Clutch the beads
My godchildren are a curious pair. The elder, my nephew, is a cheerfully lapsed Catholic who acceded to his fiancée's desire to be married in her Protestant church (to the scandalization of his parents and grandparents). When I agreed to be his baptismal godfather thirty years ago, I had no serious qualms. The younger, my niece, was born a few years after her cousin, by which time I was no longer a practicing Catholic. However, they didn't ask and I didn't tell when the possibility of my being her baptismal sponsor was raised. It would have been more awkward to decline than to accept, so I became a godfather for the second time.
Unlike my godson, my goddaughter is a good little Catholic, steeped in the family's simplistic obedience to Church authority. She remembered me at Christmas with a packet of candies, into which she had slipped a small bag containing a mini-rosary. It's a puzzlement. What does she hope to achieve with this holiday gift?
It's not a secret from the family that I am not a practicing Catholic. My parents no longer bother to drag me along to mass with them when I am staying at their home during holiday visits. It's just a little surprising, since I don't object to tagging along. Visits to my hometown church give me a chance to see people and sights I seldom see. And I swear that I do not chuckle aloud during the sermons. It's just an outing—like going to the zoo.
Besides, my eyes do not make noise when I roll them.
There was a time when I would have been delighted with a mini-rosary. When I was a child enrolled in parochial school, the rosary loomed as a grueling endurance contest. A full-fledged rosary contains five groups to ten beads (“decades”). Each of the fifty beads represents a recitation of the Hail Mary. The decades are separated by beads representing recitations of the Our Father (the Lord's Prayer). Monsignor, our school's principal, conceived the bright idea of inculcating regular devotion to the rosary by distributing little pledge cards. We were supposed to fill in our names and write down the frequency with which we would promise to pray the rosary.
I was horrified. The rosary was stultifying and mind-numbing. Fifty-three repetitions of the Hail Mary. Six Our Fathers (and the mini-prayer known as the Glory Be). I found it excruciating.
I slowly and carefully printed my name on the pledge card, postponing the fateful moment of commitment. Finally, though, my pencil was hovering over the line where I was supposed to fill in my promise. It would have been easy to lie, but I had a very well-formed conscience in those days. The lie would have plagued me forever, but a truthful commitment would get me off the hook after a brief pang. I wielded the pencil:
1 rosary per month
That was reasonable. I could do that. It wouldn't be fun, but it was feasible. My conscience was clear.
Monsignor never mentioned it to me. He was probably too shocked to comment. And I kept my pledge, too. For about two months.
If only we had had mini-rosaries!