The Habit: An Outward Sign of Inward Spirit

As seen in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 14)

An interview with Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.
By Gina Sanders Larsen

Managing Editor, Abbey Magazine

Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., wears his habit on the streets of Chicago.
Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., wears his habit on the streets of Chicago.

During a recent academic break, I sat with Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., 26, to discuss a seemingly simple idea—whether or not to wear the ankle-length white habit of the Norbertines when he is out in public in Chicago, the city where he studies for the priesthood at Catholic Theological Union.

What is it like wearing a habit in a secular environment?

The most important thing is that when you are wearing the habit, everything you do reflects not only on you, but also on every Norbertine. The habit elicits a lot of emotion, both good and bad, yet it expresses my Christian faith and vocation. Am I hiding it, or am I on fire? It’s an outward sign of inward spirit.

Tell me more about that phrase, “an outward sign of inward spirit.”

If I choose not to wear the habit, I am choosing to blend in. In the streets, the white habit is a visible witness to Christ. It’s like when Jesus called himself “the door” and no one can come to the Father except through Him. I am certainly not Jesus, but I choose to be present and visible to people. At times some religious or priests hide behind a collar or habit. You have to remember that what counts is a person’s true character, and no article of clothing can change that. For me, the habit is a call to authenticity.

You said the habit elicits both good and bad responses from people. Can you give me some examples?

People often ask me, “What are you?” and I tell them I’m a Christian in formation for the Catholic priesthood. Many people ask me to pray for them, or they are intrigued by the idea of a priest. I’ve helped people who need a bus ticket or something to eat, but I’ve also provoked feelings of hatred. It is an imitation of Christ: trying to do good but realizing even the Son of God was not accepted by all.

Will you continue to wear your habit in public?

Yes. Even for people who do not approach me, wearing the habit shows them that someone is still interested in Christianity and Catholicism in a secular world. I hope that in wearing the habit, it is a visible sign of Christ in me and through me, and that it fosters Christian hope in a city plagued by poverty, violence, and racism. I am putting myself out there—humbly, I hope. The streets have a way of keeping you humble.

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Canons on the RunCanons on the Run

Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., and Frater Johnathan Turba, O. Praem., are co-hosts of St. Norbert Abbey’s biweekly podcast, Canons on the Run. In episode 008, compellingly and with a bit of humor, they discuss their habit, the conversations that have occurred because of it, and their continual witness to God’s call.

Listen now »

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