Why I Wear the Habit

by Frater Michael Brennan, O.Praem.
As a “youngish” religious, I find myself somewhere in the middle of this conversation of clerical
dress, which in my case includes my Norbertine habit.  Some have accused those that wear the
habit of being overly clerical or of wanting to draw attention to themselves.  I, myself, have been
accused of wearing the habit as a way of “hiding behind it.”  This accusation disturbed me and
continues to disturb me.

Recently, I was walking through Northwestern Hospital in my habit on my way to distribute
Eucharist to patients on the oncology floors.  Before reaching the escalator, a woman called out
to me and invited me to join her and her friend in conversation over coffee.  Naturally, I agreed;
both women shared their stories with me.  One is at the hospital holding vigil with her 18-month
old granddaughter, who is battling cancer.  The other woman is at the hospital holding vigil with
her 23-year old son, who is battling a rare reaction to previous medical treatment.  These two
women have become intimate friends over the last several weeks.  They found each other
because their loved ones were having surgery on the same day.  One was drawn to the other
because she was praying the rosary in the family waiting room during surgery.  This public
display of prayer drew them together.  Thus, they have been able to share prayer, coffee and
other means of support for one another over the last few weeks.

In this example, because of my habit—a public expression of our shared belief—I, too, was
drawn into their circle of support.  They felt comfortable sharing beautiful stories of their
struggles and their joys.  We concluded our brief encounter with shared prayer, hugs and
promises to hold one another in prayer.  First and foremost, I thank God for this opportunity to
encounter these women and to share our common faith.  I also thank my community for
encouraging me to wear the habit as a means of facilitating these chance encounters.

In closing, I recognize this is a sensitive issue for many women and men; I offer this story as
part of the conversation, with the recognition of the value and call inherent in each of the individual and communal decisions surrounding distinctive religious dress.
Frater Mike Brennan, O. Praem.

Blog author, Frater Mike Brennan, O. Praem., is an Mdiv student at CTU.

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