Habitual Witness

A conversation:

Bob: Father, did you wear your black clerical gear to that family wedding on the weekend.

Fr. Dwight: No

Bob: What! Why not?

Fr. Dwight: I didn’t want to scare the horses.

Bob: V. funny. Okay, so most of the family are Protestants of various stripes. You were worried about offending them?

Fr. Dwight: Sort of. The other thing is that many of the people there were either Baptists or not Christian at all. Here in the South, wearing the black draws attention to you. I mean, it wasn’t my day, it was the bride and groom’s day. There’s the bride all dressed in her beautiful white gown and yours truly sweeps in an black robes. It’s kind of a killer. It’s too much like showing off.

Bob: I think you’re vain.

Fr. Dwight: Explain.

Bob: It’s a kind of backwards vanity. You don’t wear your black because you’re worried that you will make too much of an impact, and you’re worried what people will think. That’s vain. You’re like the teenage girl who says to grandpa, “But Gramps, I couldn’t possibly wear that dress…what will people think.” Gramps replies, “Darling, if you knew what little time other people spend thinking about you, you wouldn’t be so worried.” I don’t think those people would have taken as much notice of you as you think.

Fr. Dwight: Ouch.

Bob: Sorry.

Fr.Dwight: It’s okay. Tough criticism is the best. Who learns anything from flattery?

Bob: There’s more.

Fr.Dwight: Why am I not surprised?

Bob: If you had worn your black, you might have made some impact with the people who did notice. They would have respected you for your commitment and your guts for wearing your uniform with courage. What if you were a soldier. Would you wear your dress uniform to the wedding and do so with pride?

Fr. Dwight: Funny you should say that. In fact there was a young Marine there who did wear his dress uniform. It was pretty impressive.

Bob: Bingo! And how do you feel when you see a monk or friar or sister out and about in their habit? You feel great right? You feel proud to be Catholic right? You are glad they are doing their job. They’re not showing off or being proud. In fact, they are just doing their duty, and flying the flag. You should wear your clerical gear like that. Just do it. It helps people. It helps me. I like seeing you wear the clericals, in fact, the more the better.

Fr. Dwight: I wear my clerical shirt and black trousers every day. Do you think I should wear my cassock and Benedictine scapular too?

Bob: Go for it, and carry that big stick like in your photograph on the blog too.

Fr. Dwight: That’s a special stick. Do you know where I got that stick?

Bob: Tell me.

Fr.Dwight: It’s another story. Another time.

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  • “it wasn’t my day, it was the bride and groom’s day.”Good advice for anyone wondering how to dress for a wedding.

  • I’m assuming that was another “Bob”, not Bob Jones, you were talking to. 🙂 I think he’s right. You’re a priest…go for it. I don’t know about the robe and the stick…that might be a bit much. But the collar, etc…. if that shakes people up, maybe it should.

  • Just to share a couple of my own experiences:I remember talking with a woman one time at a retreat, who seemed very interested in why I was there and asked many questions. I spoke freely, until I got tired of talking about myself, and asked her, “What about you?” She replied, “Oh, I’m a Franciscan nun, one of the organizers.”She was wearing slacks, a nice sweater, pearls, and high heels. I felt deceived.On the other hand, before I became a Catholic, I was always uncomfortable on the rare occasion when I found myself in the presence of a priest wearing a collar, because I feared I would be judged. Except once: when the priest approached me in a very friendly way, and showed interest in me. I was very touched by that.I love it when priests wear cassocks and nuns wear habits. It is such a sign of contradiction for our times – and it is honest of them, being who and what they really are. But if you’re going to do it at places like non-Catholic weddings, I’d suggest that you go prepared to approach people, be friendly with them, and engage them in conversation – because many of them, even if they’re curious, will probably be terrified of approaching you, and won’t know what to say!

  • I like your friend Bob. He sounds like a very smart guy.

  • Jeron

    What Carolina said.

