we do what we do. To move forward in faith, we need to understand and believe. Today, let us pray for the intercession of St. John XXIII, that we may be the church that God calls us to be.