It was Pentecost, 1997. That was the first day that I ever wore clerics. I had just been accepted as a seminarian, a candidate for priesthood for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. As part of the duties of a seminarian, I was called upon to serve Mass for Cardinal Keeler at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. The last time I had been in that place had been for my brother's high school graduation, a few years prior. As I parked my car in the lot and made my way toward the huge church, people greeted me, "Hello, Father!" I didn't know how to respond to that. Another man came up to me with his wife and asked me if they had permission to videotape the confirmations there that day. I told them that I thought it was OK, but I was unsure. They thanked me, and as they went to leave, I asked them, "Excuse me. Can you tell me where the sacristy is?"
It's a familiar feeling for many priests and seminarians: the first time they wore the collar. I didn't feel like I belonged in it - or that I deserved it - but there I was, wandering the grounds of the Cathedral in black shirt and white collar, looking just like a priest.
It's the uniform. Something that we priests should wear with pride (this might sound odd to my housemate, the associate pastor, who teases me mercilessly when I go to work in the summer in my flip-flops!). However, the uniform is important. I caught a showing of the movie "Hancock," starring Will Smith, this Sunday. The reluctant superhero endures image rehabilitation from Jason Bateman's character in order to help the public appreciate his gifts. At one point, Ray gives Hancock his new "uniform" - a tight-fitting, X-men-esque outfit. "I'm not wearing that," he protests. Ray tells him that a uniform conveys purpose and that it is important for Hancock's image.
Now, the clothes don't make the man - there must be character behind the uniform. However, the uniform does convey purpose. The collar tells people something - that a priest is here. And knowing that a priest is there should remind us that Christ is there.