It's noteworthy too that as the Catholic Church dropped so many symbols, Friday abstinence, Lent - what we have now is 'Lent Lite' - and other things, we have become more aware of the Ramadan fast of Muslims and respect it, and sport has replaced Mass as 'liturgy'. In the past we in the West wore our 'Sunday best' going to church. Now the vast majority don't bother going to church but dress up to support their team in sporting events. In fact it has become a rip-off where teams change their gear, of which they have two or three different sets of colours, every year so that the companies they're associated with will sell more unneeded clothing, sometimes made by underpaid workers. and they know that children will put pressure on their parents to buy the new, unnecessary gear.
I'm well aware that a habit or a clerical suit doesn't make a person a saint. Before Christmas 1981 when travelling on a train from London to Glasgow, wearing a red sweater and jeans, a woman asked me if I was a priest. Around the same time - I was home for Christmas from studies in Toronto - I went to visit the parents of a young Irishman I had come to know in a prayer group there. His mother opened the door. She had never met me before and didn't know I was coming but greeted me with a big smile and said 'You're very welcome, Father!'
But symbols are important. On recent visits home to Ireland I have made a point of wearing clerical dress most of the time. I have been approached by people young and old precisely because of this, once in the airport in Abu Dhabi by a newly graduated student from a Dublin university. He old me he was one of very few of his contemporaries who practised the faith and he appreciated the affirmation he got. On another occasion, flying from Abu Dhabi to Dublin I got into a genuine dialogue of faith with a Muslim man who not only had the Quran saved in his mobile phone but parts of the Bible also.
So on the feast of St Dominic I thank God for my Dad who dragged me unwillingly to St Saviour's all those years ago and for the friars I saw there whose white habits, without my being aware of it at the time, carried a quiet, personal message from God.
Take a look too at Irish Rosary Priest, the blog of 91-year-old Fr Gabriel Harty OP who is spending August working at Knock Shrine.