Monday, September 17, 2018

Wearing the Roman Collar as a witness to the faith, not just fashion statement.

Some of my lay friends have often commented on my sartorial choice of wearing my clerical black with the Roman collar almost all of the time.  Apart from being at the gym (they haven’t yet designed a gym outfit specifically for priests and religious), all who see me either in the church setting or even outside of it will know that I wear my Roman collar faithfully.  Why is that so?  Is it that I don’t have other clothes in my wardrobe?  Am I all that sartorially challenged?  

First of all, it is not about fashion.  My approach toward life needs to be something that says that my life is not about me.  My purposeful choice for God and his will has resulted in dedicating my life to the Church as a priest and to serve God’s purposes.  As such, this is demonstrated via my willingness to put aside what I prefer or what I want affecting even something as mundane as my choice of clothing.  It may seem small or inconsequential, but it is something that is chosen for me, rather than something that I choose for myself. It reminds me that even for something as simple as what I am to wear, I am not to worry.  Besides, it really makes things so easy that each morning when I open my wardrobe, it’s a no-brainer that I reach for my black section of my shirts and just take any one of my many black clerical shirts.  It challenges me to live out Jesus’ teaching where we should not be worried about what we are to wear, what we are to eat, etc.  

The second reason, which is perhaps even more important than the first, is that my wearing of this clerical garb is a sign of witnessing to the faith.  This became increasingly relevant as news of the abuse crisis in Pennsylvania rocked the Church the world over.  

I know that there are many priests and religious who for personal reasons hardly wear their faith through either a religious habit or clerical garb.  And there could well be some who are considering going about dressed in their lay clothing now, especially because of the way this Pennsylvania report has shaken so many around the world.  It could be a case of safety in anonymity, even though they may not be guilty of anything connected to those reports.  But this second reason of mine for not ditching my Roman blacks at a time like this and instead, to wear it with even more fidelity and pride, is because through this act, I am standing strong in united support and compassion for my abused brothers and sisters who had suffered innocently through no fault of theirs, at the hands of wolves in sheeps’ clothing.  

I am perhaps opening myself to being silently judged as an ‘associate predator’ though I have never abused anyone.  By wearing with fidelity this mark of my priesthood I am saying that not all priests are abusers, perverts nor are we hiding those who are.  I am standing up as a member of the collective part of the larger body of Priests who will bear the Cross of Christ for better or for worse, in good times and in bad.  And if I should be falsely accused as a child abuser, I am in that moment standing very close to Jesus who too was falsely accused of something so serious as to cause him to deserve a criminal’s death sentence in such a shameful way.  

Of course it will be the easier thing to assimilate into the world somewhat incognito, where people looking at me and my dressing will not associate me with a Church that has been so tarnished, and so badly at that.  As far as I am concerned, the Church was never a perfect Church, and on this side of heaven, it never will be.  All of us are a work in process.

Not all priests and not all bishops are bad.  Just as one swallow does not a summer make, so neither does a number of bad priests and religious mean that all of us are bad.  My wearing of my collar is my witness to the world that I still do believe that Jesus is the savior of the world, and that the Roman Catholic faith is the channel through which God’s grace comes to his people, wounded though it may be.  Ditching my clerics at this point is to say that I only believe in a sin-free, perfect and unblemished church, which it isn’t.  The Church is a mystery because though it is a channel for God’s grace to reach her people, it is also very plagued by the temptations of the devil. 

In the gospels, Jesus tells the young man to take up his cross and follow him.  By wearing my collar with fidelity and consistency, I am acting out one dimension of faithfulness and am taking up a cross as well.  The more the church is tainted and seen as a source of scandal, the heavier this cross will be.  

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