The cassock was once the standard article of dress for Christian priests. Long after the Great Schism divided the east from the west, the cassock remained a symbol of priesthood that was acknowledged by Catholic and Orthodox alike. ... The cassock was a symbol of the priesthood in the way that a white coat is a symbol of medicine or a tie is a symbol of formality and professionalism.
But all of that is over now, at least in the west. At age thirty, I’m the product of a post sixties, post sexual revolution, post Vatican II world. There’s no room for the cassock in the world in which I’ve grown up. I’ve never seen a Roman Catholic priest wear one, outside of the movies. ... To wear a cassock when not officiating at liturgy is to paint one’s self as a stuffy traditionalist who is pining after the nineteenth century, a clueless old fuddy duddy who is still trapped by the oppressive social norms of yesteryear.
The universal symbols are gone, replaced by the universality of brand names and box stores. In the process, that which is unique to each local expression of community has become obscured. ... Every time I move to a new place, I’m asked by the locals, “How do you like living here?” I’m never quite sure how to answer that question, and for the longest time I didn’t know why. And then one day it dawned on me, I couldn’t answer the question because I couldn’t figure out what the difference was between one place and the next. I ate at the same chain restaurants and bought my clothing at the same strip malls everywhere I went. ...
We need symbols, not just brands. We need symbols that speak to our hearts and that communicate deep truths about who we are and how we live. We need to know that there are differences between us that go beyond whether or not we happen to prefer PCs over Macs or Cheerios over Corn Flakes. We need to learn again that there is such a thing as calling and vocation, that each of us can be called upon to serve our communities in a special way, not simply by consuming but by producing the goods that hold our communities together, whether or not those goods are tangible.