Piggybacking on the success of “The Official Preppy Handbook,” a small group of Baby Boomer Catholics with sharp memories and real affection for their Catholic upbringings and school days, cobbled together a slim and very funny volume titled “Growing Up Catholic” and published it in 1984. It was a huge hit.
Packed with intriguing factoids, it included a box featuring the names of “Famous Converts,” including Evelyn Waugh, Betty Hutton, Clare Boothe Luce, Tennessee Williams, Graham Greene and Frances Farmer. Just below the list of converts was a second list of “People We Wish Were Catholic.” It included Albert Einstein, Neil Armstrong, The Beatles, Abe Lincoln, Muhammad Ali, Mel Brooks, Walter Cronkite, Ghandi and William Shakespeare.
Until recently, the only boo-boo on that list was The Beatles, half of whom were, at one time, Catholic. Paul McCartney was baptized in the Church, but raised non-denominationally by a Catholic mother and Protestant father. George Harrison also was a baptized Catholic and was raised in the Church but embraced the Hare Krishna movement as an adult.
Now evidence seems to point to the Bard of Avon himself as a devoted but closeted Catholic. We ran across a fascinating story about this on the Catholic News Service wire and couldn’t resist using it as one of the main feature stories in this issue.
New scholarly interpretation of Shakespeare’s works point to a literary genius who held his Catholic faith in a strong embrace even as it was disappearing from the scene during the Reformation in England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Ferocious persecution of Catholics during the reign of Henry VIII caused many a Catholic to go underground or to, at least, give lip service to the official Protestant state religion. The beheading of Sir—later Saint—Thomas More served as an unmistakable lesson for any prominent public figure who might entertain ideas of locking horns with the king over matters religious. His daughter, Elizabeth 1, was no more lenient.
So, say scholars, Shakespeare managed to keep the flame of his faith alive by working Catholic theological references, idioms and images into what otherwise appeared to be secular language. That’s slick enough to make any Jesuit envious.
It’s also good enough, I’m guessing, to motivate a lot of Catholics to welcome old Will into the fold. The single greatest writer in the history of the English-speaking people, a Catholic? Well, of course. We knew it all the time. And it wouldn’t surprise us a bit to learn, sometime in the near future, that Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Maya Angelou, Harper Lee and Batman had more than a little original Christianity in their backgrounds.
Wait…Hemingway actually was a Catholic?
Can Superman be far behind?
Patrick Mott, Editor, Orange County Catholic