The following comes from an Aug. 24 story in the fashion section of Esquire magazine by Tom Chiarella.
I was a priest, standing at the bar of the Billy Goat Tavern beneath the great concrete decks that brace up downtown Chicago. Strike that. I was not a priest. I shouldn’t say that. I was me, me wearing the uniform of a priest. It was 10:30 on a Friday morning, the bar a well-lit temple of Formica. I was visiting my favorite bartender, as is my wont when I am in Chicago. Priest or no: My uniform was an old-school liturgical cassock. Twenty buttons rising to a traditional clerical collar. Part tunic, part Nehru jacket, with a big open flare at my feet. That thing really kicked up in the wind when I walked the city. The thing really had some sweep.
When I walked in, my friend immediately set me up with a no-disrespect-intended pour of bourbon, with a draft beer back. My shoulders were turned to the half-full restaurant; a small circle of recent acquaintances screened me. I’d like to say I was mindful of being the most visible man in the room—me, the priest—but who was I kidding? 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.” A habit learned in high school, revisited gladly. Twenty-three blocks and the world could not take its eyes off me. A priest, striding north.
And so, in a what-the-hell moment, I lifted the glass, nodded to Jeff the barkeep, and took that long good swallow. Only as I put the glass back in its ringlet of condensation did I notice a woman who’d maneuvered herself to some pass-through window, filming the whole thing on her phone. “You’re going to be on the Internet before you eat lunch,” said the barfly to my left without looking up, adding, “Father.”
I picked up the beer, took a sip, and told him, “I’m not a priest.” He turned, narrowed his eyes, gave me a lazy up-and-down. “What is this, then?” he said. He meant the frock.
“It’s a uniform,” I said. That was true. This was always my plan. Be honest. And that seemed to be enough, because he went back to his box scores. A couple minutes later, he said, “One thing’s for certain, some priest, somewhere, is going to get in trouble for that.”
…. I bought my priest outfit at a religious-wardrobe store just west of Canaryville on the South Side of Chicago. At first I tried on clerical shirts, all black, with the familiar collar. Both long-sleeved and short. I wanted to look like the Jesuit priests who’d taught me how to write. All business with the comings and goings, a little tired, utterly content to forget the annoyance of deciding what to wear every morning.
The salesclerk was a former Dominican priest. There is fashion among the priests, he said. It’s rare for an American priest to wear a cassock outside the church. But, he said, it’s becoming more common: “It used to be considered a little vain. But you go to the seminary now and young priests insist on the cassock. They’re more conservative and they want to be seen as committed.”
He thought I could pass. “Just look like you’re going somewhere on church business.”
At that, the third-generation owner of the store stepped out of her office to tell me that she disagreed. “No priest would wear that in public.”
“Just tell them you’re Greek,” the salesclerk said. “You look Greek enough.”
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.
I suppose it is sacrilegious to say this—though I’m obviously way past caring about that now—but 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.
In front of a diner, an old woman seized my wrist firmly and pulled me in for a question. Oh, boy, I thought. Serious business. I prepared to deliver the news that it was just a uniform. “Father,” she said earnestly. “Are you Greek Orthodox?” I told her I was not. The truth is easy enough when you’re in uniform. Before I could say anything, she released my arm, scowled, and cast me off. “You are Russian! Ugh!” She turned and shouted to me from twenty paces, held up a finger like the curse it surely was. “You are Russian. Russian!” she said, rolling the R as she retreated. “Russian!” she shouted up the street.
No one asked my name. No one called me Father Tom. But that’s what the uniform made me. People want to believe.
Especially people in need. 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.
It’s easy to put on a cassock. And it’s really not easy to wear one at all.
Late that afternoon, I stood across from the Tribune building as Father Tom and watched a loud and lousy sleight-of-hand magician working a trick involving a signed twenty-dollar bill and a lemon. I stood off to the side, hands clasped behind my back, trying to look ponderously unthreatened by magic. And then I saw the magician’s move very clearly, the very moment he jams the rolled-up twenty into the lemon. Just like that. Busted. For a moment, I thought it might be the mind-set of a priest taking over. Or maybe he wanted the priest to see, because he winked at me a second later. And suddenly, for the rest of his routine, he called on me, to bear him out, to provide faith, to witness the machinations. Questions like “That seems honest enough—right, Father?” And could I back him up on this? The request to weigh in as the conscience of the moment really wore on me. Finally, I turned and walked away. “Father,” he called out. “Don’t leave. Only you know the truth! You’re the most trusted man here!” Too much subtext. Exhausted, Father Tom walked to a food cart, bought a tamale, and waved to a tour bus that honked at him. They waved back, too. Both decks….
A fantastic story indeed, Mr. Chiarella when you see a priest in clerical garb and in particular the Roman “cassock” in public, you will get smiles, hello Father and treated with the utmost respect as a Roman Catholic priest should!! I was so pleased to see Mr. Chiarella in a CASSOCK it is such a good feeling to see a priest this way and you know something even non-Catholics will go out of their way to show the priest respect and greet him. As the sales clerk had mentioned the CASSOCK is coming back into our public lives with more and more young men in the seminaries asking to wear one as well as the Biretta. You see before Vatican II nuns and priests wore their Holy vestments in public to show their love of Christ and His Holy Roman…
Any informed Catholic would have started to wonder when the saw the cassock. Almost no priest uses them for streetwear, preferring a black suit and Roman collar, or a black clerical shirt and black trousers. That’s plenty of identification. Clothes don’t make the man.
