Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly





            The second most popular holiday of the calendar year is coming soon, Halloween.

            Children outside the Washington Beltway are dressing up as witches, goblins, and "action figures."   Children inside the Washington Beltway they are dressing up as grand jury witnesses.  

            For one evening children get the experience of having people react to their costume rather than to the person underneath.

            In a way, that is what happens to anyone who wears a uniform, like police, soldiers, letter carriers, or priests.

            The reactions that we priests seem to get when in clerical garb are of five varieties.   I call them the  "GAFAW" reaction: guilt, anger, friendliness, assistance and wonder. 

            The guilt reaction seems to be inculcated early.  I hear it from our pre-schoolers who see me coming down the hall and run away saying, "Oh, oh, it's him!"    Once when I was walking through a parking garage in downtown Washington a young woman driving a car filled with other young people squealed around the corner and screeched to a stop.  "Sorry Father," she yelled to me through the window, as though I was going to give her detention for bad parking garage manners.  Sometimes when I am in the grocery store people will say to their children, "Do you want me to tell the priest what you said?"  This seems to be a deterrent to some form of delinquent behavior.   I've also noticed people hurriedly putting those gossip tabloids back in the magazine rack when they see me standing in line behind them.  Guilt works wonders.

Anger takes more time.  Often the anger comes when people have time to talk, like on an airplane.  Then they want to tell you about the mean things some priest once said to them in the distant past.  Or how outraged they are that either (a) the Catholic Church has not changed its position on something or (b) the Catholic Church has changed its position on something.   Sometimes they couple their anger with a declaration that they really "don't care what the Catholic Church says anymore."  This is said with such insistence that it tends to call into question whether they have achieved the "Buddha-like" like detachment they claim.

Friendliness is the nicest reaction, even though it is a little puzzling at times.  Some people seem to know every priest in the world, or at least assume they do.  "Hi ya Father," they call out across streets and theater lobbies and restaurants.  "This is my daughter and this is my mother.  You know Father so and so at St. such and such, don't you?  He was our pastor for years.  Great fellow."  The friendly types are the nicest, unless you are in a hurry. 

Assistance is part of the territory with clerical garb.  People think we should know how to help or, conversely, that we need help.  This is actually a nice reaction, since it gives a great opportunity to talk to people.  Sometimes they presume that we should be an easy touch.  Not long ago I was leaving my high school reunion on the West Side of Chicago with a group of classmates; all of whom are better fixed financially than I am, when a man approached us and asked for money.  Actually, he asked me for money, even though there were other people there (in much better suits I might add). Nobody else reached for their wallet.  Somehow they figured that was my job.

Of course, the assistance reaction works the other way just as often.  Once, as I approached the cashier in the local cafeteria, she told me, "That's OK Father, its been taken care of."   I figure it all comes out in the wash.  "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord."

Finally, the most interesting reaction in wonder.  People wonder about a lot of things and the clerical uniform gives them a chance to ask.  This is the best reason for wearing clerical garb.  It is an invitation to people to talk about faith.

They want to know about celibacy and what it means.  They want to know what you believe and when you decided to be a priest.  They want to know what we believe about the afterlife, suffering, the soul and grace.  They want to know about the Christ and His church. 

It is the "wonder" reaction that makes it all worthwhile.  It means that everyday brings a treat, not just Halloween.