Thursday, December 14, 2006


Since I mentioned that the other topic addressed was obedience, I best say something about it.

The second promise that a priest makes upon his ordination is that of obedience to his bishop, and his successors. Interestingly, while we make the promise of celibacy, for the sake of the Kingdom, standing; we make this promise while kneeling before the bishop, with our hands held between his. When he asks: "Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?" The answer is not: "Ummm, maybe?" "I DO!" is the response, with the bishops conclusion: "May the Lord. who has begun the good work in you, bring it to fulfillment."

So, why have this promise of obedience? What fruit does in bear in the life of the priest? To me, it is a gift of humility, knowing that what we stand for and who we are is actually much bigger than just me, one lowly priest for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. It is a reminder that when I wear the blacks, I am representing 2,000 years of history and tradition, and that I am as much a servant to this as any member of the Church; I am not the owner of the Liturgy, the Church is. I am not free to change the readings at will, to make up my own Eucharistic Prayer. As a good griend says, "It's simple, do the red and say the black." With the discipline of obedience and the virtue of humility, the priest is able to minister to God's people, whom He has placed under the priest's care. If the priest is preaching his own interpretation, his own version of the Gospel, he is short changing the people he is supposed to be leading, and he is short changing the Gospel he has been charged to preach when he was ordained a deacon.

A story that happened in my life may help illustrate the point. Living at the Cathedral, my office is a few blocks away in Downtown Cincinnati. I like to walk when possible, as there is a nice little park on Eighth Street that is pleasant to stroll through. Wearing clerics, I tend to get hit up for cash fairly regularly by the homeless, which isn't really a problem as I give them a card for Catholic Charities or something like that. One day, I was unusually frustrated by something in the office, and a fellow stopped me as I was walking:

Him: "Hey, are you a priest?"
Me: "Yes, hence the black." (I told you I was frustrated, hence the snippiness.)
Him: "Can I ask you for a favor?"
Me: "Sorry, no cash."
Him: "I don't need any cash, can you send an email to my parents?"
Me: (abashed) Huh?
Him: "I'm in a bit of trouble, and I am going to jail for not paying child support. I haven't seen my parents in a long time, could you just send an email to them to say you met me, that I am doing ok and that I love them?"
Me: "Sure, I can do that."

With that, he wrote down their email address, we said a prayer, and I continued my way home.

I am always a little embarrassed when I tell that, as I was really a doofus in my interaction with him, but I am also very much humbled. Why did he stop me and invite me into a very personal section of his life? Because I'm a good listener? I don't think so. Simply because of what I was wearing and what it represented.

Obedience and a simplicity of life can allow the priest to be that other worldly sign, a sign of something different, something more. It is never for his own sake, but always for the sake of the Gospel. I think it more of us priests can embrace that, and I have to just as much as any other priest, we would have a new flourishing of the Church.

Christ is our savior, we don't need another. We need good, holy men who can be transparent enough to lead others to Him.


Anonymous said...

hence, the importance of ALL priests wearing clericals ALL the time.

Father Kyle said...

While I obviously agree that wearing clerics is important, as I sit here and type, I am at my brother's house in Iowa and not wearing clerics. In fact, I haven't worn clerics all weekend. Does that make me less the priest? I don't think so.

Should a guy be comfortable in clerics and not feel ashamed to wear them? Yes. Should he get rid of all other clothes in his closet? That is where I get a little uncomfortable. There has to be a balance in what he wears, and there has to be 'off' time where he can relax and just be himself.

Tim Langenderfer said...

Great blog Father.

Even when you are relaxing and being yourself you are still a priest of the Holy Roman Catholic Church just as I am always a married man even when relaxing.

Wearing a wedding ring on the third finger of my left hand 24/7 may be less cumbersome than you wearing your roman collar on your neck, but you don't have any time off from your bride and responsibilities nor do I.

I understand that there are exceptions when wearing clerics is not practical or convenient but time "off" is not one of them.

Jackie said...

I think the question here is NOT if but when and how much. What is the balance? Clearly it is a case by case basis. First of all, we are not talking here about priests that don't understand or accept that they are, in fact, priests which is different than being a member of the laity. We are talking about men who love the Church, accept the Church's definition of the priesthood, and love being priests - the Living Icon of the Eternal Priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Once you define the group of priests you are talking about - the balance becomes much more clear;it is much easier to be charitable about and it is much easier to accept that some of it is a prudential choice at the time. I may disagree with a particular priest's choice in a particular situation - BUT that's different.

