Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Monday, June 25, 2018

When I count my flaws, right there at the top of the list is my all-time favorite: I’m always eager to judge other people from appearances. I’ve been this way at least since the ’60s when I used the word "hypocrite" an estimated 739 times a day, always agonizing over the speck in my neighbor’s eye while ignoring the 2-by-4 in my own. Some things never change.

My father once gave me some sound advice that I’ve pretty much ignored all my life – "Live and let live."

The morning commute into Manhattan gives me countless opportunities to criticize my fellow man and woman. I’m the perfect 21st century Pharisee, sitting there in business suit, with briefcase and iPad in hand on the long ride into the city.

The day usually begins uneventfully as I peruse about eight news sites on my iPad from the Associated Press to National Public Radio and The New York Times. It’s a long ride and reading all that news can depress me because it reminds me of what’s wrong in the world. After that, I proceed to the celebrity gossip stories, and by the time I’m done reading them, I’m thoroughly convinced we’re living in a world that rivals ancient Rome for its decadence.

After those secular pursuits, I reach into my satchel and pull out my vintage prayer book, published sometime back in the 1960s, titled Blessed Be God, which I found years ago in a used book store. Subtitled, "A Complete Catholic Prayer Book with Epistles and Gospels for Every Sunday and Holy Day of the Year," the book is filled with novenas and litanies, prayers to saints and prayers for the dead and just about any kind of prayer you’d need on a bad day.

It’s a bit ironic to be seen doing my devotions in the morning aboard the commuter train, and I’ve attracted a variety of curious responses over the years from people who are amused or think prayer should be kept behind closed doors and not aboard Metro-North.

Then, I start to go on the offensive and become judgmental of the people around me, and the Pharisee in me starts to show through.

A seat away is a young woman, who must be gearing up for a career in fashion or at the cosmetics counter at Macy’s. She always gets on with her boyfriend and then promptly sits down and takes out her collection of cosmetics, from eye-liner to blush and various other concoctions I’ve never seen before.

The other day she was brandishing a brush that looked like it could be used for basting very large turkeys, and she kept fluffing it across her cheeks and staring lovingly at herself in the mirror. Then, she moved on to her eyes and lips and cheeks and – I have to look away and get back to my prayers because I find it disturbing someone could be so self-obsessed in public.

After this very long process, she puts her toys away and sits listening to her iPod, but every so often, she can’t resist the temptation to open her compact mirror and look at herself again. Heaven forgive me for being judgmental! (What did I say about the speck in her eye?)

Amid the commuters listening to music and playing games on their iPads and reading their eBooks are a few dinosaurs who read the morning paper. One fellow looks like a Wall Street trader in training – young and clean-cut, with a pin-striped suit, white shirt, full Windsor knot in his purple tie and black tasseled loafers.

I wonder what he makes of me – the dinosaur beside him, reading a tattered prayer book. (Truth be told, I have every prayer imaginable, including the complete Revised Standard translation of the Bible, the breviary and the daily Missal on my iPad, but I like the old book better.)

As we pull into the lower level of Grand Central Terminal, I put away the prayer book and gather my possessions, but not before saying a sincere Act of Contrition for judging all these people. I feel better temporarily … until I see the young woman checking herself in her mirror one last time. Then, I say a prayer for her.

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.