Within the New Church there is a real effort on the part of some evil minded people to do away with the priesthood; to make the priest just a leader of an assembly, to forget that he is truly another Christ with a special mark on his soul by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This special mark or character on his soul is represented outwardly in his clothing by the Roman collar and other clerical attire. In this article a certain priest stands up to remind all his fellow priests why they wear the Roman collar.
The Roman collar has for a long, long time been a sign of a Catholic priest. The importance of this sign was brought out by a story told to me by a priest who was flying from the east to the midwest. I believe he said that the journey was from New York to Chicago. (The places really do not make any difference.)
Shortly after he had boarded the plane at New York and taken his seat, a salesman entered and took the place next to him. The man was anxious to talk. He was probably prompted to do so from a feeling of guilt; and the "collar" was an invitation for him to "open up."
It didn't take long for him to get to the point. In representing his company, he traveled far and wide, and met all kinds of people. His home was apparently in New York. During previous trips he has made the acquaintance of a woman somewhere in Kansas. After "seeing" her several times, they fell in love. He confided to the Roman collared man that he had just abandoned his wife and was on his way to "marry" the woman.
It was normal for the priest to try to show him the wrongness of his intentions. His instructions and his explanations were quietly received by the erring man. The plane soon reached Chicago. The priest got up to leave. He extended his hand to his travelling companion to bid him goodbye. In the same moment the latter arose while he said, "I'm getting off too."
"But I thought you said your destination was Kansas City," replied the rather surprised priest.
"It was," answered a repentant voice. "I've changed my mind. To abandon my wife and family and to contemplate an adulterous marriage was a very rash decision on my part. I'm getting off here. And I'm buying a ticket which will take me back home to my wife and to sanity. Thanks, Father, for your help."
A REAL LIFE-STORY like this is probably not new to priests. Every one of us has experienced similar situations. They may not have been quite as serious and decisive in content as this one was, but we have been able to be of service to others—entire strangers to us—simply through the mark of "the collar."
Because of my many years in the priesthood, I know what the collar means. I have traveled rather widely myself, having been involved to a large extent in preaching and speaking, especially in mission and retreat work. One didn't have to sit long in a waiting room, or board a train or bus or plane, before someone responded to the collar. People have really appreciated having been able to meet a priest. For some it was the first time they ever talked to one. Over the years I received letters of thanks for the "pleasure of meeting you."
IF THERE IS ANYTHING the world needs today it is Christ. People are upset and confused and need the comfort and assurance of Christ.
If there is a class of people who should bring this assurance, it is the priests. To display and to give Christ is the very reason for the existence of the priest. He really has no other function. Everyone has the right to expect a priest to be another Christ.
How can the Christ-hungry world know what man is a priest?
One way is by the sight of the priestly collar.
Long ago I quit wasting time going to many "priest renewal meetings." One would think that priests would be pushing for improving things rather than for shedding or getting rid of things. I'm fed up with downgrading of customs that have served the Church of Christ and the people of God so well in the past. And the people of God certainly include every single one not within the fold of our Catholic Church. They were looking to us for inspiration. I have sat in on sessions that "disproved" the existence of Adam and Eve, Noah, the crossing of the Red Sea, the angels—just to mention a few. Other meetings were called to question obedience to authority, celibacy, wearing of clerical garb, etc. I've had enough.
Knowing her origin and history of centuries of service, I have every reason to represent a POSITIVE Church.
At the meeting on clerical garb, one of the discussions centered on replacing the Roman collar. WHY?
One reason was that we (priests) should not be different from anyone else. WHY NOT?
Can anyone else consecrate bread into Christ—forgive sins—distribute Grace—mediate for sinners—and a thousand other things?
We had BETTER BE DIFFERENT!
So the meeting decided that we should wear neckties. I, personally, am happy to wear a "collar"—I could never tie a necktie.
After that—the necktie decision—the next question was: "What color?" The vote (Lord, help us!)—maroon! Some dark-age bishop must not have allowed the implementation of the meeting; I have not seen any priests in maroon neckties.
IF THE ROMAN COLLAR has been such a remarkable sign of the past, why not keep it that way?
Have we something BETTER to substitute for it?
What I have said about the collar for men can be applied, it seems to me, to the religious garb of women too.
We have all the talk about signs and displaying Christ to others... Some newly found doctrine?
Do we mean it? Or is it just words? We don't want to wear our clerical garb so as not to be recognized... not to be uncomfortable... not to be bothered!!
The "garb" has exemplified Christ for centuries. It has been reverenced by its wearers. It has been respected even by enemies of the wearers.
Shouldn't priests and sisters WANT a sure sign of their special consecration to Christ?
Shouldn't they in public want to be recognized as Christ's?
Shouldn't they want to be the occasion for leading others to Christ even though recognized only by the "accident" of their garb?
Shouldn't they want to be an occasion for others at least thinking of Christ when seeing them "dressed for Christ"?
Shouldn't they want to show a MARK OF AVAILABILITY to someone in perhaps desperate need of Christ?
Shouldn't we want to do the most we can in every way we can for the One we have chosen as our Spouse?
Shouldn't we refrain from hiding Christ if we can keep Him turned on by the simple wearing of our distinctive garb in public?
We have an UNMISTAKABLE MARK!
(I remember a story I heard about a nun: The Sister, dressed in plain laity clothes, was walking one day down the street when suddenly a man appeared pacing behind her. The nun became frightened and started to run toward a policeman she spotted. The intruder ran in the other direction. When she reached the cop, she yelled, "Help, help, I am a nun and a man is chasing me." The policeman looked at her and replied: "Sister, what would you have done if I was not wearing my uniform?")
I wonder how many souls have been started on the road to conversion merely by seeing a "collared" priest or a "habited" sister...
Only heaven will tell!
Father Jerome Pokorny