Faith on display

June 22, 2009 | 35 comments

The chaos of being on vacation with four kids under five in a non-childproof house is using up all my mental energy, so here’s one from the archives. It was originally published on October 9, 2007, and is still something I think about a lot today. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.

One subject that’s related to our recent discussion about women covering their heads at church is the concept of outward signs of piety. In the comments here as well as other conversations I’ve heard on the topic, people sometimes mention that they don’t do something that is an outward sign of their beliefs (e.g. praying in public, wearing chapel veils, carrying a Bible, etc.) because they’re afraid they’ll seem self-righteous. I’ve also heard people mention with a note of shame that it pleases them when others comment on their pious dress or actions.

But is that definitely a bad thing?

It love it when something I do or say or wear indicates to a stranger that I’m a Christian and they comment on it. I hope I’m not off base here, but I’ve been assuming that the pleasure I take in these kinds of events isn’t a bad thing. I just think it’s exciting when I’m identified as being serious — or, at least attempting to be serious — about my religion.

Once again, a lot of my feelings here are influenced by my atheist background. When I was an atheist I told myself that nobody even believed this Christianity stuff anymore. I saw what I wanted to see to tell myself that all these so-called “Christians” didn’t even take their own religion seriously and just went to church for social reasons. But on the rare occasions that I saw someone who went against the grain and did something unusual as an outward sign of their faith, it gave me pause.

One time I saw a few nuns in an airport. I noticed a priest at a local restaurant one afternoon. Once on a plane there was a little old lady in the aisle across from me who read her Bible out loud (quietly) through the whole trip, and when we landed safely she looked up and profusely thanked Jesus. One day I walked into a deli to see a Rabbi and a couple of orthodox Jewish men at a table. There was a family at a diner one time who all held hands bowed their heads in a long prayer before eating.

I smiled on all these occasions. These religious in their habits, the lady with the Bible, the Jewish men, the family in prayer…their actions and appearances left me without my old line that nobody took religion seriously anymore. They might have plenty of faults, I’d think, they might be wrong, but I can’t say they don’t take it seriously. Their religion is such a big part of their lives that they’re willing to look different than everyone else, to risk stares and perhaps even ridicule, to live their faith publicly.

I not only felt respect for people like this, but I even felt a bit of warmth upon seeing them. I didn’t know where that feeling came from at the time, but looking back I think I know what it was: hope. Though I had never consciously entertained the notion that God might exist, I think that something within me felt joy at the recognition that these people obviously believed the whole God thing, and they didn’t look totally insane. These people were beacons of hope to something hidden deep, deep down inside me…the part of me that wanted them to be right.

Another reason that I’ve come to love being recognized as a Catholic Christian is that I’ve discovered that many people who have fallen away from faith want to talk about it. Comments about my closely-spaced children frequently lead to the subject that I’m a convert to Catholicism, and I’ve been amazed at how many times people have opened up to me about their personal crises with faith and asked me questions about what led me to Christianity — so much so that I keep joking with my husband that I’m going to get an ASK ME ABOUT MY CONVERSION FROM ATHEISM TO CATHOLICISM t-shirt. I actually wish there were more ways that I could outwardly display my faith to others so that anyone who would like to talk about it would recognize me as someone who’d be more than happy to chat with them. Sure, some people might think that I fancy myself to be some kind of holy roller, but if even one person found it inspiring or helpful it would be worth the tradeoff.

And, finally, I think that displaying my faith through attire or actions helps keep me in line. I’m thinking about hanging a rosary from my rear-view mirror, and having it there will definitely incentivize me to keep any road rage in check. Sometimes it’s nice to have a physical reminder that, as a Christian, I’m supposed to be representing Christ to the world.

I want to end this with a BIG disclaimer that I’m not saying that outward displays of faith mean that you’re actually holy or devout or pious or whatever (definitely not in my case!), or that if you don’t do anything to “show” your faith then you’re not serious about it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I just wanted to throw this out there, especially to share my memories from back before I was a Christian, to say that I think that sometimes the concept of outwardly showing your faith gets a bad rap. Sure, it’s not a good thing if it’s motivated by pride or feeling superior to others. But I’ve noticed that, even when those motivations are ruled out, when discerning these types of matters people usually err on the side of not doing anything to publicly display their faith unless there’s some extraordinary reason to do so. The reason usually cited is fear of appearing self-righteous. Perhaps that is a concern, but I think it should also be weighed with the benefits of having others recognize you as someone who is at least attempting to take his or her faith seriously. To some you may seem pretentious; but to others you may be a ray of hope.


