A Lesson Learned
I don’t usually think to support heresy, but this time, I owed a family member.
So on a weekend where I could have been celebrating, well, anything, I packed a bag and spent a “retreat experience” with a group of women who can only be rightly described as “stretch pants ladies” – elderly post-Vatican II holdovers who have a deeper commitment to elastic waistbands than they do to Catholic dogma – discussing the relative benefits of seeking God within, group confession, and the gender of the Holy Spirit.
You might think I’m joking – a Traditional Latin Mass girl who is more likely to debate her way into (controversially) wearing pants to Mass and engage in the relative benefits of different Natural Family Planning formats than to give a minute of her time to the thought of women priests – would undertake a full forty eight hours of meditation, prayer circles and bad clip-art and worse poetry, led by a woman with an extensive collection of pan-Asian trinkets purchased from those “fair trade” stores liberals tend to shop at to alleviate their own guilt, but there’s a lesson in everything. Even in the heresy. Even when, at Mass in the morning, the woman behind you is, quite loudly, replacing “He” and “Him” with non-gender-specific pronouns.
And that lesson occurred to me as the room broke out in titillated laughter when a group leader referred to the Holy Spirit as “She.” How brave. How insolent.
How droll. How unoriginal. How unimaginative.
The stretch pants ladies mean well, but the road to Hell is paved with sinners who thought they were doing the right thing at the right time (and possibly with Haas and Haugen albums, but I’ll have to wait until I get there to see), and despite our 20/20 backwards vision on the 1970s, where nothing – be it the synthetic fabrics or the Masses in the Round – seemed to add to our collective cultural heritage, they’re caught up in a time when they, themselves, seemed anti-Establishment, even counter-cultural. The strict conformity of the 1950s was giving way to an era that made people free to make their own bad decisions, even if it also ushered in an era where government became the solution for failing consciences. To these ladies, who came of age during a time where liberalism was indeed overturning the mores of century that preceded it, thumbing their nose at even the most settled parts of the Catholic faith must seem scandalous, in the same way short skirts and bobbed haircuts seemed to Victorian-era debutantes.
Given enough time, however, they became, themselves, the Establishment – the status quo. Now, after years of evolution, their theology dominates – or dominated, depending on who you ask – and quick, dirty references to female pronouns and whispered discussions about birth control don’t seem quite as shocking. Now, as a new generation grows into the Church and discovers within it a rich history of spirit, tradition, even art and music, to be countercultural means to be the woman who leads her seven well-behaved children to Communion every Sunday. To be countercultural means to carry in your possession a chapel veil and a chaplet of Divine Mercy. To be countercultural means to stand up in the public square and be the voice speaking out for a generation who have experienced the trials of a world so focused on death and the absence of life, against the ever rising tide of voices who challenge your perceived anachronism. To be countercultural now is to stand up and refuse to accept cultural degradation and the sins of tolerance.
The lesson we – or I, maybe – can take from my experience is that a strong counterculture can mean a day when the counterculture no longer exists, but it can also mean a day when we become complacent in how we view our own goals and what we understand to be our moment of success. Stay here, at this moment, forever, thinking of ourselves on the outside, and risk a future like the stretch pants ladies’ substituting Maya Angelou poems for Gospel readings: a future where we’re not continuing to grow and develop, understand and communicate, fight and believe.