For some reason, a couple secular magazines we would not encourage our listeners to read have had some interesting Catholicism-themed articles lately. First there was GQ‘s profile on Stephen Colbert where he quoted the Baltimore Catechism and gave a beautiful witness on the Catholic view of gratitude and suffering. And now Esquire magazine has an article titled, “What Happened When I Dressed Like a Priest.”
The author of the article wanted to see how uniforms affect the daily lives of those who wear them, so he dressed like a priest, a security guard, a mechanic, and a doctor for one day each. He did not pretend to be a priest, and would let people know that he was not a priest if he interacted with them, but he did get a sense of what it was like to walk around in a cassock. And it was not as easy as it seems.
The reporter immediately noticed how visible he was and how much he stood out in the crowd:
People had been staring at me for twenty-three blocks. One hour in the uniform and I knew this much: On a bright summer’s day, in a sprawling city, a priest in a cassock is a thing to behold. People draw out their eye contact with a priest. They give nods or bow just a smidge. Or they stare. Openly. Respectfully. Distantly. When walking in pairs, men wind up their cheeriest selves to blurt out suddenly, “Good morning, Father.” …
Sweeping the city with the hem of my cassock hither and yon was more like being a beautiful woman than it was representing myself as a celibate guy who lives in a two-room apartment in Hyde Park. I’m telling you: People lingered in their gaze, without lust. I was a fascination, looked at fondly so many times that fondness itself seemed the currency of the world to me. It made me like the world better.
He also got a sense of the immediate connection that many people feel when they encounter a priest:
Generally, when you wear a uniform, no one will touch you. Except the priest. People will touch a priest. On the wrist mostly. It happened to me twelve times, just a tap in the middle of a conversation. An assertion of connection, an acknowledgment of some commonality I could not fathom. Weirdly, the priest’s outfit was the most physically demanding uniform to wear. All day with the hugging, and the kneeling to speak to children, and the leaning in for the selfies.
And he experienced the responsibility that priests have toward those in need, and how emotional that experience can be.
All day long, I was faced with homeless men, homeless families, crouched in the street. Sometimes they reached up to me, touched my wrist. Twice I was asked for a blessing that I could not give. Not in the way they wanted. I started wishing that I were capable of performing a service for the world. And I found I could not do nothing. The uniform comes with some responsibility; otherwise, it is just a party costume. I started kneeling down, holding out a ten-dollar bill, and saying, “I’m not a priest. But I feel you.” And I couldn’t do it once without doing it a couple dozen times. Chicago is a big city, with a lot of souls stuck in its doorways. It still makes me sadder than I could have imagined.
Overall, the reporter got a glimpse into what it was like to wear a priest’s “uniform,” and it was not as easy as he expected. He admitted:
It’s easy to put on a cassock. And it’s really not easy to wear one at all.
For more, read the full article.