Esquire Magazine – not a publication ChurchPOP would normally recommend reading – published a fascinating article on August 24th titled “What Happened When I Dressed Like a Priest: An investigation into the power of the uniform.

The author decided to do an experiment to test the power of various uniforms. He bought four: the uniforms for looking like a Catholic priest, security guard, mechanic, and doctor.

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He explains why he wanted to do the experiment:

I have no uniform. […] I have a really nice blue shirt when I want to wear one. My choice. This is a ho-hum freedom, earned in some societal shift located broadly in one or another populist surge last century. People see it as a kind of liberation. We are individuals, after all. We are not automatons or drones. We are not our work. And so on.

But a great many people put on a uniform for work every day. I’ll admit that I’ve often longed to wear a uniform, one that demanded something from me and maybe from the world around me. A good uniform represents. It makes sure you show up. It suggests a simplicity of mission. Once you slip it on, any uniform calls for its own posture. Everyone reacts. They step aside, shoot knowing glances, make room for you; or they turn away, try to forget their foggy prejudices, and ignore you.

The first part of his article describes what his experience was like walking around Chicago in a full priestly cassock. To be clear, he said he didn’t lie to people or call himself a priest – he would tell people he wasn’t a priest if asked. He simply wore the priestly clothes to see what it was like.

I recommend you read the whole article, but here are 5 things about his experience that stood out.

1) People stared at him everywhere he went

“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.”

2) People wanted to touch him

“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.”

3) Homeless people especially reached out to him for help

“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.”

4) He became part of the city tour

“Exhausted, Father Tom [the author] walked to a food cart, bought a tamale, and waved to a tour bus that honked at him. They waved back, too. Both decks.”

5) Being a priest is hard

Given how so many people looked to him for help or hope, the author concluded:

“Weirdly, the priest’s outfit was the most physically demanding uniform to wear. […] It’s easy to put on a cassock. And it’s really not easy to wear one at all.”

Read the whole thing over at Esquire Magazine

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So what do you think? Do more priests need to wear cassocks, or at least their collars, in public? Let us know in the comments!

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