"Hey, aren't you the friar guy?"
This was the question posed to me while walking the halls at college. I continue to wear my habit to SXU on Fridays and while most students just look and stare, others are beginning to ask questions about it.
Perhaps what surprised me the most about this encounter was the he approached me on a day when I wasn't wearing my habit.
It was a good opportunity to explain who I was as a Capuchin. "I'm also a student-friar," I told him. I explained the need for me and the other post-novices at the college to understand our identities in the world, in a setting like college, and how that all fits in to our commitment to live Capuchin life.
"So how come you sometimes wear it and sometimes not?"
The decision to wear my habit at school took a bit of discernment. One of the growing tendencies, much like this student, was the amount of discussion that took place when I wasn't wearing my habit as opposed to when I did. It was clear that the habit was a representation and a witness of who I was as a Capuchin, but it was somehow a barrier for people to approach me.
"When I'm a student, people talk to me," I answered. "We can talk, share info, and even collaborate on homework or commiserate about a hard test or a tough professor. When I put my habit on, my role here changes because people see me different."
I told him how people stare, but don't talk. People change their tone of voice and how they speak. People are curious, but are intimidated and don't ask questions until I take the habit off.
We had a great conversation and we even acknowledge each other in the hallway. When I look back at this event, I ponder how people react to me when I wear the habit. While I want to be able to witness the decision to live a vowed life, I also want to be able to interact with students, engage in conversation, and even share a laugh or bemoan a bad test with my classmates. Can an article of clothing be a witness and a barrier?
More and more students are starting to ask about my life as a Capuchin friar. Personally I think it's a great thing. I'm still trying to understand how the habit either encourages or impedes questions from others.