Feb 1, 2010

Clerical Culture - A Good Thing?

Mary Naughton, the great pastoral associate par excellence for years at the esteemed St. Ignatius Loyola Parish on Park Ave. in NYC writes eloquently about our post on "Why Priests Should Wear Their Collars and Why Lay People Need Something Identifiable as well" via Facebook.

Sounds to me like you all want to create yet another layer of clericalization for yourselves. As for Deacons wearing clerical collars - pullease! Aren't they clerical enough already? I've been a Lay Minister in parishes and a college for 25 years and, yes, at first it's hard, but as people get to know you and they see you caring about them and working hard for them, the fact that you are an "ordinary lay person" becomes an asset, not a liability.People who would never talk to a priest or a nun in a habit will seek you out because they feel you will understand them and know how ordinary Catholics live. You won't ever get the knee jerk clerical glory, but what did you get into ministry for anyway? Jesus didn't wear a clerical collar or an oversize pectoral cross.

I'd like to address the last part first by saying very simply three simple words:

"We're not Jesus."

I think that while Jesus didn't have anything identifiable about his garb, He was also God. Clearly, that had to help.

However, I do think that Ms. Naughton makes an interesting point in this regard. The way we live our lives is what most attracts others. When people see us doing service and doing it because our faith compels us, that speaks volumes. When you are visible in a parish as someone who is involved, or on the parish council or the staff or whatever...that too speaks volumes and as Mary notes (and I have had similar experiences) people who are uncomfortable with priests or nuns might indeed seek out one of us simply because they see someone like themselves and in that is a great moment of evangelization.

However...that takes a lot of time. And in a world of immediacy, especially with young people we can't afford to wait a moment. Studies show that people's attention span are down and that you only have 10 seconds to gain the attention of young people.

That's 10 seconds... about the attention span of a hummingbird.

In the particular case I mention, Fr. Pat got sought out very simply for one reason: a young person in crisis could easily identify him. There wasn't a question about who is was and the young man didn't even have to think about whether or not this man with the collar around his neck was someone who could help him. He didn't need to be a parishioner for 3 months to learn about who people were or to witness someone doing service.

That in essence, is a good thing. It can be abused and it can become authoritarian as well. Which is why we might need something to give us that immediate identification as well as Deacons, women religious, or lay ministers in the world today.

Young people are looking for something and someone IDENTIFIABLE.

I'm just looking for a little help in letting younger people know who we all are...nothing more.

More to come on this topic very soon.


NCSue said...

I wear a cross, and try not to live my life in such a way to bring it dishonor.

Once one puts on something that identifies oneself as a Christian, people listen to the words and watch the behavior to see if it's consistent with the symbol. This is an awesome responsibility.

Unknown said...


I agree that young people need something "Identifiable". Don't all of us need that?

My worry is that by identifying through clothing that we are creating simply another level to the hierarchy in our church. I for one do not want that!

I believe that young people and all people need something even more simple that is identifiable: Hospitality. We who work in the church, need to wear the badge of hospitality where we are eager to welcome all and reach out to all. It should not matter who we are or how we are dressed.

We need to think of how we are welcoming and reaching out to every person who walks through our doors or into our presence.

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