The Service of Catholic Priests during the ‘World Wars’ and their willingness to go where the greatest danger was in order to minister to those most likely to perish in combat, provided such a reservoir of good will (even by non-Catholics) that it took the homosex ephebophile infiltration & coverup to tarnish it.
Much needed reforms (including SHIELD) are helping greatly in restoring a level of Trust that (in most cases) was never betrayed, but rather helped via ‘guilt by association’ by anti-Catholics.
Of course blatant Fakes – Masquerading as ‘priests’ – don’t help much either.
I had sent this to many on my email last week and it provoked some interesting comments. Seeing a priest or nun in a secular situation like in an airport or on the street is such a happy reminder that God’s people walk the earth. I thought his summation at the end very moving and honest. I’m sure he will see a priest in the same way ever again. Keep praying for more vocations and strong seminaries.
From Father Z’s blog, on when and when NOT to wear a cassock:
Posted on 27 July 2014 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
It was, and still is, not the custom for secular, diocesan priests and bishops in these USA to wear the cassock as “street attire”. Yes, some young pups are wearing the cassock all the time, when they go about town. Fine. Perhaps they will establish a new practice. However, the usual practice in these USA go back to the Councils of Baltimore, which forbade clerics from using the cassock as dress attire, imposing instead secular dress but with a clerical collar. For a long while the standard was the frock coat, which we don’t see much of anymore. Today, standard street dress for the diocesan cleric is the black suit. Of…
Yes, Father Z is right. But the suit coat with collar is an American thing that was meant to appease the anti-Catholic majority. Actually, before the Council of Baltimore, priests dressed the same on the street but did not wear a suit and collar, never mind a cassock. Of course they did wear cassocks publicly in America before the colonies enacted anti-Catholic/anti-clerical laws. Priests even had to use the title Mister instead of Father. Then it became the Reverend Mr.
Love Father Z. but I will not agree on this one, it would be wonderful to see our priests in casscocks and birettas, showing their love for Christ and His Church!!
While this report is unforgettable, is no one bothered by the fact that it is so easy to present oneself as a priest by simply buying a costume and walking about the city streets? What untoward events might follow this false presentation? Appearing on the internet as a priest drinking in a bar is bad enough, as are the presentations Hollywood dreams up of evil priests doing horrific things, but what happens once terrorists don clerical robes and are graciously swept through entry points into the USA and right into our midst? Wearing priestly duds used to send a reliable message, and now we see that even this social contract has been broken and written about without shame. Isn’t doing this a form of lying?
While it may be interesting to know what it is like to wear a cassock, this man should never have undertaken this experiment. In the first place, by presenting himself to the world as a priest, he is lying, which is a sin. Even if he did not directly say he was a priest, or denied it verbally, in the end he is still presenting himself as something he is not. In the second place, it is a cruel farce to present oneself as a priest in case someone actually needs one. Imagine if someone gets hit by a car and is delighted to see a priest walk by in their last moment, only to find out he is a fake.
The reason usually given for the black suit being the typical USA priest’s dress is that Catholics were persecuted in the US and the suit made…
Well, be sure to tell Kevin O’Brien and other actors who play Father Brown in various mystery series they’d better clean up their act. :) He was very careful not to pretend to be a priest…he also dressed in three other ‘uniforms’ to write his article. i took a course in fashion history on the significance of what we wear and where it places us in society. Mr. Chiara understands this concept and wrote a good story about it. I do not think that is lying. Lying would be posing as a priest and actually taking on tasks a priest would normally do, don’t you think?
Father Guido Sarducci was arrested in Rome for impersonating a priest.
While there is no question that he was funny, his humor was entirely at the expense of Catholic priests and Catholicism itself. It does seem appropriate that authorities would balk at this. How did it turn out in the Italian legal system?
The charges were dropped.
Don’t you mean that ‘comedian’ Don Novello (SNL / ‘godfather movies’) was arrested for impersonating a bad actor while in Rome?
But then when in Rome… there are a lot of examples of bad actors left over from history. Ahem.
I used to have a recording of Novello’s ‘priest’ routine done at a Catholic Convent, and although he kept it relatively clean he really had some of the Sisters rolling in the aisles.
This article made me SICK!! There ought to be a law against such a horrible, disrespectful, PHONY CHARADE!! What if something like 9/11 occurred– and a REAL PRIEST was desperately needed, to help the injured and dying??
There should be laws against holy items of our Church, to include vestments and priests’ and nuns’ holy attire– to prohibit these holy items to be worn by imposters, or sold in secular stores, to laymen. Holy attire of priests and nuns, is NOT A HALLOWEEN COSTUME, NOR A JOKE!!
I love how the folks on CCD react to things. On the one hand, many have weighed in saying how wonderful it is, how inspiring and uplifiting it is, to see a priest in a cassock. Even if they don’t interact with them in any way. Just the site of a man in a cassock is enough to inspire and uplift them.
On the other hand, others berate this man for wearing a cassock. As though his appearance didn’t inspire and uplift others who didn’t interact with him. As though they could have known the man inside the cassock was not a priest.
So my question is, why does the same piece of cloth inspire such admiration on the one hand, and such disdain on the other. Oh ye of little faith.
” Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. ” ~ Catechism of the Catholic Church (675)
An ordained Priest can and should wear something appropriate to indicate he is a Catholic Priest.
Lay persons pretending to be a Priest are mocking the Faith.
My big concern was that we don’t know exactly how he behaved while pretending to be a priest. But the little that we do know is that he walked into a bar and took a large swig of alcohol: not the best image for a priest.