Monday, May 04, 2009

Religious Habit

A few weeks ago, a friend and I went out to dinner. She wore a nice dress, a string of pearls, a pair of sensible shoes (somewhere between 'nun-sensible' and stiletto heels), and a jacket. I opted to wear a pair of khaki pants, a sport jacket, and a tie (yes, I also wore a shirt). 

Over the course of our meal, my friend asked me if I was supposed to wear clerical attire when I went out in public. To her mind, it would make sense to wear "clerics" for several reasons:

  • Black is always slimming.
  • Given the relative dearth of young members of the clergy, it's a good reminder that there are young men entering into ministry.
  • For people like me who struggle with fashion, it's very easy to match black with black with black. There's little room for error.
  • In certain situations, it might score you an upgrade on an airplane or a free meal.
Much of what she said was, of course, in jest. But this is a live issue for many people: should religious wear distinctive garb? If not, why not? If so, why and when?

I'm of a mind that I wear my clerical attire when I am acting in a Jesuit capacity: teaching, giving a public lecture or presentation, representing the Society at a civic or religious function. When I run to the drugstore to refill my allergy medicine, when I go out to get a pizza, and when I go out to socialize with my friends (restaurants, clubs, parties) I choose dress-casual. 

I reckon I'm of the mind that there is a time and a place for both styles of dress. I know young Jesuits who probably have clerical pajamas: they seem never to leave the house without a Roman collar and a suit on. I know others who think that the collar is a sign of clericalism that should be consigned to the dead-fashion heap, next to bell-bottoms and Crocs. 

But I'd be happy to hear from people what they think. I know students have said that they appreciate both styles of dress: they are reminded both of our counter-cultural lives and of the fact that Jesuits do not cease to be human and still can put on 'play clothes.' Next year, I have every intention of wearing clerical attire to work every day, because:

  • It'll make it easier to roll out of bed and get ready for class - I won't have to make daily fashion decisions. It'll be either black or black. Or black. 
  • Poly-blend fibers are always en vogue
  • Who wouldn't want to wear a constrictive collar while trying to herd freshmen or navigate one's way through masses of students in the hallway?
  • With any luck, it will strike fear in the hearts of students. 
Seriously, though, as a teacher next year I think it an integral part of my mission to teach to be a witness to students whenever I'm in their company - whether this be football games, plays, musicals, or other extracurricular activities. Nevertheless, I don't see much difficulty with opting to wear "civvies" or, in Ryan-speak, regular-people clothes when I'm doing informal activities (like going out for ice cream or spending time with friends).

Anyway, this is one of those posts that is far less charged than recent discussions of Notre Dame and President Obama. So please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts!

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