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The brown robes of the Order of Friars Minor, also known as Franciscans, are an iconic look that immediately identify wearers as part of the order. What many may not know, however, is that the robes they wear are not their own; rather they are passed down within the order to be worn by the next generation. This unique and thrifty tradition was the topic of a recent episode of Fr. Casey Cole’s YouTube channel, Breaking in the Habit.
Fr. Cole has been documenting his life as a Franciscan since he began discerning his vocation in Breaking in the Habit, a blog he built into a popular YouTube channel that currently boasts over 320,000 subscribers.
This witty and personable young priest entertains and educates on all manner of Catholic topics from deeply religious aspects like the nature of the Eucharist, to social controversies, and even benign things like reading mean tweets.
His explanation of the Franciscan tradition of passing down their robes begins with an explanation of why they wear robes to begin with. Fr. Casey explains that the reasons are fourfold: it clearly distinguishes the wearer from the rest of the world; it provides members of the order with a clear sense of group identity; it reminds the wearer of their commitment to God; and it is a mark of simplicity, a staple of the Franciscan life.
Franciscans take a vow of poverty, and the robes have always been tailored from the cheapest fabrics one could find. As Fr. Cole mentions how many Franciscan robes bear signs of mending, he raises his sleeve to show an off-color patch on one of his elbows. “They are passed down before they are thrown away,” Fr. Cole said.
While he does note that some robes are handed down because the previous wearer grew out of them, it is more common for a Franciscan’s first habit to be passed down from a member of the order who has passed away.
“In many cases, as was the case with the one I’m wearing, it comes from a friar who lived his life and passed it down to the next. That’s right, I’m wearing a dead guy’s clothes.”
Rather than feeling put off by the revelation, Fr. Cole seems rather thrilled to cover himself with a piece of Franciscan history, noting that this holy robe that reminds himself of his commitment to God once reminded another man of his commitment to God. Here, the robe is reflective of the order’s vow of poverty, as the robe is the symbol of his religious life. It is simultaneously the most important thing he uses and a thing that he does not own at all.
Fr. Casey goes on to share stories of the Franciscan who wore his habit before he did, remarking on how the life’s work of a priest serving the order for 40 years continues to humble him. See the full reflection on the transient nature of a Franciscan’s robe in the video featured above.
Want to hear more from Fr. Casey Cole? Follow his YouTube channel Breaking in the Habit to keep up with all of his weekly releases.