Walking out of the store yesterday I saw a pleasant enough looking young lady riding in a car. She had the window rolled down, her hand extended and her middle finger pointing toward God. At first I thought the thoughtful gesture was aimed in my direction, but then she caught sight of me in my Roman collar and her finger wilted like a wet, hot noodle in boiling water. Simultaneously there was apparently something that she wanted to look at intently in the exact opposite direction from whence I was standing.
Sometimes people wonder if religious garb is passé or unnecessary. Hollywood clearly thinks otherwise. If you need religious symbolism to get a point across, out come the habits and the collars (and the candles and the statues . . .).
I find it patently unfair that when some organizations (who shall remain anonymous) want to raise money all of a sudden out come pictures of nuns in habits that they have not worn for years. But that is because they know the symbolism does something. (That is not to say that there are not perfectly good nuns who do good work who do not wear habits.)
Think of a pan of a crowd in a news segment that catches a priest or sister in religious garb. For that instant, thoughts of Church, God, and Catholicism pop into mind.
When I was a baby priest, occasionally I would be walking down the street and catch a glimpse of myself with my collar on in a store window. It would jolt me into remembering that I was living a very public Catholic life involving powerful symbols and that my actions meant something to other people. It is not about me, a humbling lesson to learn, but about that collar and what it is supposed to represent.
For good or bad, symbols play a huge role in our lives. What a blessing to use this gift to remind people that even in a parking lot of a strip mall on a Thursday God is still present and that we should live our lives accordingly.