  1. sarah

    I love it when I see someone wearing a cross, or especially a miraculous medallion. It's like recognising a fellow member of a wonderful secret club. Honestly, my heart always gets a lift. And we have lots of people here who have rosaries hanging from their car mirrors. If traffic alone tells a story, NZ is a very religious country, despite being officially secular!

  2. NC Sue

    You bring up lots of interesting points in your post, Jill.

    I wear a cross as an outward symbol of my belief. It also, I hope, serves as a reminder to me about my faith at times when I may be sliding a bit in the wrong direction. And I am not hesitant to bring church into the conversation or to bring God into the conversation.

    But there's always a nagging doubt in there that some people may see my all-too-frequent stumbles and falls as evidence that this "God stuff" isn't all it's cracked up to be, or, at minimum, that these "God people" don't take their faith seriously enough.

  3. elizabethe

    As another convert I absolutely agree with you Jen. I feel and felt exactly the same way. Two things. 1. My RCIA director told us she made a huge point of always going up to nuns who wear their habit and thanking them for wearing it and telling them how much it means for her as a Catholic to see them. Especially since so many orders have fallen away from wearing the habit out and about.

    Second we have a wonderful young priest at our parish (sadly for me moving soon) who always always dresses like a priest. He wears his long black priest robe everywhere — longs sleeves, collar, floor length robe, everything. We live in a very hot muggy city and to see him out and about clearly as a priest on a summer day when everyone else is in shorts and flip flops is a real witness. It makes me smile every time. I feel the same way when I see women with head coverings in church or people with large families.

  4. Nadja Magdalena

    I feel very much as you do about outward signs of faith. Before my own conversion, I may have even felt a tinge of envy when I noted signs of religious faith in others, much the same way I feel some envy when I see someone play an instrument (I never learned to play anything).

    I do wear a mantilla at Mass. In some churches I am the only one doing so, and I feel a little self-conscious, but not as awkward as I have come to feel on those rare occasions when I forget my mantilla.

    My word verification is "prays"!

  5. veniteadoremus

    As someone who will be changing her civvies to skirt-and-vest-with-cross-pin in three months, and from that to a habit a year later, I certainly think outward appearances count. And for the same reason as you do: to be a sign, to give people hope, to make religion visible on the streets… and to remind yourself, most certainly 🙂 If I then go shopping in habit the cashier will know that she just helped a Catholic and lived to tell the tale. 🙂

    I think it goes beyond clothes, although those are certainly the most "up close and personal". It's partly why we have beautiful Church buildings. They signal that God Is Here.

    And it is partly why we have contemplative religious : a nun once said to me that apart from the (fantastic) work they do in praying, their main apostolate is being there.

    She compared it to seeing people waiting for the bus. Even though you are not at all interested in the bus, it shows you that there's one riding around here!

  6. JA

    Pride is a dangerous, sneaky vice. If someone feels that they are apt fall to the sin of spiritual pride, then they MUST avoid that occasion of sin. If someone feels pride with a rosary on their rearview mirror or a veil on her head (thinking, "Look at me! I am so much more pious than all of these people!"), then there's a problem. This prideful person should, for example, wipe the ashes off their face on Ash Wednesday as soon as leaving church so as to not fall to pride throughout the day.

    Spiritual pride can come in many forms, including excessive timidity or embarrassment about the faith. Someone who falls to pride in this manner, who would rather wipe the ashes off because of embarrassment, should leave them on throughout Ash Wednesday while at the office and the grocery store.

    We are warned many times in the Bible against spiritual pride. Think of the way we are told to pray alone in our room, in secret with the door closed. Think of the way we are told to wash our faces while fasting.

    Even the smallest sin poisons us and hurts Christ. I can't remember who, but one saint said something along the lines of: 'It is better to suffer a thousand tortures than commit the smallest sin.'

    There is nothing wrong with someone quietly living their Christian life, with a Bible in hand. There is nothing wrong with someone who speaks to others about the faith, motivated only by a desire to save souls. Pride, though, is very, very wrong, as well as very, very common. Pride can kill our souls, and we must all be weary of it.