Personally, there are very few (can't think of any off the top of my head) that I would be uncomfortable being with a priest in public in his clerics. Of course, I'm not wearing them!! On the other hand, I have, over 15 years, been to lunch, dinner, or had priest's to my home for dinner with the family, and they are in 'civies' and that's fine too. However, in that situation, I ALWAYS know he's a priest and HE never acts in any way that is at odds with that. If somebody in the dinner group went up to him and said they needed to talk/confess - regardless of those clothes - he's a priest - just like I'm a mom.

I think the balance comes in two areas - 1. How comfortable and solid is the priest with his priesthood - because if he's wobbly - he should probably wear the clerics more often than not as a reminder to himself. The corralary to that is how comfortable and solid are the lay people he is with in their understanding of the priesthood and that he is always a priest. If they are overly familiar or are even a little confused - then he should probably wear clerics to help them. The second area is in public - when a priest is in places that the witness of Christ's love and our response to Him is REALLY needed. And here - merely by the clothes (just like a religious)tell people WITHOUT words - that Christ loves us enough to give HIM everything. Now - we need that but there are situations where that is all the more needed - and a priest ought to think about that. I have a priest friend that seldom wore clerics when he fly to visit family BUT once the scandle hit in 2002 - he has never flown without being in clerics.

Clearly, this doesn't mean sitting at your relatives, playing with the nieces and newphews on the floor, or taking them to the beach - in clerics, or working out, or running, etc.

There is a balance and it is a prudential choice made by the priest thought priests should hear the call by the laity to wear them as an encouragement rather than a correction - though it may not come across like that everytime!

God Bless

Anonymous said...

Fr. Kyle,
I love to see priest in Blacks-- they are strong leaders, and they help lead me to be strong in my faith. I realize that we all need 'off time' but your comment on "balance" strikes me as bit new age psychobabble. Please do not underestimate the power-- both internally and outwardly-- that the collar communicate to the laity-- and even to your own family members.

I have an uncle who almost always wears his Blacks-- or, at least has a visible sign that he is religious. For example, if he's outside in swim trunks then at least he's wearing his big honkin' crucifix. An awesome witness!

I am a married man, and my wedding ring is a visible sign to the world and ALSO to me of my vocation and who I am. There are RARE times when I remove my ring, such as swinging on the metal monkey-bars with my children, or working in the workshop. As a married man, I may take 'off time' alone or with friends, however my ring always stays on. If, for example, a friend did not wear his ring one day, I would ask him if his marriage was OK, or not. I try to be a faithful husband to my wife, but I (like most men) notice if a woman has a wedding ring, or not. Not necessarily because of lust, rather I simply treat her differently in subtle ways. People treat a priest differently than a lay person-- of course. You being a priest is a gift to those people.

When I see priests with the collar and who look completely out of place it totally rocks-- those priests have balls-- they have courage-- they are telling everybody else with their ACTIONS to follow them, and that they will lead us to Christ.


Anonymous said...

i just know that when i see a priest in "blacks" or a habit-- i feel a little safer, i also say "hello father, thank you for your vocation."

i've seen dominicans around town out of habit and it just makes me feel "jipped"--like the habit is some kind of costume they put on for us when they are church.

Father Kyle said...

Wow! I've rarely been accused of psychobabble! (I've accused others of it often enough, tho!)

Really, more often than not I am in blacks. You get used to wearing them and the reactions that you get. For instance, I have found that people generally acknowledge you more when you wear the collar than not. I am not sure if part of it is that I am a young priest and people are just not used to seeing that, but walking around downtown while wearing clerics, I get quite a few nods and responses when I say 'Hello' to people. Like I said, I've gotten used to the response and the reaction, that the times I've gove for a walk for exercise and have jeans and a regular shirt on, and have said something that I would normally get away with while wearing blacks, people look at you funny when in civils. People seem to expect priests to be courtenous and nice, while everyone else can get away with ignoring the people around them.

I think more than anything, a priest has to be comfortable in clerics, not be ashamed of wearing them, but also recognize that the wearing of clerics is not what makes him a priest, it is a sign that he is a priest. When I travel and go to visit my family, they all know that I am a priest and have the respect for that. They also treat me like their brother or son, which I still am as well. (Except for my Grandma who insists on calling me 'Father.' It is just plain weird hearing that from your grandmother.)

Anonymous said...

Here in Melbourne Australia you almost never see a priest wearing clericalsor a nun wearing a habit. We had a curate who wore his collar around the church but always slipped the white tab in his collar off the church grounds. I used to wonder what he was ashamed of but never got up the nerve to ask him.