In praise of the "necessary others"

In praise of the "necessary others" March 29, 2011

I’ve posted a lot of items around here about wearing the Roman collar.  Elizabeth Scalia has a few choice thoughts about those who do — and suffer because of it:

When Buddhist monks and nuns go out in public wearing their robes, they usually get some curious looks, but they’re not harangued for their vows of celibacy, and many folks (myself included) like seeing them and taking note of the fact that there are people who give up a great deal that is good and valuable and tender, in order to follow a Path. It’s not the path I choose, but I do like to see it.

Just so, when I see a priest in collar, or a seminarian in cassock, or a nun in her habit, I like it. It comforts me to know that they are out there—the people who are living Consecrated lives, the “necessary others” giving up so much that is good and valuable and tender, in order to Serve. There is something powerful in the silent Witness their attire proclaims. I have read interviews with young sisters who have reclaimed the wearing of the habit and have had wonderful encounters with people who are either pleased to see that Witness, or who ask them questions the nuns are happy to answer, as it clears up a lot of misinformation, or gives them a chance to talk about Jesus. They get some nonsense once in a while, too, but not so much, it seems as the priests do.

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4 responses to “In praise of the "necessary others"”

  1. I always smile whenever I see someone in religious garb. It reminds me to be a better person, regardless of what is happening in my life at that moment.

    The youngest son of a family who lives around the corner from me is a brother. (I don’t know what order, but they wear grey robes.) He and several fellow brothers were visiting when we got about 8 inches of snow. It was wonderful to see these brothers in their robes joyfully playing in the snow, everything from snowball fights to making a very large snowman and a few snow angels. They shoveled the drive and sidewalk, too.

    That brought a big smile. And a reminder to let my children enjoy the snow without nagging them about all the mess.

  2. I am not so fixed on the wearing of clericals and other religious garg; I could actually come up for some arguments against the overdoing of it. That said, I am taken with Elizabeth’s thought about the Buddhists.

    Whenever people go off on how celibacy is the root cause of all evil in the church, or one of them at least, I bring up the Buddhist argument… so often the same people against celibacy for Catholic clergy think that the Buddhists are so cool. I should know… I once thought (mistakenly) the same thing.

    There is no panacea, but there is always witness. Thank you.

  3. I am a huge fan of identifiable religious garb for secular clergy or religious. However, I think that it makes a lot of sense to have this identifiable dress be contemporary for those who are in “active” religious life or secular clergy.

    The clerical shirt w/collar and black pants OR the mid-calf length dress with simple veil clearly deliver an unmistable message of dedication to God as much as do the medieval garb of monastic life. BUT I do think the monastic garb should remain among the monastics/contmeplatives as there seems to be something “right” about it for those who are separated from everyday life in the parishes and neighborhoods.

    During these times of seemingly retro reaction in the Church to modern craziness, I think it helps to recall that Sisters from the time of St. Vincent de Paul (first active community, 17th century) on up to today wore the dress of their day but in a UNIFORM fashion and with some UNMISTAKABLE additional sign of consecration (not just a cross or a pin). Blessed Mother Teresa did this as well: she took the ordinary sari of a poor Indian woman, adapted it every so slightly, and made it uniform. Its only because of its style that it looks “religious habit-like” to us in the West. In india you can clearly point out the MC sisters but they do not stand out in a striking fashion.

  4. Pope Celestine wrote the bishops of Gaul in 428 AD to refrain from distinctive clerical garb:
    ” We should be distinguished from the common people by our learning, not by our clothes; by our conduct, not by our dress . . .”
    I’m happy that our bishop does not require “clericals” for permanent deacons. If such mandate were ever promulgated, I would consider “senior status” or excardination.

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