Thursday, October 11, 2007


Picture a small group of guys sitting around chewing the fat. One of them is a priest wearing his collar. One of them (not the priest) is telling a story part of which goes something like this, “So the guy backed his truck up and dumped a whole *!#% load of it on his neighbor’s lawn.” Realizing what he said in from of a priest he turns and says, “Sorry Father!”

I used to blow such things off and say, “Don’t worry about it,” but that never quite sat well. There is something wrong about a Catholic speaking that way. Even in the process of using the word that good Catholic seeing an iconic symbol of our calling to holiness was able to call himself up on it. Pretty cool.

An article in the “New Dictionary of Theology” talks about Catholics surrounding themselves with certain things of this world to aid us in keeping our eyes on the next. Not only do we have our community, our stories, Sacred Scripture and Tradition, our practices and prayers, we also have a great amount of symbolic imagery, “which supports and undergirds the whole enterprise,” providing us with stimulus and motivation and creating “a climate favorable” to the type of life to which we are called. Perhaps it would be better if we could just accomplish good lives without all the outward stimulus, but in a world that constantly bombards us with stimuli to act in a way contrary to the life of a Catholic, it is in many ways essential.

All this comes to you by way of a comment shared by a fellow priest that has my liturgical underwear in a bunch. A young priest was called to task by another priest for wearing his collar “too much”. Yes, there are times I do not wear my collar. Many times it is just because they are so incredibly expensive (so I don’t wear them hanging around the rectory on my day off for example) and would think a priest odd if he wore his collar to the beach like in the famous Coke commercial.

There is a fear however that a priest who wears his collar “too much” is somehow clerical, perhaps wearing his collar for the wrong reasons, using it for power, or as something to hide behind. This is possible. But the problem is not in wearing the collar “too much”, but in the character of the person. Shaming him into not wearing it will not cure the problem. Some of the most clerical priests on the face of the earth are those who refuse to wear a Roman Collar.

Yesterday (as this was being composed) there was news of yet another school shooting in Cleveland. As I was on the treadmill pictures of the event popped up on every television and on every channel. Does this not happen every time there is such a tragedy? From the first moment a camera gets on the scene the coverage is non-stop till long after everyone has run out of things to say.

Add to this that a great amount of our common stories are about violence being a legitimate way to solve problems. This occurs on television, at the movies and in our popular novels. I would be willing to bet the shooter’s music glorified violence; perhaps the graphics on his T-shirts, the posters in his room, and the billboards around his house either glorified force or failed to in some way to uphold the dignity of human life. Would that he, at a crucial moment in his formative years, instead of seeing another scene such as these, he had seen a young priest who was wearing his collar “too much”.

Young(er) priests, don’t worry about it. It takes a while to get the hang of when it is absolutely necessary for you to wear your clerics and when it is Okay not too. And there tends not to be hard and fast rules though Pope John Paul II often instructed priests and religious to always wear their distinctive (clerical) clothing, unless wearing it would result in persecution or grave verbal attacks. In a world full of messages and symbols contrary to our own it is not such a bad thing that we stick our symbols as boldly out there.


Habemus Papam said...

I agree with the article. But I also pose the question. Should a doctor always wear their scrubs or carrying a stethoscope with them so people know they are a doctor? Should a mail carrier always carry a bag of mail so others know their vocation in life? Or perhaps its just as you stated, wearing it at the appropriate time is the key. I often wonder. I was working at the hospital the other day and there was a man in a collar (I won't even go into the fact that some women wear collars there...ggrrr) but when I went up to greet him, he looked at me and said, I'm not a priest, I'm in the seminary. Hum...boy was I confused!!!

Anonymous said...

Well, call me a Catholic snob, but whenever a minister has come into a nursing home, I rarely have noted it unless someone hailed him as Pastor So-and-So in the hallway on his way to visit someone. But when a priest in clerical garb comes in, there's a hush and a smile from all--residents, staff, families. We all turn toward him, and some rush over because they already know his first name and can address him: Father. Even those who've fallen away from the Sacraments are pleased to see him. He represents Christ-in-our-midst.

It is possible we've seen many Sisters within these buildings, but without the habit, we don't know. Many women of different denominations wear a cross.

One of our ladies used to save her desserts "for Father." It was the only gift she had. I'm sure much the same priestly hush and rush happens within hospital corridors, too. It's an Emmanuel moment, and I hope priests (and seminarians) will take note that the collar makes that most immediate difference.

Fr. V said...

*Just my immediate thoughts*

But being a doctor is something someone whose vocation may be - say - a married person is something he does for work - but all of the time he is a married person and yes, I think that he should wear something - like a wedding ring - so that all times people should now how to treat him in his vocation. If you want to see his as a doctor, he does that when he is in his office.

Priesthood may also entail aspect of "job" but it is primarily a vocation. It is who you are and how you glorify God. My primary care is not to a wife and children but to the greater Church. That is what my vocation entails, not my "job" as a parochial vicar.