  7. Mandy

    Thanks for sharing this. I have struggled in my thoughts regarding this topic for years. Television (in my opinion) has made Christians seem bizarre, fanatical, and almost cult-like. I am always afraid that nowadays when people hear (or see) that you're a Christian, their thoughts run to images of huge crowds with their eyes closed and hands raised (which I can imagine appears strange to the average unbeliever), bad memories of churches they visited where they weren't well accepted, a well-meaning Christian who pushed too hard with their opinions and turned someone off to Christianity, or (what I hear most often) an instance when a Christian was very rude to them. (I hear this story told most often with food service workers who say that the Christians are usually the most rude of all people they serve). Before your conversion, did you feel this way?

    Also, I love that you included the comments about people who were Christians but have "fallen from their faith." I have a cousin who was once a Christian, but years ago decided that he was agnostic. I find, though, that he does enjoy discussing Christianity. It's in a debate-like form, but I can see the interest there. I don't often know how to answer his questions, because often they are questions I've asked myself. Although he claims that he's undecided on whether God truly exists or not, I don't believe him. The way he discusses the subject and the way he thinks and conveys those thoughts proves otherwise. At the risk of sounding judgemental, I think he is more in a state of wanting to live however he pleases without having to "answer" to God, and uses the agnostic excuse to justify himself. Have you ever come across anyone like this? If you have, what did you say to them?

  8. MrsCabrio

    Dear Jennifer, I have never left a comment on your blog and that seems strange to me because your blog has influenced me SO GREATLY over the year I have been reading. Last summer, I spent every free moment reading your blog, the archives, the links you provided and "learning" my way back to Catholicism.

    Once again, today's post really opened my eyes as many others have done in the past.

    I was firmly in the camp of outward signs of faith being pretentious. But I have heard Sr. Rosalind Moss on Catholic Answers Live often discussing how her new Order is bringing back full habits because in their ministry, it allows people to rush up to the sisters in public and say, "Will you pray for me?" The full habits seem such an important part of their work. When I heard that, I was fascinated!

    Now your post today reminds me of this very interesting topic. I think you are so right. The chance to be a ray of hope to even one person would be worth any other mis-perceptions which may arise.

    But I'll admit that as far as public displays of faith go — it may be much easier for me to be a ray of hope in public now that my 3 sons are grown and I am not wheeling a grocery cart full of boys who are cheerfully punching each other.

    Currently, I live and work in a very urban environment and one day last week, as I parked in a lonely alley where there are just two parking spaces, a man approached my car, begging for money. This is not at all the first time this has happened to me. But this man seemed — manic, I guess. I was frightened. Not for my physical safety but frightened to be "handling" the situation incorrectly or maybe just frightened of the unexpected nature of it. Or maybe I was thinking, "Not me, Lord. I can't help this dude!"

    So I think public displays of our Christian faith take a strong discipline. I wonder if I am up to that task?

  9. habemuspapa

    I grew up in a church that WAS pretentious. So I am one of those who tends to shy away from public displays of anything (not just piety). And I admit, whenever someone says something about setting a good example, I have flashbacks to all the teaching I heard as a child in which "setting a good example" was code for self-righteous ostentatious displays of religion. But I think you make a good point. I'll be praying for balance in this area.

  10. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    I've begun wearing a miraculous medal for a number of reasons, and I can't deny that one of them is to have an outward sign of my faith. It definitely identifies me as Catholic!

    I keep prayer and saint cards in the diaper bag for my 2-year-old to play with while we're out and about. I punched a hole in one corner and put them on a key ring. Then we talk about Jesus, Mary, and the saints while she's flipping through them.

  11. Christine the Soccer Mom

    Jen, I can't remember if I read it or not…

    Did you wind up taking up the mantilla? Your reasoning is pretty close to mine, and I thought and prayed about it for two years. The only comments I got on Sunday were positive ones. ("I like your veil thingie," was what Big Girl's friend said.)

  12. Emily

    Hi, Jennifer! I was referred to your blog by a friend and have been reading many of your old posts, which have given me so much food for thought. My spiritual journey has been pretty messy; though I was never an atheist, I've felt pretty lost faith-wise over the past few years, and have lately started researching and re-seeking. Your blog has been quite an inspiration to me!

    On the subject at hand: I am usually pretty put off by religious showiness, which has more to do with my negative experiences of religion than any theological feelings on the subject. However, I have a great deal of respect for Christians whose daily acts of kindness back up their public praying or Bible reading. For as many hypocrites as there are "out there," there are as many Christians who consistently show Christ's love through their words and actions.

