Leaping the generational gap

March 1, 2020 -- Living City

Leaping the generational gap
A young priest makes a choice to overcome stereotypes

By Fr. Tyler Mattson

In my diocese, as in many dioceses, there can be divisions among priests. There are the “old” priests and the “young” priests. Both of these groups are often pigeonholed and stereotyped.

Old priests may be labeled liberal, with an overly relaxed view of doctrine and tradition that can be interpreted as people-pleasing. Young priests, on the other hand, are painted as dry and rigid conservatives who seem to overemphasize liturgical rules over love of God and neighbor.

As you can imagine, both of these stereotypes are false and unhelpful; yet they can be present in the back of a priest’s mind whenever we gather.

When I was searching for a retreat to attend after being newly ordained, I was happy to find one that was in my own diocese and that perfectly fit my schedule. It wasn’t until after I had completed the registration and the retreat was drawing closer that I discovered that this was, one might say, an “old” priests’ retreat.

When I arrived, the rumors proved to be true. I was by far the youngest priest there, in some cases by up to 60 years. Most of the priests in attendance were retired and no longer in active ministry.

I know that Jesus calls peacemakers blessed and promises that they will be children of God. So I listened to that “voice within” of the Holy Spirit and made an effort to love these men of a different generation, so that there could perhaps be greater peace between old and young.

As the retreat progressed, I discovered that these men were absolutely delightful. They were friendly, welcoming and loving. I also discovered how touched they were that I was on retreat with them. They had felt hurt in the past that younger priests didn’t attend this particular retreat because they genuinely wanted to get to know these younger priests better.

By the end of our retreat, I could see that the Holy Spirit had brought about a new unity between us by breaking down some of the false barriers that had previously existed. I now get to see many of these priests in my ministry, and it is such a joy that we get to share a new friendship because of our time together on retreat. We also get to witness to others because they can see the love that we share.

For example, one of the retired priests is known to be especially critical of younger priests, at times even calling personally to give them a piece of his mind. He sometimes attends Sunday Mass at my parish, as he lives nearby, and I often feel a little nervous when I see him in the congregation.

One day, after the retreat and after he had attended a Mass at which I had preached, I saw a missed call from him, as well as a voicemail asking me to call him back. I quickly began trying to remember what I could have said that would have upset him.

When we finally spoke, he said that he simply wanted to share how much he enjoyed my homily and that he thought I was doing a good job. He now always greets me with a warm smile and asks me how I am doing.

Also, just some weeks ago, I was asked to give a day of recollection, but it was at the same time as this year’s priest retreat. So I wasn’t able to join them this year. But I was able to visit and speak with those at the retreat center. Many were wishing me well and encouraging me during my day of recollection. After it was over, I had a hard time even leaving the retreat center because priests kept coming up to me and wanting to catch up.

There are, no doubt, many divisions in the Church today. But I am convinced that if we take the time to listen to each other, as well as to the Holy Spirit, we can experience the Church as a united family.


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