September 29, 2009

To Wear a Collar or not

Just recently I had a fabulous lunch with a priest friend of mine who I would classify as "orthodox", and as we met I noticed that he was without his clerical attire.  Of course we were only meeting in a mall for brunch so it is understandable that he did not find it necessary to wear this external sign of priesthood but I truly felt over-dressed to say the least! The comment that he made was "oh, you're wearing your clerics, well, I just don't want to draw attention to myself because many will treat us differently(with greater respect) than the average person".
This made me question why do I wear my clerical uniform(either the cassock/soutana, clergyman suit, or shirt with the Roman collar) especially when an overwhelming amount of priests here in the Philippines do not.  I remember a conversation I had with my bishop when I was going through this same dilemma, he challenged me : "Oh, why do you doubt yourself? You are doing the right thing and what is prescribed by the Church but you are doubting? You must be secure in your decisions and most importantly know why you do the things that you do!"  Wow, that was definitely a shot in the arm but I must admit, every now and then I need another shot because it seems like I am out there on my own regarding clerical dress.
While I am on vacation in Manila, I am helping out a parish with their daily Masses. Since the Masses are in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite or Tridentine Rite, I must wear the cassock(it is white in the Philippines), so everytime I catch a bus or jeepney or taxi to the church for Mass there are a number of people who stare at me as if I just dropped out from another planet or galaxy!! A few would come up to me and greet me saying "Salaam alekem!" I quickly let them know that I am not a Muslim but a Catholic priest however they go away looking doubtful at my revelation.
The question still permeates my thoughts: why do I wear the clerical attire especially when most priests here have abandoned it or have relegated to special occasions? I guess my answer is very simple: because the Church tells me to do it and also because I was attracted towards the priesthood through priests who always donned the clerical uniform and never seen it to be a burden.  Pope John Paul the Great (may he be recognized as a saint soon) mentioned that this world is in need of signs of contradiction and that the clerical garb is one of these signs.  He remarked how young people who are so manipulated by the materialistic thrust in society are thirsty for real signs of true happiness and joy and this can be found initially through the outer signs of the clerical dress and religious habit.  I have many positive stories about wearing the clerical attire but I will admit that the comments and attitudes of my brother priests are getting to me!

During this year of the priest: pray for me!!!

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