When I was in high school, one of my favorite hats was a black New York Yankees baseball cap – though I was neither a Yankees fan, nor was I ever really into baseball. Along with FUBU, Ecko, Exhaust and Fox Racing, Yankees caps were among one of the trending clothing items to wear in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Most people (including myself) who wore that merchandise back then hardly knew anything about the brands or what they supported. We just wore them because it was supposedly ‘cool’ at the time. Similarly, I find religious imagery and jewelry like a cross or rosary are sometimes worn for the sake of vanity without realizing the meaning behind it.
Many celebrities are often seen wearing a rosary around their neck. For some, it bears cultural significance. For others, especially in the rock and metal scene, it’s a piece of jewelry that makes someone look edgy. As a Christian in my teenage years, I recall looking at photos of some of my favorite musicians and spotting them wearing a cross or a rosary around their neck while thinking, “Wow! They must be a Christian! That is SO COOL!” But then, my disappointment would get the better of me when I would read about what their real opinions are about religion interviews. This was often manifested when they would flippantly take the Lord’s name in vain or air phrases like, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”
When it comes to public prayer, a Bible verse that often comes to mind is,
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” — Matthew 6:5-6 RSV
While this passage usually applies to the use of prayer, I think it somehow ties into the use of symbols as well. A rosary is a tool that is used to aid in prayer, thus it should be treated as such. You don’t usually see a carpenter wandering around in public wearing a tool belt when he’s not working (mainly because carrying around a heavy belt is uncomfortable and exhausting). But if I carried a drill everywhere and I didn’t know how to use it, it would be embarrassing if someone asked me to do a job that involved boring a hole or fastening a screw. Similarly, if I wore a rosary or cross around my neck without believing or knowing its purpose and people came and asked me to pray for them, I would have an awkward time answering to them.
I don’t fault anybody who wears a rosary around their neck for the purpose of expressing their faith. However, I would caution those who choose to do so because it sets up an underlying expectation for those who see it. And what sort of damage am I doing to the community of faith if I’m deceiving people into believing I’m a Christian (or even a Catholic one) if the rosary or cross I wear were to have no real meaning to me?