So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Sunday, November 8, 2015

On scribes and priestly attire. Clergy who feign humility.

Today's Gospel reading hammers attitudes, not apparel.
St. Mark 12:38-44
In (Jesus') teaching he said, 'Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted respectfully in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who devour the property of widows and for show offer long prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.'
Did your priest or bishop, in his homily, stamp his feet and protest "I try to get away from wearing long robes and being called by my title, but I just can't. People won't let me." Implying, whether he realizes it or not, that he is uncomfortable with his identity or being defined by the signs of his office.

When clergy preach such things, do they not realize they are giving people permission to diss the office (of bishop and of priest and deacon) that is identified by the distinct clothing which sets them apart for service? Why is it that clergy who have a problem with authority are the ones who are always lamenting their identity? How do such laments serve the recruitment of other men to Holy Orders?

Meanwhile, priests who deny the importance of liturgical beauty parade around sanctuaries and into the naves of churches drawing attention to themselves while preaching about humility. Can you say glaring contradiction, a contradiction made even more glaring because Father Look-At-Me doesn't realize that what he's saying and doing is so obviously contradictory that even those half asleep in the pew are asking 'Why is he, then, stalking us like an attention starved six-year-old'?


What might you think if you heard the following comment in a homily?
I have a dog. When I'm out with my dog, people talk to the dog. When they ask me who I am, I tell them I am the dog's owner.
The homilist was referring to his approach to evangelization and how we need to use such creative solutions (props? PR tactics?) to engage people. Creative solutions—yes; cheap tactics—no. Do people learn the Gospel from a dog? Arguably, no. The dog can be a gateway to a deeper conversation. However, as the homilist noted, people speak to the dog, not the owner, presumably about benign things that are of interest to dog enthusiasts.
That 'dog talk' is something that people do as much as they use 'baby talk' when speaking to babies. In fact, the approach (gibberish) employed by people in both kinds of situations, while amusing, is probably not the best way either a dog or an infant comes to appreciate or understand human language.
Unless the conversation leads to an inquiry about faith, then the dog remains a mere prop, and the opportunity to share the Gospel is lost.

Faux Paw

Clergy who try to get rid of their robes and titles are missing the point (of today's Gospel reading). The titles and robes preserve the dignity of the office (of bishop, priest, deacon). Is it not more humble, then, to live with the responsibility for the office, or try to shake off the signature signs of one's duty to Christ and Church by hiding behind a false humility?

The key words of the Gospel reading are: "Beware of the scribes who like...". Jesus does not say beware of all scribes, just those who like to be noticed for what they wear, or the attention and service it will get them. In other words, scribes who draw attention to themselves instead of to God are to be avoided. Scribes, that is, who are given to self importance instead of service, for example. Christ is identifying and condemning an attitude, i.e., a lack of authentic zeal, not the apparel. Christ has said:
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” St. Matthew 5:10-11.

But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.—St. Matthew 5:28
Christ condemns behaviour and attitudes which reflect or embody sin, i.e., sinful pride in the case of the scribes mentioned in today's Gospel reading. Christ is not condemning the wearable art of the Church that can be a sign of a priest's joy and love of Jesus in the Liturgy. A priest who acknowledges his dependance upon Jesus Christ knows that any title he bears points to the authority given Him and which ultimate returns to Jesus Christ.

During times of persecution, some priests have dared to wander about the streets in their vestments in defiance of dictators and police states. Perhaps if our priests modelled their office outside their parish churches—in Corpus Christi processions, for example—lay people might draw strength and the courage to witness to the Gospel more readily.

Are we puritans?

Bishops who mistake Christ's warning to avoid scribes guilty of sinful pride for a condemnation of regalia are fundamentalists. Liberal fundamentalists, but fundamentalists all the same. They read and hear Scripture and get stuck on words without fully hearing the relationships they signify. They only hear what allows them to live safely and nonconfrontationally, as if a priest is anything other than a confrontational figure, especially in the present age. Little do they realize that God sees them for what they are: nervous, timid, artless witnesses to the glory of the Resurrection. The Resurrection, contrary to the banality so often displayed by priests and people, merits a life lived with exuberance and lavish praise of the Incarnate and Risen One Who is the beauty people see in all loving actions and beautiful liturgy.

Dog? Collar?

Artists have much to teach clergy. The wearing of one's clerical garb is an invitation to conversation. Clothing (as much as art and great sacred music and majestic architecture) is a sign, a nonverbal form of communication that excels in speaking to people beyond the stale rationalism of much contemporary evangelization. The Roman collar witnesses to something more than nice and tidy living. It is both a call to live, and an affirmation of, a radical life of self-sacrificing love. Wearable art is a better description for religious attire than clerical garb, or dog collar or... .

The chasubles and stoles of various colours and designs, especially those with artful ornamentation, are signs of the beauty and order of creation as much as they are signs of Holy Orders. God speaks through beauty. God is not afraid to express Himself through His wondrous creation: a sunrise; a sunset; a rainbow; Autumn glories; the explosion of new green in Spring. Priests who are afraid to don the habit(s) of their office are merely reflecting unredeemed man's view of creation. That is, creation and beauty are things to be feared, subdued, consumed and conquered. How far away is that orientation from authentic Catholicism (Incarnational Catholicism!) which celebrates beauty, truth and goodness?

The next time a priest or bishop complains about being called by his title or about the liturgical robes he is "forced to wear", tell him to deal with it, live with it and embrace the art of the Gospel for the salvation of souls.


  1. Ha. So I guess we heard the same homily and had the same response, though yours is much more eloquent.

    I certainly don't object to the basic idea of evangelization-by-dog, though it seems more appropriate to a priest or a lay evangelist than of a successor to the Apostles. But more to the point, why not do both? Why not witness to people casually while out walking the dog and assume the rightful dignity of your office when acting in an official capacity? Why not allow your flock to pay the reverence due to their shepherd and spiritual father? It's not about you, not about Mr X who just so happens to be a bishop, and paradoxically, the more you try to make a big deal about it being not about you, the more you draw attention to yourself and your own unique personality, to that wonderful, just-like-us guy who really wants to kick back and be one of the hoi polloi. But what's going to happen when you find that you need to drop the "one of the guys" act in order to bring down the hammer on someone? Is anyone going to listen?

    That said, the balance of the homily was a pretty radical improvement on previous efforts, and at least we were spared a long disquisition on tendentious political matters in the final address. Today's homily was pitched at around a Grade 10 reading level--which is probably about right for this audience--rather than the Grade 4 level I was expecting from prior experience. So there are signs of growth, even if were not quite there yet.

    1. "Why not witness to people casually while out walking the dog and assume the rightful dignity of your office when acting in an official capacity?"

      —Indeed, Murray, a both/and approach!

      "(T)he more you try to make a big deal about it being not about you, the more you draw attention to yourself and your own unique personality(.)"


      "But what's going to happen when you find that you need to drop the "one of the guys" act in order to bring down the hammer on someone? Is anyone going to listen?"

      —Precisely the point I was trying to make. Though, you captured the consequence much better.

      I think priests are struggling to reclaim a sense of balance between "smelling like the sheep" and "being set apart" from the faithful, we who are ourselves "called out of society" (ecclesia). The priest abuse scandals have really set good priests on edge about getting too close to one's flock. And, they seem entirely reluctant to wear clericals in public. Rather than run from the sneers and even jeers, they need to reclaim their image. Be bold, I say. Be seen; don't hide your lamp, etc. That's what is being asked of lay people called to live the Faith in the public square. Boldness.

  2. Now, if only someone at the Chancery--sorry, the "Pastoral Centre"--were reading this blog.


"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.

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