    I think hanging a rosary from your rearview mirror is an excellent idea for reminding you to curb road rage. I know I was always mindful of my actions when I had Christian bumper stickers on my car. Right now I'm feeling very challenged in the road rage department, as if God is riding with me and reminding me that getting mad won't get me where I'm going any faster, and it's worth it to be kind to other drivers by yielding the right-of-way and waving in thanks to someone who lets me merge into heavy traffic. I'd say I'm well-behaved about 35% of the time now, which is an improvement over a few years ago!

  13. Anonymous

    Great post, Jen! I agree that as long as you're not displaying your faith with the expectation of receiving praise or acclaim for it from others, that it is something that we must do daily. I wear the Miraculous Medal and the Brown Scapular every day, and I sometimes get questions from people about them. It's not something that everyone notices, but it can open up opportunities for conversation. As always, I appreciate hearing what you thought about such things as an atheist. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Jen G

  14. Anonymous

    It is usually encouraging to encounter someone who can be recognized as a Christian.
    However, it is easier to be that person in an anonymous setting. When my coworkers talk about how their semi-religious upbringing scarred them or all of the terrible, horrible, no good (and, of course, hypocritical) Christians who have hurt them, I sometimes wish that I had never let them know that I belonged to that category. There is no way that I can counteract their negativity and change their beliefs about what Christians are like. Especially as they can see me struggle to follow Christ on a daily basis. What if I am only confirming their opinion that He is useless and all Christians are jerks?

  15. Anonymous

    I recommend St. Christopher. St. Jude in a pinch. I know the Church outest St. Christopher but I still ride with him.

    Yes, see the religeous in their uniforms as my aunt the NUN called it. It gives my heart a lift.

    I carry my rosary but don't hang it from the rear view mirror. Some states it is illegal to hang things from the rear view mirror.

    Loved the repost.

  16. Elizabeth

    Jesus was very clear that we ought not pray as the Pharisees do–blowing a trumpet before them as they went to prayers, wearing sackcloth while fasting, etc. Instead, we ought to go to a private prayer closet.

    Jesus was addressing the issue of spiritual pride. It's a matter of the heart. Only God knows the motives of our hearts. If God is leading you to cover your head, wear a medallion or dress in a particular manner–then obey Him.

    However, it's important to be mindful that outward signs are not necessary. As Paul reminds us in his epistles, it's not outward circumcision that matters, it's the inner circumcision of the heart.

    I have often seen that outward signs can lead very quickly to spiritual pride. Also, if a person is behaving in a very unChristian manner, then their rear-view mirror Rosary may give an unbeliever an occasion to write off Christ.

    That said, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with outward displays. And again, if God is leading you to do something–then, by all means, do it.

    I can certainly identify with the desire to outwardly proclaim that belong to Jesus. But I do believe that nothing does that more clearly than our actual deeds–not what we wear.

  17. Laura

    We are a family of nine: my husband and I, five girls and two boys. That alone draws attention to us. Then add to that the fact that all us girls always wear skirts and dresses. We try to always look presentable – not frumpy or messy. Let's just say that we always are on display. A lot of people think we're Amish. Usually the most likely people to make positive comments to us are older folks. It usually seems to bring back fond memories of the big family they came from.

    I'd like to think that our public displays of faith (our dress, our praying before a meal at a restaurant,etc)are having a positive impact on someone, but even if they aren't we do what we do because we believe it is what God wants us to do.

    It can be risky to show your faith in public but we've found we get the hardest time by living our faith in front of our relatives. That is where we have always gotten the "oh you are holier than all of us" attitude. We try to thank God for their attitudes because if it wasn't for them, we wouldn't really know what it felt like to be persecuted.

    Thanks for this great post.
    God Bless.

  18. SHEAFmom

    This post puts into words my own feelings on this subject. You even nailed the drawback; people mistaking serious devotion to Christ through His Church as a sign of holiness :-P. Over the years I have discovered that putting my faith and my sins on "my sleeve" can be a powerful witness tool. The biggest problem I have is people thinking I am exaggerating the truth of my sins because I am just soooo holy, augh 🙂

    I am going to rethink my wearing a veil at Mass. My daughter and I had begun wearing a veil to church (she is 12 and lead me to buy them). After a few weeks I became uncomfortable because too many people already think I am some kind of holy person and I didn’t want to mislead them with even more “evidence”. I want people to know I am Catholic, but I don’t want them to assume I am perfect. I do not want to be the “see I told you so, they are all hypocrites” person that makes someone stumble. I am keenly aware of all the gifts God has given me, especially the gift of faith in His Church. I want to share these gifts with everyone, but how to let people know they can feel free to ask me about my faith without turning people away when I am “caught” with my sinfulness exposed.

