Sunday, February 12, 2017

Praying the Rosary on the Bus

I've been praying the rosary on my morning bus, every workday, for two years or longer. I don't pray with my beads in my pocket. I take them out, and I don't make any secret of the fact that I'm praying the rosary.

When I mentioned this to a priest friend, an Opus Dei priest who is very orthodox, he was rather dubious about it. He said: "I'm not going to say it's right and I'm not going to say it's wrong, but it depends on your motive." This deterred me for a little while. I can't remember if I stopped praying the rosary on the bus altogether, or if I was more discreet about it. But eventually I overcame these scruples.

Of course, I've reflected on our Lord's words about the Pharisees praying on street corners, and his recommedation that we go into our inner room to pray to our Father with nobody watching.

I don't think this really applies, though. Our Lord was talking about a culture where piety was admired and socially prestigious. We live in a culture where the very opposite is true, where people are embarrassed to admit to religious belief and practice. That's why I do it. (Aside from the fact that it's a convenient time, and a good way to start the day.)  It's also why I have a framed Divine Mercy picture standing on my desk at work.

Most of the time, before eating, I say a silent grace. But, when I'm eating my lunch in the staff room at work, I often make the sign of the cross over my food. Again, I think of it as an act of witness.

I'm pretty sure I don't do any of this in the hope that anyone will form a higher opinion of me. I don't imagine for a moment that they will. 

I do it because I want Catholicism to be more visible in everyday life. I inwardly cheer when I see a priest wearing his clerical clothes on the street, or when I see a nun (yes, I know they're not all "nuns", but let's not be pedantic) in her habit. I'm pleased when anybody invokes God or Jesus in ordinary conversation, or when a celebrity thanks God during a speech. I'm pleased when I see someone wearing a Catholic badge or pin of some kind. I'm pleased when I see a Christian street preacher.

Secularists want to push, push, push religion out of the sphere of public life, and little things like praying the rosary on the bus are my own way of pushing back. Is it wrong of me? I hope not.

Nobody has ever said anything to me about it, one way or the other. Nobody has given me a funny look, sniggered, or asked me to pray for them. I'm a bit self-conscious when I'm surrounded by teenagers taking the bus to school, but even they've never passed comment.

Even aside from religion, I cherish most departures from drab conformity in the public sphere. I took great pleasure in seeing a storm trooper walk down O'Connell Street when The Force Awakens was released. I like it when Scottish rugby fans wear kilts. (If we must have Scots, let them at least wear kilts.) I like seeing African women in their native dress. I like seeing a man with a serious beard, or side burns, or smoking a pipe. I like people singing in public.

What about your love of distinctions, and the distinction between the private and the public?, I hear you ask.

I don't think this applies, either. It seems to me that we have too much bad formality and not enough good formality in social life. Good formality is what you get in Mass or in parliament. Bad formality is what you get in the street or at a work meeting. It's conformity without solemnity. It has all the restraint of formality with none of its gravitas. It's tame, lame, and a shame. I say the hell with it!


  1. this May not be an entirely relevant comment. except that it ties in with "departures from drab conformity",but further on what we were saying about st Brigid day:I just came across a picture somewhere of a"biddy boy",apparently a tradition in some parts in the old days-a fellow wearing"an intricate headdress woven of straw" for Feb 1st. the reference given is "department of Irish folklore university college Dublin h032..18.18"

    1. Awesome and entirely relevant! Sad to hear of another lost tradition...