Like a husband there may be times when I do not want to be bothered, but I don't stop wearing my collar as he would a ring, a nun doesn't stop wearing her habit - well - if she wears one.

Now there are certain jobs that also have aspects of vocation attached - such as doctors, policemen etc and they should carry identification so that if needed or called upon, they can act. But their primary identity is husband/father. THat is who they ARE, not what they DO.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I've also been apologized to as a Catholic, either just after or more hair-raisingly just before an anti-Catholic crack or joke or musings on the gay lifestyle.. and it's usually only an ex-Catholic who already knows he or she shouldn't go there with or without me. If we live our Catholicism to such a degree that it can be heard (albeit without the least chest-thumping) even if not seen, then we are doing something right: being a witness to Him, for self and for others. But non-clerical/non-Religious garb should be reserved exclusively unto the laity.

uncle jim said...

Clothing is a symbol, albeit not always accurate.

I worked in outside sales for many years, or was in a capacity where I needed to have face-to-face meetings with our company's customer clients. My clothing symbol was my coat and tie - of course I had to be clean and neat, and shine my shoes and comb my hair, and that was all part of the 'image' that together formed a symbol, I think.

For YEARS I never even owned a pair of blue-jeans ... my children mostly grew up seeing me in a suit.

In more recent years, I now am involved in a small auto repair business. We do not wear suits. We wear very practical clothing that doesn't show the dirt and grease as much, and holds up to harsh chemicals and strong laundry detergents - a uniform based on utility more than position as a symbol. A different type of symbol.

Additionally, a few years ago I discovered the comfort of bib overalls - with a flannel shirt, boots and not recently shaved, I look down right like I'm in from the farm. A different symbol in peoples mind's eye.

Well, depending on situation, you can now find me in a suit ... or jeans ... or overalls ... or greasy mechanics clothing ...

If you've just met me and judged me by some image you have based on clothing as your clue, you can get all messed for the next time you see me dressed totally different.

A couple years ago my wife and I were on a vacation trip - we were dressed very casual. Normally, when home, we don't eat out a lot. On vacation, we didn't have much choice. We noted, because it started being noticeable, that where they set us in the restaurant seemed to be following a pattern which we identified with "how we were dressed."

We have actually done it intentionally at times as a game, and dressed down to go out, and see where they place us. We're so comfortable with who we are and have no pretensions, I hope, that it really doesn't matter. It is interesting.

I bet Father could do the same by wearing a collar, and not.

Adoro te Devote said...

I think that the term "Vocation" is often misapplied to people who have "jobs" as opposed to a particular call to a state in life.

Speaking from the perspective of law enf. and fire dept. services, it is a "calling" but I would not call them a "vocation" per se. Such people in those fields are indeed called to a particular way of sacrificial living; police officers, within their jurisdiction, are typically EXPECTED to carry their guns off duty. And fire dept. personnel, medics, EMT's, etc., are expected to step in should someone drop at their feet from a heart attack while in line at the bank or grocery store or something. It's a professional standard. But it's still not a Vocation.

Anonymous said...

If I were a Priest, I would only wear my "collar" while working. Being bothered by both those who would love me, and those who would persecute me at other times would be annoying.

As a nurse, wearing scrubs is such a reminder of work--I can't wait to take them off.

But, if our Pope says wear the collar often--I would listen to the vicar of Christ!

Fr. V said...

I also realized that I got a bit off topic - One specific priest wanted to wear his collar a lot. If he does, I see nothing wrong with it in and of itself. That was kind of the point.

Not wearing a collar does not make a priest less a priest - but I do think he is missing out on part of the larger picture - the essential sensual aspect of man. In a perfect world we wouldn't need collars (or fig leaves fo rhtat matter.

uncle jim said...

fig leaves? Hmmmmm - I haven't tried that one yet. I wonder where the restaurant would seat me? Oh, I forgot about Health Dept Regs - they'd probably require a hair shirt.

Father Schnippel said...

Uncle Jim: I'm not going there!

My take on the subject can be found here

uncle jim said...

Here's a news item from our friends in the UK. Clergy have been warned that they should leave their collars off and at home when out in public - as a safety measure against being attacked.

Anonymous said...

The only time I take off my wedding ring is out of necessity. Lets say I am going to work with some heavy equipment and I don't want to de-glove my finger. Maybe this is much the same as the Priest who takes off clericals swim.

I know guys would take them off so they can "take some time off" of being married, for various bad reasons.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your article and just thought this might amuse you. My fifteen year old son attends the local diocesan college. There are six priests on the teaching staff. All wear their clerical clothing at all times. Two weeks ago I was leaving him into the city to meet up with friends. As we passed the cinema, he spotted the school principle in civvies. His reaction had me in stitches. He just couldn't handle it!
Interestingly enough, our PP is one of those priests that never wears his collar. Guess who my son has more respect for. The priests in school, because they're not "afraid to show what they stand for."