Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fashion Trend Trivializes Rosary

One of my favorite gifts that I received for my confirmation was a beautiful rosary bracelet.  I felt that wearing it provided me with  a way to express my faith publicly but not ostentatiously, and on occasion it became a conversation piece that allowed me to share my faith with others who do not know what the rosary is.  It also came in very handy if I happened to forget to bring a full-sized rosary with me when I might have need of one.

(Photo Source)
Those who wear their beads with genuine devotion are in good company. After all, many religious wear their rosaries in their cinctures, keeping them available at all times.  In our human frailty, keeping our rosaries where we can see them is probably the best way many of us have to remind ourselves to actually use them.

But, we have to be careful about how we do so, lest they become Pharisaical display or mere superficial ornaments.

I have noticed over the past few years that many more people, especially teens and young adults, are wearing rosaries as fashion statements.  Even Justin Bieber has jumped on this bandwagon.

Unfortunately, the comportment and dress of some of some forces me to doubt that they are wearing rosaries as devotionals.  Many celebrities whose public behavior is, shall we say, less than in line with Catholic morality,  have popularized rosary beads as superficial fashion statements.   Britney Spears and Madonna are among the most prominent examples.

At the most extreme end of this problem is the inclusion of rosaries worn around the neck in the attire of gang members.  This has even caught the attention of schools, law enforcement, and news media. The San Antonio Police Department Youth Crime Service Unit "Gang Awareness" handbook and USA Today both report that rosary beads are now common components of gang-related attire.

More recently I have seen items labeled as "rosary necklaces" for sale in shops that cater to the more unsavory trends in youth fashion.  These usually have features that are rather different from the real thing.  Hot Topic, a mall chain that features some of the more edgy fashions popular among suburban teens, offers a so-called "rosary necklace" with a charm that looks like a pair of brass knuckles where the crucifix should be, and a gun-shaped center.   Such items are especially appealing to teens and young adults who buy into the glorified images of street culture so common in entertainment media

On the one hand, it could be argued that if  someone is going to wear a rosary as a mere fashion statement, it is less disrespectful to wear a bad knock-off than an actual sacred object. On the other hand, calling the bad knock-off a rosary, instead of something else, mocks the real thing and suggests that it is OK to pervert an item that is sacred into a profane fad.  Either way, this trend displays a great lack of respect for Catholic beliefs and practices, especially when worn by those who have no interest in even the appearance of using them for actual prayer or following Catholic teaching.  This public trivialization of one of our most distinctive spiritual tools should be of great concern to those who understand its true value.

Pope John Paul II called the rosary "an effective spiritual weapon against the evils afflicting society" (Rosarium Virginis Mariae).  No weapon, whether temporal or spiritual is of any use if we do not understand it or know how to use it.

It may seem like I am splitting hairs here. It may seem like I am nitpicking when I express concern about this. After all, we have much to be concerned about when it comes to our kids and what they do and what they see on television.  The fact that Lady Gaga wears something resembling a rosary around her neck (or eats one) may seem trivial compared to everything else she wears (or doesn't) and the things she says and does.

But I'm not alone here. Even the bishops find this trend to be disturbing, and have encouraged efforts to catechize people who walk into Catholic shops looking for rosaries, and thinking they are merely buying a necklace. Some business owners have begun giving out free leaflets on how to pray the rosary to the customers who purchase them, hoping that this will at least encourage respect for it, and maybe even teach people something.

If prayer, and the rosary in particular, is the most powerful tool we have to combat all of those evils that threaten our children (and he who is behind them), we must be concerned if people begin to forget what the rosary is for.

Imagine if every celebrity, twenty-something, and teen who wore something like the absurd piece of jewelry above actually learned to pray a real rosary. 

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