Friday, November 24, 2006

Crosses, habits and cassocks

Nadia Eweida’s little cross seems to have won against British Airways. One of my parishioners said she had sympathy for BA. She said she didn’t like seeing the cross worn as jewellery, in the manner of Mrs Beckham. I suggested that the hijab, turban and Sikh bangles could equally be worn as a fashion accessory or a cultural rather than a faith symbol. It was only when Christians started wearing the cross or crucifix that we might actually reclaim it from the fashionistas.
One of the problems we Christians have is that we are invisible; no-one knows we are part of society and therefore it is so easy for secularists to simply discount us. Although Christians who practice every Sunday form only 5% of the population, great swathes of the population claim to actually be Christian.
Willie Walsh, the BA chief executive, said criticism of BA as being anti-Christian had been misplaced and unjustified. I am sure he is right and the truth of the matter is that BA just forgot they had Christians working for them, or thought that crosses were nothing other than jewellery. I am sure it is a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. The post-Christian society myth lives.
Society in general tends to dismiss Christians, I heard one comedian on the wireless said, “If you insult a Christian the worst they are likely to do is ban you from a jumble sale.” It is our nature to turn the other cheek. It was only the rabidly militant that protest over something like Gerry Springer: The Opera’s rather horrid portrayal of Jesus as a spoilt homosexual, or pictures of crucifixes in urine; we have got used to insults and being the butt of jokes. Yet Christians, Catholics especially, were so active in the “Drop the Debt” campaign and they were listened to. Bishops and priests gave a clear lead and people took to the streets. The letters to MPs over our schools taking 25% of non-Catholics did change the Minister’s mind.

Political issues are one thing, it is the person and action of Christ we need to make visible.
Maybe, just maybe if we were a little more visible we might begin to be seen as having a place in society and not just us but the Lord himself. Brighton is full of Coptic Christians, many have the cross tattooed on their hands, obviously they are Christian. They are not afraid to have icons and crucifixes up in there shops or even to name them after saints, many of Brighton’s taxi drivers are Coptic, they have crosses or images of the Mother of God in their cars.
An easy form of evangelisation is to wear a Christian symbol, if you are bad it will be seen as a fashion accessory, if you are kind people might just connect your actions with the symbol.
As a child I remember seeing nuns in the street in habits and priests from the local Catholic school in cassocks, even as a three or four year old it had an impact on me. It is interesting congregation of nun’s with habits tend to grow and those with a medallion or broach are dying out.
On the rare occasions I wear a cassock in the street, rather than just a piece of plastic in what a rather reactionary parishioner describes as the “waiters ubiquitous black shirt”, I tend to behave differently, I am not as shy as I normally am, I am more inclined to talk to people. The reaction of people to me is strange. Muslims look horrified and give me a wide berth. People who live on the street come up and want to chat, not to beg but to talk, often about faith. Slavs, Poles come up and ask if I am really a Catholic priest and ask about Mass times, the location of the Church and so forth, and I subsequently see them at Mass. If I am in a queue or waiting for a bus then other people find an excuse to talk, often about their spiritual lives, quite frequently, if they are Catholics about how they can return to the Church. I know habited nuns who have the same experience.
I was allowed to try my vocation as monk for a while, I had to make a long train journey, the only clothes I had were my habit, someone who had been lapsed for years, thirty or forty, started to talk me about confession, if the train was less crowded I would have heard her confession and presumably brought her back.
Maybe you should wear a cross and I ought to wear cassock on the streets, this is something to my shame, the reason I don’t is the reaction of my fellow priests.


Anonymous said...


I have been thinking the same thing recently - the who-ha surrounding BA and its attitude to the wearing of crosses is probably due to the lack of a visable Christian community rather than any anti-Christian agenda.

I would encourage you to wear your cassock (feel a little odd saying that - I'm a little green about these issues!) but it must be hard to do given the responses that various priest I know give when presented with the be-cassocked priest.

As Bishops Finn of Kansas City says...

"Our goal is to get ourselves to heaven and take as many people with us as we can."

I guess you have to figure out whether your outward witness to your priesthood to the people and to your fellow priest by the wearing of the cassock will help to lead yourself and the people to heaven or not. That is our ultimate goal after all.

out of interest what order of monks did you try your vocation with - Benedictines?

God Bless you to day and always,

In Christ

Victoria Baker said...

I'm pleased you've said this and I shall now choose to wear a cross. In the pastI heard you say that we are meant to carry our cross rather than wear it so I've always felt rather shy about doing so.

Mark said...

"the reason I don’t is the reaction of my fellow priests"

- what reactions have you encountered Father? I thought they would have been encouraging...

Fr Ray Blake said...

Mark, We have never had the custom in England of wearing the cassock in public. It was always the custom to wear the "frock coat" as a sort of short cassock. This most stems from it being technically illegal, and presumably in the past, not wanting to excite the protestant masses.
Nowadays priests and bishops tend to dress down, not even a blacksuit, so dressing "up" tends to be regarded as a little eccentric, and possibly a little critical. It also marks one out as having a particular churchmanship,
which seems to be a bit of an Anglican.

Andrew said...

Victoria, perhaps you can wear your cross and carry it at the same time?
People sometimes propose a false dichotomy. Its not a 'or' issue but an 'and' issue here.

Anonymous said...

Oh, just wear it anyway! ;-)

(I'm only teasing; I appreciate what you're saying.)

Anonymous said...

Father, if the opinions of your fellow priests cause you doubts about wearing your cassock in public, can I introduce you to someone whose example you might find useful? :c). His name is Rolando Rivi. He entered the minor seminary in 1942 and from that time he was always seen in his cassock. He saw it as a sign of his total consecration to God, and loved it as such. In 1944 when all the seminarians had to return to their homes because the Seminary was confiscated by the Germans, he continued to wear the cassock, even though he was advised against this because of the increasing anti-clericalism. He told the naysayers, including his parents "This garment is a sign that I am of Jesus". On 13th April, 1945, he was waylaid by a group of virulently Communists, who recognised what he was immediately because of his cassock. He was taken out to a lonely place where he was shot in the head and heart. He was only 14. Last year his cause was introduced and, therefore, it is permissible to call him 'Servant of God'. The official site unfortunately, is only in Italian at the moment: Please pray for his speedy Beatification.

ashlyn said...

I wear a miraculous medal but have never had anyone comment upon it. I used to wear a resurection cross occasionally and would get questions from other christians who weren't used to seeing that image, but no comments from the wider public.
I like seeing clergy in cassocks (except when Father stands there and twirls his "skirt" like a little girl... that's mildly disturbing).