These kinds of questions come up more often in countries where most priests are not religious brothers, such as the USA and others. In the USA, the only priests who are religious brothers belong to one of the Benedictine congregations, Cistercians, Missionaries of the Poor, Missionaries of Charity or one of the Franciscan orders. Other men who are both priest + religious are not religious brothers, such as a Dominican. Their infrastructure is similar to that of the Franciscans, but not quite. They are a clerical institute with coadjutor brothers. That’s not the case for the other communities that I mentioned above.
There are very few parishes that have religious brothers of any kind, ordained or not. People who are new to them are often thrown off. I’ll share examples, funny and offensive.
I teach CCD at a parish run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). I always wear a habit. The OMIs do not have a habit. They have never had a habit. St. Eugene prohibits any kind of distinctive garb in their statutes. He’d probably come back and zap them if they dared to dress up.
One day, one of the Oblates and I are talking outside, before class. A woman teaches CCD is arriving for the class, as are the rest of us. She stops to say hello to Fr. P and me. Then she turns on Fr. P and says, “Father [P], you should take example from Father [JR]. Look how nice he looks in his habit.” In our community the laity must refer to the superior as Father, even if he’s not a priest and to all priests as Brother, just as you would refer to a female superior as Mother.
At which point, Father P said, “St. Eugene wold roll over in his grave and rise from the dead, if he saw one of his sons distinguish himself from the local culture.”
The lady said, “I don’t like saints like that.”
I thought I’d roll on the floor laughing. It’s not a matter of what we like. It’s a matter of the founder’s vision. St.Eugene had an awesome vision for his Oblates.
That was an example of a woman who had not seen too many monks and friars, because we rarely make an appearances in parishes. We don’t run as many parishes as does the secular clergy.
On another occasion a woman came up to me and asked me why the FFV and the CFR refuse to staff parishes. I tried to gently explain that the process of renewing the Franciscan family includes returning to the 13th century lifestyle. In the 13th century our friars did not staff parishes. Parishes were staffed by canons or by secular priests. Friars taught at the great universities or lived among the people as their neighbors preaching by their presence. They responded to whatever need the people around them had, except parish work.
She turns to me, bright red, and said, “Let me get this straight. We donate money to you guys so you can live buddy buddy as brothers?”
I responded, “Not quite. The friars work for their keep. But when our work does not produce enough income, we do what other poor people do. We beg. However, a friar-priest will never deny anyone the sacraments, if he’s asked. Many hear confessions on street corners, subway stations, retreats and other strange places. They celebrate mass on the bed of a truck out on a farm where there is no chapel or church for miles or at a make shift altar in some slum where there is no chapel or church. Our non ordained friars teach at universities, do spiritual direction, fix cars, cook meals for soup kitchens, spend hours before the Blessed Sacrament, run emergency pregnancy centers, homeless shelters, mission chapels in poor areas. Some even sleep under bridges with the homeless when it becomes to late to catch a ride home.”
Now the lady is getting really angry. She says, “I’m sorry Brother, but you guys not only look like bumbs, but you live like them too. I’m not donating any more money to your communities. I want a return for my money.” :eek:
It was just my luck that I was walking back home from having taken care of a special needs baby (8 months old) who has to be fed through a feeding tube. When I picked him up, after feeding him, he vomited all over me. My habit was stained and smelled like baby vomit. I can’t wash it until wash day. I have to wear it as is. The lady had no idea why I looked like a bum and smelled funny, nor was I about to tell her.
I came in one day wearing torn jeans, a faded t-shirt and sneakers with holes in them. Little did I know that the bishop was visiting. He asked me where I was coming from. I explained that I was coming from a youth retreat. He looked at me wide eyed and said, “Looking like that???”
“Yes, Excellency, I was on the cleanup crew. This is all I have.” A few days later the bishop’s secretary arrived with a check, “For new work clothes.” LOL
The point is, that our clothes are not always going to be what the average man and woman in the pew expects. We normally don’t explain why we dress a certain way for mass or while in the apostolate, because for us, it’s a very normal thing to which we don’t give a second thought. It’s not rebellion. When you do something all the time, you forget that what is normal for you is a novelty for others. What the law allows you, is not what it allows the majority. Sometimes I get a question as to why we dress a certain way or do things a certain way and I just shrug and say, “We’ve always done it this way. I’m not sure when it began or why.”
Br. JR, FFV