Monday, September 5, 2011

Wearing Rosaries - Religious Bracelets - Jesus Pieces

As my parishioners know, I travel often and I teach religion to 16 and 17 year old boys.  I would have to say that this is about the best possible combination of activities you can have to spot male theological and fashion trends!

Rosaries I bought in NYC (Coney Island) for $1 each
 I have the sense that we are near the end of the Catholic religious bracelet trend [photo below]. I know from talking to my students, that they often had little to no idea who was on their wrist. I would teach them about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the apparitions of Mary, or the many saints depicted on their bracelets. But I think the bracelet was not "noticeable" enough for our fashionistas. They are moving on....

The religious fashion trend that is peaking right now and will undoubtedly die out in a year or two (as all fashion trends must) is the wearing of rosaries. I see it everywhere I go.  It is particularly popular among Hispanic and African-American young men, though I see an increasing number of white men wearing rosaries too. Many of my white middle-class students wear chaplet rosaries around their wrists too. It's definitely a "guy thing." I have yet to see a woman wearing a rosary - though I'm sure some woman must have donned one somewhere!

The New York City subways are perhaps the best place to see the rosary trend in full blossom. Rosaries are now available from practically every corner vendor and kiosk operator in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and just about any city with a sizable young population.

I am conflicted about this trend.

On one hand, there is the traditional side of me that thinks rosaries are private devotional aids (a sacramental) to be kept in one's pocket.  I have no doubt that the Felician Sisters who taught me in the 1970's at my parochial school would be "freaked out" by the current trend. They would think it is disrespectful that rosaries are worn as jewelry. Part of me thinks they are correct.

On the other hand, I kind of like seeing people unashamed of their faith in Jesus. I suspect many of the wearers of rosaries today do not know the Marian aspect of the rosary or the prayers that comprise it. In fact, I am pretty sure that many of those wearing rosaries are not even Catholic. However, there is no doubt that the cross/crucifix at the beginning of the rosary marks it as a Christian thing. That puts rosary beads in the category of "Jesus pieces" or "Good Wood"  or Cross pierced-earrings or Cross tattoos for many of our young fashionistas. Our young people are simply proud of being followers of Jesus.  I am proud of them for that.

So now we Catholics must evangelize a bit. The "beads" are back! Now let's make sure they are not just a piece of bling in the mind of our young folk.  Think of this as an opportunity to speak about Jesus, Mary, Catholicism and your personal faith!

Here are three suggestions:
1. FOR THOSE WHO ARE SHY - Say a quick silent prayer for the person you see wearing a rosary or a "Jesus piece." Ask Mary to intercede for them that they may grow strong in faith, hope and love. Let the rosary wearer strengthen your faith too by reminding YOU of Christ and the Blessed Mother!
2. FOR THOSE WHO ARE A BIT BRAVER - Use rosaries as a conversation starter if you feel comfortable speaking to the wearer.  If you have rosaries in your pocket, (and shouldn't you?) take them out and compare.  Briefly tell your rosary story - when you got it, what it means to you, and especially how often you USE your rosary. Let them tell their rosary story. Maybe, just maybe, you will even trade rosaries!
3. FOR THOSE WITH HEROIC ZEAL & COURAGE - teach them the rosary. Have a card with instructions on praying the rosary in your pocket. The Knights of Columbus have a handy card -  Make sure you have previously written the directions to your parish and its Sunday Mass times on the cards too.

Another useful site for learning to pray the rosary:

Whatever your personal view on fashion trends, now is the time for us to catechize our young people. They have taken the first step by adopting our iconography and sacramentals, so let us use their fashion sense to share the Good News of salvation!