The Cassock and Collar Make the Man

Clerical_clothing

One wonderful thing about growing up Catholic is that I always smile and feel excited whenever I see a priest or a nun in full uniform. I understand why plainclothes nuns exist and in my college, some of the priests wore casual clothes along with their collars. But the feeling’s not the same. Whenever I see a Missionary of Charity, in their signature blue and white habits, I automatically think of Mother Teresa and think These women are so awesome to be following in her footsteps. Whenever I see a priest in a cassock, I think Wow that cassock is badass! 

So Tom Chiarella of Esquire Magazine’s experiment of dressing up as different men, priest included, definitely caught my eye. The first one he dressed up as was a priest. It was interesting to me that he chose the cassock to “look like the Jesuit priests who taught me to write.” I’m assuming he had a Catholic school education up to a certain point. I also like that he respected the uniform of the priest enough to not wear a crucifix or carry a Rosary or act like a priest when he was never ordained as such.

But what really struck at me was this (emphasis mine):

No one asked my name. No one called me Father Tom. But that’s what the uniform made me. People want to believe.

Especially people in need. All day long, I was faced with homeless men, homeless families, crouched in the street. Sometimes they reached up to me, touched my wrist. Twice I was asked for a blessing that I could not give. Not in the way they wanted. I started wishing that I were capable of performing a service for the world. And I found I could not do nothing. The uniform comes with some responsibility; otherwise, it is just a party costume. I started kneeling down, holding out a ten-dollar bill, and saying, “I’m not a priest. But I feel you.” And I couldn’t do it once without doing it a couple dozen times. Chicago is a big city, with a lot of souls stuck in its doorways. It still makes me sadder than I could have imagined.

It’s easy to put on a cassock. And it’s really not easy to wear one at all.

I think, if anything else, this is evidence of what the life of a priest is like and why the church doesn’t call for married priests. Being a priest isn’t a job you clock in and out of. It’s a lifestyle that demands that the man who wears the collar and uniform to completely surrender himself to serving others, whether as a diocesan priest or as a member of a religious order.

When I was going on vocation retreats, a book called To Save a Thousand Souls caught my eye and a dear friend let me keep a copy. When I read that book, the lifestyle of a priest was laid open to me. Priests have to be able to manage a parish (if they’re diocesan) or have some kind of full-time job that requires a lot of responsibility. They also have to celebrate Mass, be ready to go to hospitals when necessary, celebrate weddings and funerals, give advice, hear Confessions, stand up for the teachings of the Church and, oh yeah, keep their own souls intact in the process.

Most priests may not be able to have families the way that ordinary men and women do, but they make a family in a completely different way. One priest that comes to mind is my dear friend Fr. Keon, who was a professor at my alma mater. He passed away a few years ago, but his life was an amazing one. Most of his life as a priest was spent teaching and serving the University of St. Thomas as a member of the Basilians. He taught philosophy and participated in many on-campus activities such as attending plays and going out to the movies with students. When I met him, he was retired, spending his days in the cafeteria talking to students, telling tall tales and making everyone laugh.

When Fr. Keon passed away, generations of students came to his memorial service. Everyone had stories to tell, memories to share about the time they spent with this priest. It’s hard to say that Fr. Keon never had a family when hundreds of alumni, young and old, were all there celebrating his life and at the same time missing him.

The life of a priest is one with great power and great responsibility. Each priest has the potential of being a hero to the Church and to the world, filled with lost souls. My hope is that people will come to understand that and pray for them always.

The Laments of Liabilities in Discerning Religious Life

I’ve mentioned on here before that although I want to get to know what it’s like to be a nun more, I haven’t exactly been provided with opportunities to do so. I do have a wonderful nun who acts as my spiritual director, but she’s told me that pursuing religious life would be harder for me because I have more liabilities. What are my liabilities, you ask? Mainly the fact that I have autism and that I have a long list of food allergies. 

When I told a few orders about myself as part of the interview process for come-and-see events, they told me outright that I wouldn’t be considered as a potential sister. One order even said that I wasn’t qualified to go to the come-and-see retreat they were hosting.

I know everyone’s praying for an increase in vocations but it’s kind of hard when convents and monasteries feel more like a VIP nightclubs. I get that I’m socially awkward. I get that being in a convent is a completely different lifestyle change and for people with autism, the process of adjusting would take a long time. What really bugs me is that these people decided to slam the door before they even saw my face.

And I’m not the only one who faces this problem. More than a few young adults who identify themselves as under the LBGT+ spectrum also face rejections from religious orders just on the basis that they have same sex attraction. These Catholics could be living chaste lifestyles, but their sexual orientation becomes a liability instead of an opportunity to further understanding.

Locked_Gates_Occupy_Harvard

 

I’m not asking for religious orders to be as open as Grand Central Station. Nor am I asking for them to give people who may not fit the usual mold any special treatment. I’m just asking to give those who seek to understand religious life a chance. Get to know all those who desire to be a nun, a monk, or a priest as individuals. What people call “liabilities” are still parts of our lives. And if there’s anything we know, it’s that God has a way of turning what the world sees as a liability into a strength. After all, love is an open door and besides that…

“Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossip, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sara was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Abraham was old,… and Lazarus was dead. God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the CALLED!”