I understood that to be an effective street evangelist, my appearance would need to signal to people why I was out on the streets as well as offer an attractive presence. The Mormons announced themselves by their wholesome yet corny uniform, and the fundamentalists used a sign. I decided that a sign was awkward and immobile and so I would need a uniform of some kind. But what kind? Maybe a t-shirt or sweatshirt with a cross and large lettering: "ASK ME WHY I'M CATHOLIC" or "DO YOU KNOW CHRIST?" No, that wouldn't do. I wanted something more timeless--more Catholic--as well as something that even passing cars could recognize and consider. Then I remembered a strange experience, a supernatural fragment from two years ago.
The monks of Papastronsay had sent me a book in the form of a magazine about Blessed Charles de Foucauld. It was the old biography by Rene Bazin supplemented by dozens of vintage photographs. I had never heard of this saint, but I was impressed by his photo on the cover. I thumbed through the magazine and then forgot the book amidst the pile on my desk. After all, what would a monk and evangelist to the muslims have to do with me? Then a year later, about the time of his feast day (December 1st), Blessed Charles stepped into my life through an interior vision. He stood slightly bent with his hands clasped before him. He was a small humble presence who seemed to be housed in my soul. He said nothing, but merely looked at me for a few moments from within me. And then he was gone.
I didn't know what to do with this experience, and so I dug the magazine out from the pile on my desk and read it. I presented the magazine to my spiritual director, and said with embarrassment, "He appeared to me from inside of me." I was surprised when my director looked pleased, and announced that he was very fond of Blessed Charles. We concluded that Blessed Charles must be one of my heavenly patrons, and that God was reminding me--through Blessed Charles--that humility is the central lever for spiritual growth.
But two years later I now saw the experience in a deeper light. Blessed Charles's prayerful witness and example of Christian brotherhood to non-believers was the ideal recipe for evangelization in the post-Christian West. Moreover, Blessed Charles's religious habit with the Holy Cross emerging from Christ's Sacred Heart was the perfect starting point for constructing a uniform. The heart and cross offer the perfect message of love and sacrifice as well as soothing the fears of those I might encounter. I could make a short tunic that was modeled after Blessed Charles habit, though it would need to avoid the particular marks of religious dress. Then I recalled that in past centuries, some lay people would wear distinctive dress that identified them as a member of one of the Third Orders (Dominican, Benedictine, etc). Emboldened by this precedent, I asked Blessed Charles for his patronage and began sketching out a tunic. I decided that a wool tunic with a prominent Jesus Caritas heart/cross would be unusual enough to be unmistakable to passers-by on foot and car. There would be no mistaking what I was up to. Moreover, wool is remarkably versatile and could be worn throughout the change in seasons.
To be continued...