On Tuesday evening, I gathered with a bunch of other folks to pray the rosary. We met on the wet, chilly sidewalk outside Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral.
The sky unloaded on us as we arrived. But the rain eased up, almost stopped, as we began the service. It is the kind of thing that happens when I pray in front of Holy Name.
The Human Rights Campaign and Call To Action co-sponsored our gathering. It was one of seven vigils scheduled during the Vatican’s Extraordinary Synod (Oct. 5-19) on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” The vigils call on the bishops to “Pray, Listen, Discern” with LGBT families.
We prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries. As I prayed, I refitted the mysteries in my mind. For example, I juxtaposed Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane with a September Rolling Stonearticle about homeless LGBT teens, in which a young woman agonized about coming out to parents she feared would reject her. (Spoiler alert: they did.) For the scourging at the pillar, I thought of the icon of the Passion of Matthew Shepard, painted by the priest William Hart McNichols.
But in retrospect, the most important part of the vigil for me was the rosary I brought. It is not an ordinary rosary.
It comes from Rome. My cousin Jake bought it there fifteen years ago. It lives in a blue velvet pouch with white lettering: “ANNO SANTO 2000,” the Jubilee or Holy Year of 2000.
It is silver, or at least silver-plated. Every bead is sculpted like a rose. Shiny metal hexagons separate the decades, bearing images of the Roman “patriarchal” basilicas: St. Peter’s, the Lateran, St. Mary Major, St. Paul’s-Outside-the-Walls.
Above all, the rosary is unique because of the man with whom it had passing contact. It was blessed in a general audience at St. Peter’s Square, by the now-canonized Pope John Paul II.
When I related this to one of the vigil organizers, her eyes widened.
“Awesome,” she said. “You queered the rosary.”
I remember that around the time my cousin went to Rome, I had brought a big bunch of assorted sacramentals–medals and prayer books and such–to my parish to be blessed. Father nodded agreeably.
“But do you know what’s more important than me blessing them?” he asked, reaching into the sacristy cabinet for holy water and his copy of the Roman Ritual.
I gave him a blank stare.
“You have to use them,” Father said, opening the book.
I’ve thought about that since the vigil. I’ve also thought about a passage from A Persistent Peace, the autobiography of activist priest John Dear.
The first time Dear met Ignacio Ellacuria, one of the Salvadoran Jesuits who would be martyred at the University of Central America in 1989, Ellacuria told him: “The purpose of the Jesuit university in San Salvador is to promote the reign of God….to be for the reign of God means we have to be against the anti-reign.”
I have an innate appreciation for the sacramental: those holy people, spaces, and objects that are set apart, not to divide the sacred from the profane, but so as to illuminate the holiness hidden in all things. I like blessed medals, books, and rosaries. I respect, even now, the idea of having something blessed by a priest, or by the pope. And I understand, as an aside, that the pope who blessed my rosary would want nothing to do with how I spent my Tuesday evening.
But I also think my rosary became its most blessed while I prayed there in front of Holy Name Cathedral in the mist and half-light. Because there, I used it. (Or in this case, as my prayer companion said, I queered it.) And I did so as best I could, as best I understood, to promote the reign of God and to oppose the anti-reign.
There is nothing holier. There is nothing, no activity, no one, that conveys a higher blessing.