  19. Nadja Magdalena

    Just an afterthought for those who made comment on the fear of appearing more holy than they are. I inquired on the same with a good confessor, and he made several good points that have helped me overcome this "impostor syndrome." First, outward gesture can often lead to an inner change if the desire is there. In other words, act holy and it can lead you to be holier. This is not the same as a desire to deceive. And if we are caught being less than what we appear to be, we must humbly admit that we are not saints and only aspire to sainthood. Secondly, we should always try to edify others with our behavior, and some of the outward signs of faith can get people thinking about faith, as mentioned in the post. It also can cause us to be more recollected as we exhibit these signs of faith.

    Sorry for going on so. But we should never let pride keep us from showing marks of our faith. The fear of failing to be as holy as we appear is merely a lack of humility.

  20. Jackie

    I'm a relatively new reader. LOVE your blog!

    It is a matter of the heart. We as Christians should be sticking out, but not so much for what we wear but for how we obey Him. What we wear, how we spend our time (TV, movies, music, Internet), how we speak (gossip, laungage), etc. should all reflect Jesus.

    If the people we associate with every day don't know we are Christian, then we are doing something wrong because everything should reflect our faith.

    Thank you for what you wrote about hope. That made me happy!

  21. gradchica

    You truly never know when your medal, or ashes, or what have you can influence someone else for the good. I stopped by the grocery store on Ash Wednesday afternoon and this older gentleman pointed at my forehead, pointed to his heart, and teared up (he didn't speak a language I recognized, so I'm not sure what he actually said, but it certainly seemed positive!). When I've had to squeeze Ash Weds Mass in before teaching, I've had students ask me what the ashes mean and some ask me for Mass times, so perhaps seeing that "outward display" motivated them to go back to Mass (at least once, anyway).

    Finally, I completely agree that wearing a medal and praying in public are a quiet, non-showy way of being a witness for Christ–demonstrating that there are people who take this Christianity stuff seriously. Wearing my St Teresa medal in class and having my professor and classmates remark on it was, perhaps, a reminder that for some people the God she's writing about does exist and is still changing hearts today (as is St Teresa).

  22. Anonymous

    Hi Jen, I think about this a lot…I try not to be too self-conscious about the signs. I think I've come to the point where I just do it and separate from the results. Who knows who sees what and how they process it-but I will say, I think the visual, b/c it's done in a non-coercive way is extremely powerful-thank you

  23. Elizabeth

    Wearing a mantilla is simply about love of God, modesty, HUMILITY, and obedience to me. There are very few of us who wear them in my parish…or many of the others we frequent. I began wearing it about six years ago…now I fell rather funny without it and if I forget it I just "take the grace" of being "embarassed" by NOT having it on.
    Thanks for bringing up the topic.

  24. Joe Strain

    I pray each day that God bless me and allows me to extend my territory by providing me strength and opportunity to evangelize.

    And YES I'm a CATHOLIC..

    So while I wear a scapula under my clothes, and carry my rosary in my pocket. There are indeed times when I wear my cursillo cross and add a little FIRE to my daily wardrobe..

    More importantly I try to live as christ ask us to.. That is feed the hungry, cloth the naked, take care of the sick… DO we take this literally or can we extend it to. Feed those in hunger of Christ Word… Take care of those that are in pain because they are away from Christ work.

    With all this in context.. It seems a little silly to worry if you think someone finds you pious, .. when you have to step outside of the social norm now days to bring Jesus life to those that need it…

    I hope you have seen Jesus today in someone wearing a crucifix ..

    De Colores
    handsome joe

  25. Roxane B. Salonen

    What I think is…if we worried a lot less about how other Christians dress in terms of whether their attire is "showy" in the wrong way or not, we'd all be better off. The fact of the matter is, we simply cannot see into the hearts of others, and if someone is wearing a certain piece of jewelry or attire representing their faith, it is not up to us to judge what their intention might be. I would guess that most people who wear a crucifix around their neck or some other outward sign that they are Christians are not doing it for the wrong reason. They know they are representing their faith and are bold enough to do so. Whenever I wear my crucifix I am very aware that I am announcing publicly that I am a Christian, and I do so proudly but not with pride of self but as a bold statement of my my faith and love for God. And, as you have said, as an invitation to others to ask me about my faith if they feel inclined. I think those who would feel uncomfortable are feeling uncomfortable with themselves. Again, since we can't know another's heart, better to not worry too much about it if it "seems" prideful in the wrong way. The focus should be on ourselves and what's in OUR hearts.

