Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

14 December 2013

Head Games

Several years ago, a priest thought that this hat would look good on me and decided to give it to me.
People will be Russian to buy them
The hat has been in my self-storage unit the second floor of my Mom's house until I recently unearthed it, to my great delight. I needed the right weather conditions to wear it.

Now that it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, I have been wearing the hat. In my self-consciousness I have been paying more attention to people who pass me on the streets and in shopping plazas--not for their sakes, mind you, but because of the hat.

This happened just today. I saw a couple get out of their car, and the young woman was grinning. At me!? I quickly continued walking toward the store, which turned out to be the same one they had entered (somehow I'd lost track of them). This conversation ensued:

He: "Hey, nice hat."
I: "Do you mean that, or are you just making fun of me?"
He: [feigning sincerity, backtracking, making excuses, otherwise being unmasked for his idiocy]

Take note, patient reader, that the preceding conversation took place in my mind. By the time I entered the store, the couple was minding their business, paying no noticeable attention even to the most paranoid me.

This mental maelstrom moved me to have a real conversation. Returning to my car with its hands-free connectivity, I called a friend, to whom I laid out the whole situation. He deftly waded through the slush:

He: "Do you like the hat?"
I: "I do."
He: "So wear the hat."
I: "I am."

My friend reminded me that my strained interior monologue would find healing by recalling the true nature of who and what I am, and being at peace with that. He knows well that this has been an arduous endeavor for me, but like a good friend, he has accompanied me thus far and has no plans of giving up on me. I have not always been such a stalwart companion to the people in my life, I concede; but if our Second-Chance-Giving God sees fit, He will arrange further interactions.

In our conversation I thought of another man with a unique hat who, if he were anything like me, would be a bit self-conscious right now.

Time Magazine's annual honoree for 2013, Pope Francis, wears the white zucchetto. Thanks to ubiquitous cameras, the entire world has seen him wash a woman's feet, embrace physically disfigured people, and do many other things that are making people alternately cringe in disdain and leap for joy. They have heard him declare the Person and Mission of Christ as the basis for every Church teaching and discipline, leaving some with the impression that cultural concerns need to be, at best, contextualized, at worst, ignored.

Since the advent of news magazines and television programs, and especially in the days of the Internet, every Pope has been photographed and evaluated from every angle. "Heavy hangs the hat that wears the crown," or miter; but it seems that the Holy Fathers have gone about their Father's business with joyful determination, self-un-consciousness.

Consider Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Since his abdication of the papacy, he has been permitted to continue wearing the white zucchetto. The satirical Catholic news site Eye of the Tiber fabulates Benedict's quiet sadness upon reading of his successor's fame. If, as far as we know, Pope Francis discharges the duties of Bishop of Rome without becoming curved in on himself*, we can surmise that Pope Emeritus Benedict's interior conformity to Christ, and protection from public scrutiny, will suffice to guide him gently to the Trinity's embrace.
*"Curved in on himself" (incurvatus in se): St. Augustine's famous description of my life
A vibrant relationship with God enables us to wear the hat of our vocation without becoming excessively concerned about the dimensions of our head.


  1. I can so relate to the unhelpful inner conversations Chris. Thank you for sharing and for showing us that, as everyday people, we all struggle. Your example of calling a friend is important too, for we needn't struggle alone. And of course, Pope Francis is a good example of how to live fearlessly and joyously in spite of what might be going on inside our heads.

  2. Like you, Joseph, I find it much better to share (in speech and in writing) what is going on up there. "Negatives develop in a dark room"; and where there is darkness, there isn't much joy or confidence. Like fake nails, we press on!