By Sister Mary Ann Walsh
Last Saturday I went shopping for a baptismal gift and settled on a book called “My Baptism” and a pre-schooler account of Noah’s Ark. Religious books seem appropriate to mark the Sacraments of Initiation: baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.
Religious gifts are hard to find today. I can’t recall what I got for baptism when I was 13 days old, or what I got for First Communion when I was seven, but the loot from confirmation when I was 11 included a missal for Sunday Mass, a statue of the Blessed Virgin and $45, a tidy sum in those days. Obviously all three made an impression.
People pay less attention to religious items for the home or on their person these days, but some groups pay more attention than others. Research from the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reports that Hispanic Catholics are more likely than other Catholics to own faith-related items.
Notes CARA: “Two-thirds of Hispanics have a statue or picture of Mary at home (67 percent compared to 56 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics). Four in ten wear a crucifix or cross (40 percent compared to 29 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics), and a quarter carry prayer cards or coins (25 percent compared to 18 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics.)
People use statements of religious identity for many reasons. A nice piece of art that depicts a moment from salvation history can express both religious feelings and artistic sense. My name used to be Sister Mary Peter so I treasure a print of El Greco’s St. Peter that I found at the magnificent cathedral in Toledo, Spain. A three-inch high statue of a pondering Christ sits on my desk, partially because it fits into the palm of my hand.
Some people carry a rosary in their purse or pocket, even if they don’t pray on it. It comforts them and perhaps they know they can finger the beads in troubled moments, which can come any time.
U.S. Catholics do less talking about religion than they used to, and street-corner preaching isn’t the evangelizing style of most of us today. But we need ways to express what we hold deeply, even if only through the symbolism of religious articles.
These articles help us express our beliefs and enhance the religious stories of faith, be they be they the inspiring tale of the peasant Juan Diego, a stern bishop and the loving Mother of God, Our Lady of Guadalupe, or the amazing story of giraffes, elephants, orangutans, cats and dogs marching two-by-two into Noah’s ark. All the reminders of our faith sustain us, whether it is a day with tears or laugher or warm remembrance.