It's been a really busy couple of weeks, and the prospects for the next couple of weeks look just about the same way... so, I thought I'd take the chance while I had it to share a few thoughts.
A really good (non-Catholic) friend contacted me recently to ask whether I would find it offensive, as a Catholic, if she dressed her daughter as a nun for Halloween. If she happens to read this, I'd like to thank her for thinking of me, and especially for getting me thinking about it! (For the record, my response was basically that, as long as the costume wasn't designed in such a way as to intentionally demean nuns or the religious life, I didn't think any reasonable Catholics would have a problem with it; in fact, the daughter might find herself in the company of some Catholic children whose parents use Halloween and All Saints' Day as a chance to teach about the lives of the saints!)
The conversation reminded me of something I'd noticed while carrying mail around the town in which we live: many non-Catholics seem to be drawn toward Catholic images and ideas, even if it would never occur to them to investigate the faith itself. While my friend is definitely exceptional in lots of other ways, her interest in a nun's habit certainly isn't one of them when you consider all of the appearances by nuns in movies and television over the years. And it's not only nuns: just on the little mail route that I carry, I have noticed St. Francis statues in the yards of two non-Catholic customers, and a "Friar Tuck"-like monk in another. In fact, my non-Catholic customers with "Catholic lawn ornaments" (visible from where I deliver mail, at least) outnumber my Catholic customers with similar statues three to one!
I think Catholic imagery surrounds us to such an extent that we don't even think about it too much, but it's even more interesting to me that it occurs where we live because it hasn't traditionally been a heavily Catholic area. Several of the little towns around ours don't have a Catholic church, but almost certainly would if they were another couple of hours further east in the more densely Catholic areas of Kansas or Nebraska. In fact, I have met people in the area who remember crosses being burned in front of the homes of Catholics.
Reflecting on this brings to mind Christopher Stasheff and his various "light fantasy" novels (of which MM has now read 36, I believe, with me not too far behind!). His books generally take place in a more or less medieval setting one way or another - sometimes in an alternate universe, sometimes in the future on planets recovering from being cut off from "civilization," and so on - and are somewhat unique in the fantasy and science fiction genres in that they seriously consider the role religion (and, in particular, the Catholic Church) played in the day-to-day lives of the people of that era. Stasheff comments in at least one of the short biographies that appear in the back of the books that, as a fan of fantasy novels depicting the "swords-and-sorcery" era, it always struck him as odd that many writers tried to be historically accurate in so many areas while completely ignoring what would have been one of the most important to the characters described: religion. It permeated nearly every aspect of life, Stasheff points out, like the air around us.
When you think about it - and the nearly universal appeal of such Catholic figures as St. Francis and Mother Teresa (not to mention the "Hail Mary" pass) - maybe our culture's not so different, after all.