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Evangelizing DC In The Cassock

April 13, 2023 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Spreading the faith and saving souls is the goal of the Church and the work of the priesthood. But how to open doors? What are the means of opening a dialogue with souls? The general public must be able to see the priest in order to approach him and ask for spiritual help.
For the work of the priest there are signs of the priesthood. One of these is his garb. Many priests wear a business suit with a black shirt and white plastic insert in the flat stand-up collar. This practical garb serves to get the problem out of the way as to donning “recognizable” clerical wear.
So, the priest is recognizable. But as a Catholic? This is not assured because many denominations sport the “Roman” collar.
Fr. Lawrence Carney has been demonstrating for some time now that the best means for the priest to spread the faith is the traditional garb of the cassock.
“Born in Wichita, Kansas, November 11, 1975, Fr. Carney was ordained to the holy priesthood at Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Wichita, Kans., May 26, 2007. Associate Pastor 2 years and Pastor for 4 years. Backpacked Europe during my 6-month sabbatical. Assigned as Chaplain of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles in 2013. I walk the streets in search of souls, do parish missions, and write inspirational books to give God greater glory and to save souls” (TAN books website).
“In his book Walking the Road to God, Father describes his mission as he ‘travels the country, walking the city streets in his cassock, carrying a crucifix, praying the Rosary and seeking lost souls.’ In his debut work, he writes of the many people he meets, the conversations that unfold and the divine appointments arranged for a priest who lives his life entirely for the salvation of souls. He also reveals his dream of a new order of priests, clerics and brothers, who walk and pray in cities around the United States in an effort to regain what has been lost. With so many lukewarm and fallen-away Catholics in our world today, it is easy to become discouraged. But, rooted in the joy of gospel promises, Fr. Carney proclaims hope.” (Amazon listing book promotion).
In just the last two weeks I have found the same to be the case. The cassock is irreplaceable as a means of evangelization and sacramental ministry on the streets.
I was at the Navy Exchange recently after stopping at a parishioner’s house to pray and bless as requested. I was garbed in the cassock still as I stopped to pick up whiskey and cigars at the exchange and, as I was departing, I was approached by a Hispanic veteran with a request for Confession. I gladly obliged.
About a week later, I was visiting with a friend who sells oriental rugs part-time for another friend, a Navy veteran such as myself. I was looking around in the store and happened to notice some Italian mementos in a jewelry case. The Neapolitan cameos and carved seashell souvenir of the southern Italian city on the Bay, in particular, caught my eye. After life as a resident of Naples for two years such relics caused me to wonder who might have placed them there. Upon inquiring of the lady behind the counter I found it was she who had arranged the display case items and that she was in fact from Naples and lived on the island of Capri in her youth. Maria and I chatted in Italian for about an hour, sharing about our lives there and common experiences here. The coincidence deepened as I found she spends free time in a Navy port city where I also have a getaway place for time off and solitude. A “small world” experience certainly, but not entirely surprising in a self-selected environment such as Marine Corps Exchange where one enters only by showing a military ID or gets special permission as a merchant to enter.
It was because I was conversing with Maria that another woman, Lisa, approached and engaged me in conversation. She, an Italian-American, asked me to bless her rosary, which I did after first blessing salt and water for the purpose. We sat and chatted for some time about the Faith, of course, but also about her recent experience traveling Italy for two years and attending Mass every day.
Italy again. And that wouldn’t be the last time that day. The reason for going to DC that day was to attend the Chrism Mass for the Archdiocese of Washington, to pray with the bishop and faithful and pick up the new blessed oils for my parish. At the appointed time I took the subway from Pentagon to the Farragut North station and walked the last few blocks to the cathedral. I took a seat in the back pew for the Mass.
As one does, I noted details of some of the faithful surrounding me. The church was filled with a compelling variety of cultures and racial backgrounds. Asians, Africans, and Hispanics and more. The Church’s true face was certainly present as a universal Body of Christ. The man to my left, however, appeared to be Italian. Some sense gained from living in Italy and befriending Italians told me this. He was silent so it wasn’t his voice but appearance only that gave rise to this observation.
At the conclusion of the Mass, I turned to him and asked him in Italian if he was indeed from the beautiful peninsula and he responded that indeed my hunch was correct. He introduced himself as Michele from Milano. He is a new U.S. citizen after immigrating here as an adult for work. He wanted to know how I knew he was Italian. It is hard to describe how long experience enables one to sum up and measure a variety of indicators that enable such perception. Only living there over time and soaking up the details of daily experience that enrich a person in any culture make it possible.
As an example, I was in Rome recently having dinner and surrounded by Italians in conversation. A young couple to my left were discussing various accents. Near the end of the meal, I turned to the young man as they were leaving and asked him if he was from Tuscany and he responded in the affirmative. Such perception comes after years of living and traveling in Italy.
Language opens up cultures and relationships for sharing and bonding between souls. My facility for Italian and my familiarity with the daily life there brings a connection on a deeper level with Italians. The sights, sounds, smells, and customs of life lived there are a shared reality. But the language is the door which opens that experience.
All of these in their highest purpose serve the faith: language, culture, conversation. My experience of the merchant, the pilgrim, and the seeker whom I encountered in D.C. in one day of roaming are emblematic of the work of every priest over a lifetime. Spreading the Gospel and grace to a needy world is the essential role of the man ordained to be another Christ.
Speaking the native languages of the faithful, whether Italian or Spanish in addition to English, as I do, can help certainly. But nothing makes clear the availability of the priest and welcomes the faithful to engage him as does the cassock. Encourage your priest to wear his. If he doesn’t have a cassock, offer to get one tailored for him.
And learning Italian doesn’t hurt, either.
Thanks for reading and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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