  • DGus

    Is it possible to dress in a manner that is distinctive to your RC priesthood (and thereby vindicates all those values for which “Bob” argues) but that is something less than the full-blown “Matrix”-style full-cassock get-up? I see priests in what looks like a normal business suit but with the dark shirt and clerical collar. What’s wrong with that?Bob’s arguments are clever, but he’s wrong if he thinks that one might not detract by distracting. For you might. For those Prots who think of your conversion as a betrayal, and who think that you now think that you’re better than they, the difficulties you pose become greater, the more elaborate your accoutrements are. If you wear a clerical collar, you need not wonder whether you will be seen as advertising your status. You certainly will. If you go beyond that and wear the cassock, it will look to them (trust me) almost as outlandish as if you’d come in a mitre and the pope’s red shoes and three-tiered tiara. If you simply want to be right, then dress without regard to the funny reactions of these people, and to heck with them. But if you love their souls (and I know you do), you can hardly take that approach–and of course Bob would never counsel you to do so.Bob’s suggestion of scrutinizing your interior self for vanity may just tie you in knots. It seems rather a Screwtape approach: The poor guy will always be doubting his own motives, so let’s make it impossible for him to choose ANY option, by reminding him, no matter which outfit he chooses, that reasons for rejecting the other one lurked in his heart, along with additional bad reasons for choosing this one.Better, I would say, to attempt an objectively coherent approach, and then laugh off the devil’s accusations about motives.Always happy to give sartorial advice to people of other relgions,DGusP.S. An important qualification to the above advice: You said it was a family wedding. Was your own mother there? If so, you could never go wrong by saying to your mother, “I’m inclined to wear my clerical uniform, but if that would make you very uncomfortable, I’d rather please you”–and then do what your mother says. It could almost never be wrong to please one’s mother. If you are criticized (for either decision, either way), wouldn’t the best answer be, “I wore what my mother asked me to wear.”

  • DGus, thank you for your input. Bob can indeed be answered back with your own observations, plus, I am still inclined to think my own instincts were correct–being aware that Catholic gear is attention grabbing and perhaps offensive–to have dressed down rather than up. The other detail is that certain Anglican clergymen may have been there wearing their clerical get up, and one wouldn’t want to cause further confusion, and heaven forbid that I be confused for an Anglican!! 🙂

  • When John Paul II was preparing for his visit to the Roman Synagogue, it was suggested to him that he remove his pectoral cross before going inside as a sign of respect for the non-Christian nature of the building. He responded that he was a Christian wherever he went, and those who entertained him had to be prepared to respect that fact.A priest is always a priest, and unless a given situation demands non-clerical attire (e.g. changing the oil in the car, sitting on the beach, hiking in the mountains, ect), he is obliged by his state in life to be dressed in clerical attire….much a married man is obliged by his state in life to wear his wedding ring.Now, there are several grades of clerical attire: cassock and sash, vest and French cuffs with a black suit, tab and collar and cotton pants, etc, etc. Casual, in other words, does not mean non-clerical, and it is therefore possible without much difficulty to be dressed in clerical attire and be appropriate to the occasion. What is not possible for a priest, though, is to avoid clerical attire in order not to offend. John Paul, as ever, shows us the way.

  • Thanks Boss. I should have gone in suit and clerical shirt.

  • DGus

    See? Always best to dress in a given way because somebody TOLD you to. However important docility may be as to doctrine, it is absolutely critical as to attire.Why decide, when you can simply obey?(No, I’m not being ironic.)

  • Do I have to wear black pajamas?

  • Seriously, the other advantage to obedience is that if Baptist Aunt Bertha is offended I can just say, ‘Well, the Pope tells me to wear all this.” This may have the counter productive effect of confirming in Aunt Bertha’s mind that Catholics are mindless automatons and that the Pope is an evil and oppressive foreign power, but on the other hand, they might be impressed by a ship that is so tightly run.Since there are a whole range of opinions and feelings, both within myself and my relationships–simple obedience is best.A clerical collar, but try to hold back on the ferriola, zuchetta and red shoes with bows and buckles…I will also try hard not to hand out holy cards of the Infant of Prague…

  • For school-related reasons, I’m going to a week-long training in an Evangelical megachurch at the end of this month, which will involve pastors and leaders from all over. I’ll likely be the only Catholic there. As a former Evangelical I have no problem going, and am comfortable in that environment (and I checked with the organizers to be sure they’d be comfortable having me there).My registration materials included a section for filling out both my name and church name, to be put on my namebadge.My church name: Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. So even if I wanted to be incognito, I couldn’t!

