A Theology of the Habit

The day of my investiture brought to me a greater look at what it actually meant to wear the habit. For the past year, I’d eagerly awaited this day – the way a man in love looks forward to the day he will propose to his loved one. There exists excitement, fear, anticipation, worry, and joy in heart.

Upon arriving in Pennsylvania I had to unpack my habit which had sat in a box for the past 3 months. Since the ceremony wasn’t until 4:30 in the afternoon, I spent most of Sunday washing, drying, and ironing the habit.

As I took the time to iron my habit and chaperon, I was able to reflect on the symbolism of the moment. I felt like a groom preparing the tuxedo he would wear to his wedding. I partly felt like a soldier, preparing his uniform as he prepared to be commissioned to some duty. But most of all, I recognized that the habit that lie in front of me would be an external symbol of my faith. The robe and cord would display my commitment and my vow to live the Gospel in a specific manner. Whether I liked it or not, I would be defined by the garb of my Order.

As I continued to iron I knew that donning the habit meant different things to each of us. Some saw it as a transformative experience. By wearing the robe and cord they felt closer to God and more secure in their discernment of living this life as a religious vocation. Others felt the habit gave them a greater connection to the current friars whom were solemnly professed. While I’d always been treated as a friar in my province (in spite of my obvious Postulant status), others were just now experiencing that fuller sense of brotherhood. By being invested, the now held a greater status within their respective provinces.

Still others recognized that level of status that is attached with the habit, either within the religious community or when in public. Their thought is that the habit does not change who they are. To “over-wear” the habit is a matter of personal pride and possibly a sign of religious elitism.

All these different concepts of this robe raced through my mind as I continued to prepare my habit for the upcoming event. And in all honesty, I spent almost 2 hours ironing, primping, removing lint, and fitting my garb. Yet in the time I took to get out all the wrinkles, perfectly place the knots on my cord, and add the side rosary, I’d understood the importance of being invested and how it would affect my vocation at this point on.

I refused to think that being invested would provide a mystical conversion, yet the wearing of the habit held great importance. The habit is simply cloth; I would never consider it to be anything more than that. However this cloth represents a group of men to whom I have come to love and greatly respect. Starting from St. Francis and continuing down to the friars I’ve met over the years, this habit symbolized some of the holiest, smartest, devout, hard-working, funny, and caring guys I’d ever met. My presence here in Allison Park was a statement that these guys felt I was good enough (called) to be a part of them.

…and part of me wonders if I can ever be as great as the men I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

I realize this desire to be a “great friar” is a construction of my own making – the remnants of a lifetime trying to compete and be the best. Yet since that Sunday when I was first invested, I recognize that I now belong to a group that believes in something great. As corny and simplistic as I think it is, perhaps my challenge this year will be to “Let go, and let God.”

And so begins my year of being a Novice.

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2 Response to A Theology of the Habit

Qualis Rex
July 29, 2009 at 3:22 PM

Br Vito - Thanks for your description there! You SHOULD feel a sense of accomplishment in your habit. And as long as it helps remind YOU and OTHERS WHO SEE YOU IN IT that you are a man who has dedicated his life to living the gospel and helping those around him, then PLEASE "overwear" that thing like a pimp overwears his hat and cane. In other words, you just get on wit' cho bad sef!

July 30, 2009 at 12:02 PM

Hey Br. Vito,

Long time no read. I'm thrilled to hear of this milestone in your journey.

I thought of you, especially as I read your post, in connection with this article about a pilgrimage that 6 Franciscans made this summer walking 300 miles to a monastery near Washington, DC. It really reinforces your reflection on the "witness power" of the habit. So I agree-- overwear it. Our world needs it!

The article from the Washington Post is right here: