Saints Be Praised: What Catholicism Says to Our Coarsened Culture

By Henneberger, Melinda | Commonweal, December 15, 2006 | Go to article overview

Saints Be Praised: What Catholicism Says to Our Coarsened Culture


Henneberger, Melinda, Commonweal


Age ten is the new fifteen, according to the Associated Press, which reports that teen rebellion and multiple body piercings have migrated all the way down to elementary school: "Some of them are going on 'dates' and talking on their own cell phones" in the fifth grade. "They listen to sexually charged pop music, play mature-rated video games, and spend time gossiping on MySpace."

As the mother of ten-year-old twins, a girl and a boy, I have heard of no "dates." But the rest sounds about right, I'm afraid. I have seen girls my daughter's age in T-shirts that say the rudest things, and hear (often) from my son about classmates who at least claim to play a video game based on the HBO show The Sopranos. Road to Respect, they call it, as if to torture parents all the more.

"We've crossed a line--we can no longer avoid it--it's just so in our face," Diane Levin, a professor of human development and early childhood at Whee-lock College in Boston, says of all the marketing of inappropriate toys and games to kids. She has written a book about the impact this is having, So Sexy So Soon: The Sexualization of Childhood. All I can say is, I cannot even imagine going up against the culture without the saints on my side.

My kids are not getting anything like the industrial-strength Catholic upbringing I had; they go to "religious education" classes instead of to parochial school and have friends of other faiths and no faith. They question everything and wouldn't know a zucchetto from a zucchini. Even when we lived in Rome when they were just starting school, they poked fun at how my idea of the most fun you could possibly have was poking around in some obscure ancient church.

It's true; I love hard-to-behead Santa Cecilia and her church in Trastevere beyond reason and can think of few better ways to spend an afternoon than alone with the dazzling medieval mosaics in Santa Prassede. Or with Bernini's Beata Lodovica Albertoni in San Francesco a Ripa, which is even more ecstatic than his Ecstasy of St. Teresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria. I dragged my family on so many such excursions that even my big-hearted son finally said basta, protesting that we'd surely seen every church in Christendom. "What's next?" he once asked crossly. "Santa Maria dei Fagioli?" (Yes, that would be St. Mary of the Beans.)

Yet, here's a modern miracle for you: Catholic culture has not only endured, but sticks, sometimes more than we know. A few months ago, I overheard a friend of my daughter's declaring that her role model was Paris Hilton. …

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