Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Being a Public Person

On Thursday evening I went out with some parishioners. After mass one morning they had invited me to dine with them and then accompany them to the theatre for a live production of some Neil Simon play. It's all quite foreign to me, but they seem trustworthy enough and so I trusted their choice.

Actually, it's for a good cause in the end. It's a small-town theatre which often has to bring in people (actors, directors, etc...) from the cities and so it promotes the arts and thereby human excellence. Great. And the show, overall, was all right, though the storyline was a bit difficult to follow: "The Doctor is In." There didn't really seem to be any plot at all, actually, and it only highlighted some of the social awkwardness and character malformity which exists in much of our culture today.

At one point, however, there was a scene which played with the idea of a self-proclaimed "liberal father" visiting an unseemly part of the city and paying for his son to "become a man" on the occasion of his 19th birthday. Well, to say the least, the whole scene while enjoyable in the horrible humor which arises from human sinfulness and the difficulties inherent in bad choices (and suffering the consequences of those choices), was not edifying.

At this point, it is important to note that I was wearing my clerics. At one point the writer had made a joke which played upon sinfulness and awkwardness all around. The joke itself I found disturbing, yet the fact that the author was scheming and brash enough to throw that twist into the play made me laugh. As soon as I laughed, sure enough, a woman from the row in front of me turned and glanced at me and then redirected her attention to the play.

Now, I was in the last row of people. There were others who were laughing, but she did not look at them; nor was there another time throughout the whole play that this woman turned around. Nevertheless, the calculation of my mind to pick up on the author's intent, my laughing, this woman's turning and glancing only took but half a second, yet it leaves me with impressions which are lasting. This was not mere coincidence. This woman was turning to me because I represent more than just myself. Clerics are visible symbols of the Church. Clerics, especially when wearing clerics, are remind us of God, and all the truth, goodness and moral uprightness which goes along with being a friend of God.

As is true with all people, but in a heightened way, ordained ministers of the Church must avoid not only sin but also giving scandal even when no sin is involved. Sure, this could lead to scruples and there needs to be a reasonability to it. Yet, it does raise my awareness and sensitivity to what I've already known. The simple fact is that whether I like it or not people look to me as a model of moral uprightness. People (Catholic and non) expect clerics to be exemplars of holiness.

This incident provides a beautiful reminder. I am aware of my own personal sinfulness and shortcomings. I could simply stop wearing the clerics. I could simply stop going out to these events. I could simply ignore other people's "excessive sensitivity." Yet all of these would be ways in which I choose to opt out of the more difficult way, the more perfect way, and begin down that path of hardening my heart. Rather, aware of all my sinfulness, I must continue to allow myself to be in the public realm, visible to others and - not because of my own personality but because of the grace of God received through the sacrament of Holy Orders - remain a symbol of God's love and concern for the world.


Jonathan said...

That's why I don't wear my clerics to things like that. I'm not there on official business, so no need to have my 'work shirt' on. Not that I am any different with or without the shirt, except that without it I am not _actively_ acting on behalf of the Church.

The same thing goes for wearing vestments in the liturgy. In doing so, I am actively acting in the name of the Church and for a specific purpose. But I would never wear them to the office.

Deacon Gregory. said...

Yeah... I kind of hinted at my thoughts on this issue in my post. And I've thought of the whole "work" thing, but for a number of reasons, I can't get there. One of the greatest reasons is the norm of law:

"In liturgical rites, clerics shall wear the vesture prescribed in the proper liturgical books. Outside liturgical functions, a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests. The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric."

Usual attire? What's usual? Well, is hanging around the rectory usual? Is official business usual? Is doing things with parishioners usual? Is buying groceries usual? Is going to a movie usual? Is sleeping usual?

If the tradition or the norm said something about wearing the "work shirt" for "official business" and "civvies" for "personal time" (what is that, by the way, in the life of a priest?), I wouldn't wear it during those times. Yet, I can't bring myself to that point.

Julie said...


Great post, Deacon. When I see a priest or deacon in public doing non-liturgical things in his clerics -grocery shopping, at a play, driving his car- it usually gives me an unconscious "lift". It makes me remember I'm not alone in my life of trying to be a saint in every aspect of my life -not just at church but, at the grocery store, entertainment, or even driving. I can't really explain it, but it is so encouraging -it's like seeing family, seeing someone on your team, and knowing you're not alone in life.

Jonathan said...

And it is that very norm which has kept me from buying non-black clerics, even though I would really like a white pair in these sunny, hot days in Nebraska

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