Catholics in culture

I was reading a conversion story a while ago, I can’t remember where, but the convert said that when she was growing up Protestant, she always wanted to be a Catholic. It had to do with the culture, and the tradition, and that sense that there’s something going on where you’re on the outside of a great big club and they all know something you don’t know…

I know what she means. Even when I was a Protestant and believed that the Catholic Church was one step away from (or possible a full-fledged) cult, I was wished that it wasn’t. I wished that they were right, because they had all this cool stuff: a world-wide organization, traditions that went back centuries, whole cultures where everybody did and believed the same things,  more holidays than I could ever figure out, and, again, that nagging feeling that all that stuff was significant in a way that I couldn’t understand.

And this wasn’t because I knew any Catholics, because the circles we travelled in were not overrun with them. It was from passing references in popular culture: not explicitly Catholic things, just authors who happened to be Catholic, and so populated their books with characters who just happened to be Catholic.

These are some of the authors and books that tweaked my interest in Catholicism long before I could ever have seriously considered it:

Mary Higgins Clark: A very popular author of mystery books, her characters talked about going to Mass instead of church, visited old Catholic churches in New York City as a matter of course, and were otherwise perfectly normal people. Some of my pre-conceptions that Catholics were all ignorant, poverty-stricken denizens of Third World countries who just didn’t know any better were shaken.

Dean Koontz: Kinda same things as above: without being explicit or preachy, his characters have priests for friends and go to Mass and Catholic school and are just normal people. Well, Dean Koontz’s characters are rarely normal, but you know what I mean.

Judge Benjamin, Superdog by Judith Whitlock McInerney: When I was a kid, I really loved dogs and animals and read every kids’ book about them I could find. I read most of the Judge Benjamin books, which are about a St. Bernard and his family, who happen to be Catholic. Judge Benjamin mentioning it in passing was probably the first time I had heard of the rosary. And when a new baby was born, they had her baptized, and it didn’t seem like anything crazy, it was just what they did.

I guess it’s just funny, the stuff that you notice in passing growing up, not realizing how significant all those little things are going to seem later… Was it Chesterton who said that it was all a giant conspiracy?

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