What a rush it was, in the late 1960s, to think that our generation represented the “counterculture”! There were many things wrong with America forty years ago, a divisive war in Vietnam and pervasive racism foremost among them. To think that we were on the right side on all of these issues, even if we were on the left! That was just so cool.
I remain a proud member of the counterculture. The only surprise is that the counterculture is now the Catholic Church, about which I knew next to nothing in the 1960s. In fact, the Catholic Church is just about the only counterculture left for my generation, or yours, to embrace, although I still like to think that the moon is in the seventh house, and we all shine on.
Recently, I have had conversations with three women, aged 45–65. One is a self-professed atheist; another a cradle Catholic who has found a new home in a Protestant church; and the third a cradle Catholic who has remained a Catholic and seems quite serious about her faith. Thus, three women who run the gamut from atheism to practicing Catholicism, admittedly a small sample.
In conversation with each, I happened to mention that I had been received into the Catholic Church within the past few years. Each of the three had exactly the same response. Exactly. The atheist, the Catholic-turned-Protestant, and the lifelong Catholic each said, with unabashed incredulity, “You what?!” A double-take was taken by each.
I know they were coming from different places.
The atheist was thinking (though she didn’t verbalize it this way), I thought you were a smart progressive person! How could you possibly even joke about becoming a Catholic?! That is just too horrifying!
The practicing Catholic was thinking (and quickly said), That is so refreshing to hear, so heartening! There’s actually someone in this left-leaning Boston suburb who would consider the Church that I love! Wow! She began to say, “All my friends ask me how I could possibly—” and then cut herself off in midsentence.
The response of the Catholic-turned-Protestant was the most moving of the three. This woman clearly continues to harbor a deep affection for elements of her Catholic upbringing but holds to several reasons why she can no longer follow our Church and Pope.
When I loaned her a copy of Salt of the Earth, the first in the three-part series of Peter Seewald interviews with Cardinal Ratzinger–Pope Benedict that includes the recent Light of the World, the Catholic-turned-Protestant took one look at Ratzinger’s face on the cover and said, Yuk! She then said that she thought that both Josef Ratzinger and Karol Wojtyla had made “awful” Popes. I asked her to read Salt of the Earth before sealing her verdict on Benedict, and she agreed to do so.
Her willingness to read the book was further evidence that a candle still burned in her heart for the Catholic Church. And her openness to hearing about my conversion experience was deeply touching to me. It was clear as our conversation progressed that she is indeed happy in her new Protestant home, and that made me happy for her. There are, as Cardinal Ratzinger said in Salt of the Earth, as many paths to salvation as there are people seeking salvation.
Still, I’m happy to be back where I was in my youth, on the counter of American culture, although my slogan has changed from “Up against the wall, ———s” to “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.”
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.