Once upon a time, Catholic jewelry used to be the mark of an actual Catholic. Although wearing religious jewelry among Christians has been common for quite some time, you could still tell a difference. For example, if someone was wearing a cross necklace, it was safe to guess they were Protestant. But if you saw someone wearing a crucifix necklace, then they were definitely Catholic. That was how you could spot the Catholics in any crowd.
Nowadays, it seems like wearing Catholic jewelry is just the cool thing to do. Supermodels, movie stars, singers, and other pop stars sport crucifix necklaces all the time. This has been going on for quite a while (Madonna) but it seems much more prevalent today. So much so that now even rosaries are used as Catholic jewelry, and gang members are wearing rosaries around their necks. It's gotten to the point that now an actual Catholic who actually uses a rosary to pray was recently forbidden from wearing his rosary at school, because it's become so associated with gangs that it's now considered a gang symbol.
Additionally, many people are now hanging rosaries from their car rear view mirror—which, again, used to be a specifically Catholic thing—without a clue that they're actually objects for prayer. So, this invites my question: Does Catholic jewelry still matter? Or has it become so generalized and watered down that it just isn't the same anymore? It obviously doesn't necessarily identify you as a Catholic when you wear it.
Well, I'm not a cynic, so I say that yes, wearing Catholic jewelry does still matter. Here's why I think so:
First, even though wearing crucifix necklaces, rosaries, and other Catholic jewelry is almost mainstream, it doesn't follow that it is no longer important for Catholics to wear them. We need somebody wearing these things who actually knows their meaning and proper intention—as objects of devotion to Our Lord and our Christian faith.
Second, Catholic jewelry can be a huge opportunity for evangelization. When we see someone wearing Catholic jewelry or displaying rosaries in their car, we can start a conversation about the faith. It's a golden opportunity. There have been two instances where I've done this, so I'll share them with you as evidence for my position.
While praying the rosary at an abortion clinic, I was asked by a staff member if I had any more rosaries and if I'd give him one. Assuming that he was actually interested in praying the rosary and delighted to give him one, I handed it over. But after talking to him, then glancing over at his car with a few of them already hanging from his rear view mirror, I quickly realized that he may not have a clue what a rosary is other than a car ornament. I asked him "Do you know what this is for?" And . . . he didn't.
I explained to him how to pray the rosary, and I even had handy a rosary book that explained how to pray the rosary with information on each rosary mystery. He took it and seemed genuinely surprised that there was actually more to the rosary than just a string of beads that looks cool (as if the crucifix didn't give it away). He then proceeded to tell me how sick his mother was, how he was trying to take care of her, and that he was thankful for my prayers for her. So, will he start praying the rosary? I don't know. But he might, or he may give the rosary book to someone else who will, and that's the point.
Several months later, again, while praying at an abortion clinic, a lady standing next to me was wearing a wood bead rosary around her neck. I was curious because she wasn't using it to pray, but yet she was wearing it. So I asked her about it, and as it turns out she randomly bought it from someone for a few dollars and had no idea how to pray with it. So I explained it to her, but unfortunately didn't have a rosary pamphlet handy to give her. Instead, I got her email address and sent her some online links that would explain to her how to pray the mysteries of the rosary. I am very optimistic that she will use her rosary to pray with more often.
So, I count these as evangelization opportunities. You never know when these little encounters with Catholic jewelry will be used by God as a means to draw people into deeper conversion to Christ. So when you're wearing your crucifix necklace, and you see someone else wearing one too, you should go up to them and say, "Oh, are you Catholic? I'm Catholic too!", or if they have a rosary hanging from their rear-view mirror, you can go up to them and say, "Oh, you pray the rosary? I pray the rosary too!" and the like. I don't think you'll have to be too worried about negative comments or reactions, because the very fact that these people are using religious objects (even if just for show) is indicative of some kind of openness to faith, which you can then use as an opportunity for evangelization. Invite them to Mass if you dare . . . you never know, they may say yes!