Inside NCR
This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  December 28, 2007

From the Editor's Desk

Going back is not an option

Connections sometimes appear in unlikely places; or in this case, between two unlikely stories. The first story is this week’s cover feature: “The odyssey years.”

Two months ago, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about an identifiable phase of life emerging between adolescence and adulthood that he calls the “odyssey years.” It describes an extended period, generally in the 20s, when decisions about marriage, financial independence and moving away from home are delayed in order to keep all options open: “They go to school and take breaks from school. They live with friends and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try one career and then try another.”

What was once understood as a necessary but short transition between college and adult life has become a new life stage lasting as long as seven years or more. Parents are left bewildered at what seems like aimless wandering by children who show no personal or career direction in their lives.

We asked author Greg Ruehlmann to explore the notion of such odyssey years for young Catholics. Ruehlmann, who is 26, describes himself as “an odyssey Catholic” (see story).

~ ~ ~

The second story (see story) is about the ongoing struggle over liturgical reform in the Catholic church as reflected in Archbishop Piero Marini’s new book A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal (Liturgical Press). Marini, who served as papal liturgist for John Paul II and, until recently, for Benedict XVI, argues for the Vatican II renewal of the liturgy and against those who have tried to take the church back to the world of Trent.

Marini writes: “The great ideals of the church are in crisis today in part because there’s a crisis in the liturgy. The great ideals of ecumenism, of internal reform of the church, of dialogue with the world, are all connected. The council wanted to confront these challenges beginning with the liturgy. If the liturgy is the source and summit of our life, then we foster in the liturgy the kind of life we need to meet these great goals.”

Though they focus on two very different topics, both stories address a common theme: However anxious we may be over the uncertainties of the present, reenacting the past is not a solution for creating a future.

Young adults cannot recreate the era of their parents and grandparents. They were born into a postmodern age that is quickly dismantling the assumptions of past worldviews. Their challenge is to navigate in a world of globalization, instant messaging and spiritual upheaval. Similarly for the church, returning to a pre-Vatican II worldview will not serve the needs of a generation facing the challenges of the modern age.

In the July 20 issue of NCR, we shared with you the insights of South African Dominican Albert Nolan: “More and more people, and especially young people, have given up all the certainties of the past: religious certainties, scientific certainties, cultural certainties, political certainties and historical certainties.”

Like it or not, we live in an age of great skepticism about any ideology or authority that claims to have all the answers. We cannot simply ignore the fact that millions of younger Catholics are alienated from the church and find little meaning in the rituals and language of a religion they regard as irrelevant to their lives.

Odyssey years and liturgical reform are not really all that different. Both address the need for meaning and structures that speak to the concerns, issues and insecurities of people today. All of us, together, are on the same journey to fashion a world anew. Our odyssey children and Archbishop Marini invoke for us the message of Advent: The Lord is in front of us, not behind us.

-- Sr. Rita Larivee, SSA

National Catholic Reporter, December 28, 2007

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: