The news came in a daily newspaper and made me laugh. The “21st century Rosary” was born in Poland: it is shaped like a credit card with small drawings of Our Lady and John Paul II.
This discreet Rosary can be worn on the bus, on the train, on the plane, in the office or in waiting rooms. A Christian chews his Rosary and no one bothers him, because he does not even notice.
But there are also those who are not ashamed to show that they pray in public. I am thinking of Jean Guitton, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. When he was called up for the army in 1921, he had to face a problem: “I am used to saying my prayers on my knees at the foot of the bed before going to bed; should I do the same in the barracks, exposing myself to the mockery of my colleagues?”
A priest, his friend, gave him this advice: “Pray under your bedspread, quietly, without making a fuss about your faith, so as not to provoke the mockery of your companions uselessly. Another told him precisely the opposite: “It is your duty as a believer to bear witness, naturally, humbly, even to affirm the right to practise religion in public, at a time when many want to reduce it to a private matter.
Mr Guitton took the second route. The truth is that his colleagues said nothing, but the gesture made a deep impression on them. Twenty years later, one of them died and Guitton, already a university professor, went to pay his respects to the family. The father of the deceased, also a university teacher and an atheist, asked him: “Are you the man who prayed on his knees at the foot of his bed in the barracks? You are a true believer”.
According to the protagonist of Bruce Marshall’s novel: The World, the Flesh and Father Smith, “it would be nice if God were present in ballrooms and theatres as he is in churches. But we are afraid to be ourselves….
And so each one pretends to be less virtuous than he really is. Once people pretended to be better than they were: nowadays they pretend to be worse. Men of other times swore that they went to church on Sunday, even if they never set foot there; now, on the contrary, they say that on Sunday they go golfing and would feel uncomfortable if their friends found out that they go to church.”
It is not uncommon to hear certain males and females brag about taking stabs at matrimony, even when they dare not go out of their way, just thinking of the beating they would get from the other spouse. They remind us of that weak and frail boy who, after having been stabbed as many times as he wanted, shouted to those around him: “Hold me, I’ll kill that devil”.
Deep down, many people have more bravado than bad manners and more cowardice than anything else. They’re afraid that if they’re honest, well-educated, true to their word or to their contracts, someone will tell them that “they’re still from the good old days!
But there are some who really do mischief and boast of their immorality and debauchery or of having the cleverness to steal and cheat their neighbour.
In the face of such scenes, what is there left for us to do? Smile. Smile at the human condition, because, according to the Bible, “the multitude of fools is enormous”. Today’s society generates these adult-adolescents who want to impose themselves over others, hide their cowardice under the cloak of shamelessness, appear big and handsome, when in fact they are empty… Or full, if you like: full as a tyre…
It is also important to see the other side: the legion of luminous and ardent people who are not afraid, but rather courageously defend truth and justice, the honour of others or their own faith. They do not feel diminished because they prefer forgiveness to petty revenge, solidarity to selfishness, simplicity to consumerism and gentleness to arrogance. The hope of the world resides in these men and women who are able to embrace “socially incorrect” causes such as the fight against abortion or against so-called “free love”.
They do not need to pray under the bedspread or to disguise the Rosary in the form of a credit card. They are proud to be people, free, authentic, upright. Their faith, yes, is worthy of credit.
Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf
(PHOTO: Markus Winkler)