There is a lot of tough news coming out about the Catholic Church accompanied by the clear sense that it will be getting worse before it gets better. Living on the internet too much — as many of us tend to — can get quite dark. That was one of the many reasons I was grateful for a 48-hour or so silent retreat where I tried to tune the deluge out. Not to escape it, but to remember the Christian call.
We’re called to be saints. The priest leading the retreat told the story of a sister he knew living in a dangerous part of the world where violence against Christians was not unknown. She knew she could be a martyr and longed for this, if it was God’s will for her.
When we read so many of the writings of saints, we read words from men and women who did not think of themselves as holy. They knew their sins and shortcomings. And they knew they were a legion among human beings. They looked at the cross and they saw the great love of God. They also saw that they crucified him.
I was thinking of all this — the crisis in the Church and our own falling short on sanctity (Do we even thirst for it, as he thirsts to save every soul?) as I was reading a book in which neither of these things ever come up directly. It’s called “Zero Hour for Gen X” (Encounter Books, $19.19) by Matthew Hennessey, an editor at the Wall Street Journal. It’s a rallying cry to people in their 40s and early 50s.
His thesis is, essentially: “This is the moment when members of Generation X should be setting the national agenda. We should be entering a period of social, political and cultural influence, if not control. We have the experience and the energy necessary to do the big jobs. We should be getting ready to steer the ship, but we are about to get swamped by a millennial wave that has already started crashing hard into the worlds of business, politics, entertainment, religion, dating, medicine and education.”
He writes to his generation: “If we don’t act fast, the millennial wave is going to sweep Gen X overboard. We’re going to miss our moment, becoming nothing more than a demographic footnote of American history — the inconsequential, shade-strewn valley wedged between two enormous generational peaks.”
The nudge isn’t about pride so much as an examination of conscience. We are not on this earth forever, and perhaps most naturally — barring earlier health or other challenges and scares — the 40s and the early 50s are the points in our lives when this becomes clearest. You begin feeling your age and realizing how much of life has already passed by.
So: What are we doing with the time? This is a question for every baptized Christian, but think about this moment, this moment in need of leadership. The Church and the world need us to be saints, now. Again, yes, every one of us. But how about Gen Xers stepping up to the plate and being the example that is needed?
Hennessey points to Gen X because he is one, but also because it is a generation that can remember a day when we didn’t all live on our phones, among other things.
“In that memory,” he writes, “resides the hope of our collective redemption, the seed of a renewal that could stem the rot, decay, erosion, and collapse all around us.”
In a Catholic context, we remember the best of Pope St. John Paul II, who not only implored us to be not afraid (marching orders both Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have re-upped) but also seemed to live that same courage.
Now is the time.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).