  26. Alyson

    Hi there Jen,
    Once again, so much insight and inspiration!
    I started wearing my cross fervently about 8 years ago as it makes me feel closer to the Lord and it comforts me, knowing that I have a physical reminder of Him with me everywhere I go.
    We have a Rosary hanging from the mirror in our car for that same reason, and yes, to bear Witness as Catholic Christians.
    In my experience,Catholic Chirstians are often shy and 'stand back' in the face of critisism or questioning. Wearing an outward sign of our Faith, awards us the opportunity to share our faith unobstrusively in our secular world.
    Who knows, we may be asked for directions in faith by someone longing for a relationship with Jesus?
    Great blog!!

  27. Shannon

    Just an observation from a protestant friend…I occasionally will cover my head when I pray in private, in my home. It's always a sweet time when I do that, and because it's private, I don't have to worry about having to explain it or worrying that I'm trying to "look pious". I *don't* believe it's a requirement–I can approach the throne freely because of Christ's sacrifice only, not because of anything I do or don't do. But sometimes, doing little extras like head covering, as a visible, tangible reminder to me of my smallness (and, thus, God's greatness) is very meaningful.

  28. Sarahndipity

    If someone feels pride with a rosary on their rearview mirror or a veil on her head (thinking, "Look at me! I am so much more pious than all of these people!"), then there's a problem. This prideful person should, for example, wipe the ashes off their face on Ash Wednesday as soon as leaving church so as to not fall to pride throughout the day.

    Spiritual pride can come in many forms, including excessive timidity or embarrassment about the faith. Someone who falls to pride in this manner, who would rather wipe the ashes off because of embarrassment, should leave them on throughout Ash Wednesday while at the office and the grocery store.

    I think this is an excellent point. Some people are more tempted to "prove" how holy they are with outward signs, whereas others are tempted to hide any sign of their Christianity out of embarrassment. I am definitely tempted towards the latter. For me, wearing an outward sign of my Catholicism makes me very self-conscious, but maybe that’s a sign that I should do it.

  29. Anonymous

    I steadfastly do not wear 'Christian' stuff — but a wooden rosary is wrapped around my rear-view mirror. I love seeing rosaries in other people's cars because we are a part of the same family.

    I do wear my parish staff magnetic name badge (with my parish affliation on it) everywhere I go. I have one I use on the church grounds; another one I use universally. Of course, people always think I work for whatever store I enter. It provokes conversation because most people have no idea what 'director of initiation-rcia' means. I have the most fun at Disneyland with it — tourists stopping me to ask for directions. Since I know the place like the back of my hand, I assist them although I always admit I don't work there!

    I like the comment about the order of nuns who are re-adopting their habit so that people can ask them to pray. I always tell our priests of the good they would do in our larger community if they once more wore their collars with pride,but they are very very reluctant to open themselves up to ridicule. I pray often for our priests everywhere to be courageous again.

  30. Anonymous

    I know this comment is late but I will send it off, anyhow.

    I love the idea of outward signs of my faith, but it seems to me that they should be relevant to my culture. Wearing a veil was deeply relevant to many of the communities the Apostle Paul wrote to – not wearing one was a sign of being a prostitute or immoral woman. It does not have that implication today. In fact it does not really mean much to our current society at all. A crucifix may mean something. Modesty is certainly relevant. Prayer, or crossing oneself in public has a meaning. What other cultural shorthand for "trying to live a holy life" is there? I'm not sure, but a veil looks pretentious to me.

    As a new Catholic (Thanks be to God – entered the Church in April, 2007) I am proud to fly my flag. But I don't want to just do something without it speaking to my culture, or comforting my heart with its presence. – Dawn

  31. Anonymous

    I think it's important that those of you who decide to put your faith on display be careful. Sometimes is does come across as very self righteous. And sometimes it does bring your religion bad press. Yes everyone is human and makes mistakes, but when you put your faith on display (like a priest or a nun), right or wrong it fosters certain expectations.