  • Robin Hunt

    My vote would have been clerical casual in accordance with your local boss. Distinctive without distracting. Enough about your fashion fascination, Oscar. Who got married?

  • My sister Donna’s second son, Michael, got married.

  • The cassock, scapular and stick rocks! I do hope you wear them more often…not at a wedding perhaps…but maybe for a walk?

  • Cool post; I need a friend like Bob to analyze me. Also, cassocks are way cool. And I always like to see a priest in clericals. No doubt it’s hard sometimes. I have actually refrained from wearing a cross because I thought my behavior might not be good enough to live up to it. I don’t have a fish on my car because of similar doubts about my driving. Priests (and religious who *wear* their habits) can’t escape that easily.

  • Oh, and Father, I think it’s impressive that you represented Bob’s side of the conversation so well. I find it hard to hear and retain opposing arguments, much lest post ’em on my blog. 🙂

  • By the way, Fr D, what did ‘that fellow’ wear? ;>)

  • John Inge, the groom’s uncle, officiated at the non-denomoinational Christian wedding (which took place in the pavilion of a public park) wearing a black suit, black clerical shirt with a white stole.

  • Very modest.While I don’t want to reopen discussion on what has been a most illuminating exchange of views on the question of clerical attire, I am left wondering whether we aren’t all being a little too self effacing(self in this context referring to one’s faith). I imagine such a discussion would totally mystify our Greek, Russian and Armenian brethren to say nothing of Muslim clerics for whom what to wear is seldom if ever in doubt.

  • We should also remember that most non liturgical clerical attire developed from the modest dress of ordinary poor people. The parson’s cassock, the country priest’s soutane…was often the only garment the man owned. He didn’t have a choice of clothing, and his poor cassock was the most practical, warm and all purpose garment. His everyday simple garb was therefore not only a sign of his clerical state, but of his intrinsic poverty. Same with the Franciscan habit or Benedictine robes. For the most part they were the ordinary clothes of the poor people of the day. They were not some exotic, archaic form of religious uniform. In that respect one of the new Catholic religious communities I know of are closer to the original charism. They wear jacket, shirt and tie and get their clothes from charity shops.

  • Maggie

    Our pastor brought up this subject just the other day in a homily. He said (is he correct? he is always very precise regarding church matters)that Canon Law states that a priest must always be attired in clericals, even on vacation. (Waving from his bedroom window one day when he was ill, he was sporting blue pajamas, however.)He said that he has heard confessions in the strangest places–one I remember was that he heard the confession of a shop owner, standing behind an antique Tiffany lamp. Other times, he has been engaged in conversation, sort of reminding me of the Ancient Mariner who stoppeth one of three.For him, if that is what Canon Law says, that is what he will do.Life is unpredictable, and a person never knows what circumstances he will find himself in. Being prepared to witness or to administer the sacraments, or to serve in some loving capacity without having to make long explanations and show identity to authorities would be such a privilege, why would anyone deny himself?For one to be called to wear clericals is such an honor that it should immediately generate the greatest humility when putting them on. And who knows what feelings stirred in the hearts of those who would have seen you. Remember St. Francis who said, “Preach always. Sometimes use words.”

  • Anonymous

    I get a warm fuzzy happy feeling when I see a priest in clerical garb, even if just the collar, and nuns in habit or even just the veil. (Some wear the veil with more normal modern clothes.) I live in a highly non-catholic area, mission territory, and so it’s unusual to see priests and religious. It’s comforting. I always at least smile warmly, or if it’s appropriate, go and introduce myself and strike up a conversation.So, yeah, the cassock and scapular would have been overkill…but please always wear the collar except when sleeping, swimming, bathing, or mowing the lawn. LOLkentuckyliz

  • Anonymous

    I have been watching His Fluffiness in Brazil on telly. The nuns who have a Carmelite like habit, but the outer cape is bright freakin’ blue, that is so beautiful! I want to join their order just to wear that getup. I better start learning Portuguese.kentuckyliz

  • Anonymous

    it does help me. thank you