Old Photos: Symbols of Disrespect

Walking through a flea market takes us into the past. In so doing, I’ve found many interesting things, but I have been struck especially by old pictures – tintypes or photos of families, parents, children, or dignified men and women from a bygone era. Most were unknown to me. In my wanderings, though, I’ve seen pictures that I recognized - priests, nuns, bishops, ministers of various denominations, saints, and even Pope Leo XIII. They hung on a wall or were piled up with other items, mostly junk.

When viewing them in their present location, I’ve often wonder how those photographed would feel if they knew their pictures ended up with old saddles, iron rail spikes, and antique deodorant bottles. I especially remember one dignified archbishop whose picture hung between a beer advertisement on one side and a racetrack description on the other. Scandalously, I’ve also seen pictures of Jesus in less than desirable settings.

Reflecting on where these pictures ended up caused me to remember how easy it’s become to disrespect what once was precious to someone else. In my youth, the items described above would have garnered respect. Regarded as sacred, they would have not been casually discarded into a pile of trash, as they are today.

But there is more. Today’s society not only disrespects pictures; often it disrespects people as well. How much respect do we show elderly parents or relatives in nursing homes when we rarely visit them? How much do adults or teenagers respect others if they sell them drugs or take advantage of them by giving them pornographic magazines or inducing them to act immorally? How much do we respect God when we curse and swear and use his name in vain?

The Ten Commandments teach us to respect one another. Let the pictures of discarded loved ones and sacred figures in flea markets remind us to reflect on the Commandments and show greater respect to those around us, especially our loved ones.

Order Fr. Hater’s latest book, Common Sense Catechesis: Lessons from the Past, Road Map for the Future.