    The reason for this, I think, is that faith in Christ is supposed to change one dramatically for the better. You're supposed to be a new person in Christ and to have the power of the Holy Spirit on your side, helping you to be a better person. When people walk around with a cross on, or a head covering (like Pentecostal women wear out in public), or things that otherwise draw attention to themselves as Christians, but habitually behave in a way that is unkind, judgmental, superior, it basically says to non-believers, "They don't behave any differently than people from any other religion–why should I bother with it? And I'm not talking about the harried mom who loses it at Target. I'm talking about the guy at work who every day makes racist comments or goes on and on about his political beliefs as if they were ordained by God or who at the end of the day, is just a jerk. And there are LOTS of Christians who fall into this category.

    I think the difference between religious (priests and nuns and monks) wearing their particular "uniforms" and regular Christians going out of their way to make their religion known by what they wear is that the lives of religious are focused more intensely on living a Godly life. Most of the rest of us have less training, and more "distractions" if you will–marriage, children, work, financial issues, aging parents to care for. I'm not saying religious don't have personal concerns that distract them from their primary calling, just that non religious have more "static" in their lives most of the time, and their whole lives aren't centered around serving God in the same way as religious. When I see a nun, I see a person whose life is dedicated to God (and hope she behaves accordingly). When I see someone wearing a cross, honestly, so many people do who behave badly that it strikes me as just a piece of jewelry.

    In my opinion, better to evangelize like St. Francis says:

    Preach often. Use words if necessary.

    Your behavior is way more impressive than carrying a bible around, praying in a restaurant, or wearing a cross.


  32. ED

    I wear a Jerusalem cross medallion that I received for Confirmation any time that I am in public. I started doing this after several good friends repeatedly embarressed themselves by making anti-Catholic jokes in my presence. I live in a very secular part of the country with a large atheist and agnostic population, and work in a field dominated by atheists and agnostics (at least the multi-generational Americans – I haven't talked religion much with the immigrants, but they seem more open-minded). I've found that wearing a cross when I go into interviews reduces the chance of a repeat of my first internship – an otherwise great group of people promoted a highly bigotted, anti-Christian environment (during the Gore / Bush elections of Nov. 2004). It was very difficult to work there.

    Honestly, I'm not proud when I wear this jewelry – I'm a little scared. It's becoming a habit by now, but for a long time I had to tell myself that if someone doesn't want to be civil or friendly because of my faith, I'd rather get it out in the open right away than have to deal with it later. I think, in retrospect, that the defensiveness I've encountered when people learned I was Christian (pre-necklace) was partly out of surprise . . . like they suddenly realized they might be being judged according to some foreign standard without knowing it (they weren't, of course – but there's this belief that all Christians are judgemental). I find this jewelry also shames me when I don't live up to the standards I expect from a Christian. Since I am prone to pride, this is a good thing.

    In the environment in which I live, I have never found displaying my Catholicism actually fills me with pride – which is surprising, since I expected it to do so. Instead, I find myself facing my fears and inadequacies. I also like that I now feel under-dressed if I am not wearing my necklace – it's a part of who I am now.

    I also like the idea that if wearing Christian or religious symbols in public were ever banned, I would be affected by that law. I doubt it will happen in my lifetime, but who knows?

  33. Nancy

    Thank you for this blog. I would like to know how was your conversion. Have you written a book or are planning to?

    As a mother of a University child who has lost her faith to atheism, I need all the help I can get.

    God bless you always

  34. TaraS

    I have been thinking about this one on-and-off since I first read the post…wondering if I should go out and get a veil. Like you, I would feel a bit out of place wearing something so very pious-looking when no other lady in my church wears one. So I did some research into the meaning and custom of the veil, and I found that it doesn't really need to be a chapel veil at all. A hat or beret would do just as well, as the actual important thing is to cover the "glory" of your hair (read: the manifestation and symbol of female sexual power) in respect to the greater glory of God. As well, it would seem that to be "veiled" or "shorn" are equivalent, so if you have very short hair you can dispense with the head covering (although I'm not sure I understood that part correctly). I'm going to get a beret before next Sunday mass!

  35. TaraS

    Oops – I meant to post the above comment on the "Covering my head at church" entry.

Connect With Me On Social Media or Explore My Site



The "THIS IS JEN" podcast is on Facebook & all podcast apps


- Subscribe on iTunes or Google Play (audio)

- Get weekly bonus episodes on Patreon

- Sign up for my email list to be the first
to know about new tour dates