An Epidemic of Either/Or

I won’t even apologize for my hiatus from the blogging world, because let’s be honest, I make no claims to being a consistent blogger ūüėČ But since I last blogged, let’s see: I hurt my foot, ran a marathon anyway, hurt my other foot, recovered, finished my first semester of grad school, spent time at home in Florida, 2013 began, I reflected a ton, got to spend time on relationships, and I’m about to start my 2nd semester of grad school in February… finally! But today, I’m not reflecting on any of that today per se. Nope! I make my return to the blogging world because of an article/essay that lit my fire a bit.

Unfortunately, the essay that pushed me over the edge is written by a prolific Catholic scholar¬†whom I respect¬†for a magazine (website)¬†that does a lot to try to keep the Church honest and accountable. This lowly first-year grad student humbly recognizes that I am in no way as qualified, nor have I thought about these things as long as him (or even been alive as long as he’s been thinking about all things God and church-related). I thus proceed in much humility and trepidation. And this is in no way a condemnation (or seal of approval) for the NCR, the magazine that published the opinion piece. Truly, this article, and the accompanying comments, were just the last impetus to me finally putting my thoughts to “paper” in an attempt to articulate and process some thoughts floating in my head. I’ll actually bet my ire is misplaced because it concerns such a small part of the article; it should probably be directed mostly at the comment section (and all comment sections for that matter). Nevertheless…

The article. I actually agree with his main premise of the article: In some liturgical settings, the resurgence of Baroque fashions does more to feed the ego of the priests and the episcopal order than it does to feed the flock of hungry souls. I do think we should call people and institutions out when they aren’t witnessing to the radical love and mercy that Jesus exemplified when He came to this world. God didn’t become man so that man could wear pretentious lace garments that separate them from the people they should be serving. With the incarnation, God destroyed all that separates human from the divine; we should not re-build those divides by wearing attire that seems to make men into demi-gods.

However, I think O’Meara’s attack on the wearing of religious habits was entirely misplaced. Yes, some can be over-the-top. Yes, there can be a conversation about whether some habits need updating because they are no longer the clothes of the working class people. But to entirely dismiss those who choose to wear a habit–“Sometimes wearing clothes seems to be a substitute for real ministry,” says O’Meara– was uncharitable and negates the possibility of some people who find the sign value of a religious habit to be significant in a world desperately in need of signs of hope, signs of God.

In full disclosure, I go to a grad school/ seminary with many people who are in formation with religious communities; some wear habits, some don’t, and some do sometimes. I know many men and women religious on both sides of what seems to be an unfortunate “habit divide.” I respect each of them. Also, in full disclosure, one of my good friends from college who is now in the Franciscan novitiate, recently received his habit (his blog, is on hiatus during his novitiate). I hear him wrestle with how to prepare to live his vow of poverty in solidarity with the poor, knowing that he views the attire of a poor mendicant as a possible way to help with this. I know his desire to evangelize the love and hope of the gospel through his words and tangible actions, and how he might couple that with the outward sign of a habit that makes some people think twice about the deeper things of life. And lastly, I know that it is also a tangible reminder to himself of repentance and lowliness, a reminder that he is part of something bigger than just himself.* ¬†It has the sacramental value that reminds us that material things have meaning. The meaning does not have to be negative one.

That is why I feel lumping all of the “clothes” issues together was a mistake. Of course let us call out injustices when we see them! Uppity clothing, especially expensive clothing for showy religious displays, has no place in the church of the God-with-us that we love.** But maybe we can take a step back and grant that maybe religious habits do not fall into that category. Rather, I think that they fall into the category of being right for some people and not right for others. The church needs both/and. Not either/or.¬†

Some people in today’s world have no idea what a religious habit is (or they do know) and will be turned off by one. Thus, it is fitting that some men and women religious DON’T wear habits. Others do know what a habit is and will be drawn to it, longing for the hope they find in someone who has answered a call to live single-heartedly for God, among many other other reasons. ¬†Thus, it is just as fitting that some men and women DO wear habits.

We have an epidemic in our church. And society. This is just a tiny microcosm of it, shown by a few paragraphs (and the ensuing comments) of an essay. The epidemic is called EITHER/OR. We can only find healing for this epidemic when we realize how big our God is and open up to the possibility that I don’t have to be wrong for you to be right. This is not relativism. (We’ll ¬†save¬†inter-religious¬†discussions for another day, though I should note God is big enough to handle those too). I’m talking about within the Church.¬†We’re so consumed with our way of being Catholic Christians that we forget that it may look a bit different person to person. Unity does not negate the beauty of diversity. Let us get busy with the business of loving God and neighbor. As a poem I heard yesterday declares beautifully, let us remember:

“We are all madly in love with the same God.”

With the peace of Christ,


* My friend has no idea I was writing this post and I do not claim these as gospel truths for him (pun sort of intended). They are just impressions I have based on conversations we’ve had over the years.
**¬†I will of course admit that some level of High Church liturgy is suitable to the spirituality of some. I don’t want to fall prey to my own warning about either/or thinking. But I do think that high church liturgy becomes dangerous when it is for show and separation of the clergy, instead of witnessing to the love of God calling all people to Godself. It worries me when it is not just a high church liturgical style, but ostentatious¬†extravagance.

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