The habit of being
Like it or not, religious garb and clerical dress are making a comeback. This phenomenon can be hard to swallow for a generation of priests, religious, and laity.
It may seem that younger Catholics are attempting to undo all their hard work and are intentionally heading backward into a church that placed a greater emphasis on distinctions between the clergy and the laity, rather than celebrating the common priesthood of the baptized. Some have even accused wearers of religious garb of being insecure, out-of-touch, and intellectually second-rate. But today I find the youngest, brightest, healthiest, and most joyful consecrated religious and clergy seem perfectly at home in religious garb. What happened?
When asked how she reconciled her Catholicism with using violent, grotesque imagery, the great fiction writer Flannery O'Connor, herself a young Catholic who was often misunderstood, said: "To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large startling figures." It seems that the same philosophy is at work in the minds of young Catholics who are drawn to religious garb; they desire to communicate the gospel through sign and symbol to a world whose senses have been dulled. And if their clothing can help people to hear and see Christ, then it's a no-brainer.
...Today's youth live in a culture that forces them to say something about who they are and what they believe. The tattoo and body-piercing craze gives perfect witness to this condition. It's even hard to find a young person wearing a T-shirt that doesn't have words, numbers, or images on it. This is why more Catholic youth are wearing crosses, medals, and devotional bracelets. It should come as no surprise that younger Catholics would rather see priests in clerics than clothes from J. Crew and would rather see sisters in a habit than a pantsuit with a lapel pin. They want priests and religious to be recognizable, just as police officers and firefighters are recognizable by their uniforms.
...The John Paul II and Benedict XVI generations have been accused of wanting to wear religious garb in order to bring attention to themselves. I am sure that in a few situations this is true. Unfortunately, in every way of life there are folks who love attention, honor, and power. For the majority of young Catholics, however, this simply isn't the case.
They desire to bring attention to Christ with their whole lives, including their wardrobe. These young people want to be part of something greater than themselves. And they are willing to give up their lives to do so. They want to imitate saints like Anthony, Francis, and Teresa in their love of Jesus and service of the community. And yes, even in their dress. They want their habits to manifest their being.
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