Matt D’Antuono is a physics teacher in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and seven children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in physics and philosophy, a master’s degree in special education, and is working on a master’s degree in philosophy at Holy Apostles in Cromwell, Connecticut. He returned to the Catholic Church in 2008. He is the author of A Fool’s Errand: A Brief, Informal Introduction to Philosophy for Young Catholics, The Wiseguy and the Fool and Philosophy Fridays. On YouTube you can find him at DonecRequiescat and his family at MisterD418.
If you see me at work or find my lectures on YouTube, you may notice my pocket protector. It is my nerd badge. I began wearing it a few years ago because I discovered the convenience of keeping pens, pencils and little pieces of paper in the easily accessible pocket on the front of my shirt. But my tools of the trade were wearing on the fabric of the pocket, and it was quite a process to put each item in and take each item out day after day. I thought of wearing a pocket protector because it would be much more convenient to have everything together in one thing that I put in and took out each day, but I realized that a pocket protector is as nerdy of an accessory as it gets. I decided to go with it, though, because I do teach calculus-based physics, and at least I would be flying my flag. Few people have commented on it, though my priest friend literally doubled over in laughter when he saw me wearing it.
I am an associate of the Community of the Friars of the Renewal in Newark, and I often reflect on how their clothing clearly identifies them. Their habit is, in itself, an evangelization. Here are men who are not ashamed of their Catholic faith and their utter commitment to Christ, and their clothing declares it. My pocket protector is a declaration of my nerdiness. The friars advertise for Christ by their robes. I advertise lack of shame about being a nerd and lack of fashion sense. What we wear identifies us.
When I met John Martinez of the Proud Catholic Company, I asked him if I could buy some of his clothes at a discount so that our family could wear them in our weekly-Gospel-reading YouTube videos, and we would advertise for him. He overwhelmed me by giving me a more-than-generous discount of 100% on a whole collection of T-shirts and other items. I have followed through on my end of the deal, and our family has worn that attire every week since.
In an effort to imitate the Franciscans, I went through my wardrobe to keep only what I needed and give away all the rest. I did not want, however, to give away any of the clothing generously given to me by John, so my T-shirt collection is made up primarily of Catholic T-shirts, and outside of work I wear mostly T-shirts. So, that left me wearing Catholic T-shirts around.
I have to confess that this was a little strange at first. What would people think if they saw me wearing a T-shirt with a Bible verse or image of Jesus? Would people be offended by a shirt that said “Be Not Afraid” and had a cross on it? Would anyone say anything about a shirt with a St. Benedict Medal? I reflected on how the friars must feel, and I decided that these T-shirts would be my habit that clearly identifies me as a Catholic. I am willing to wear a nerd badge. I should be willing to wear a Jesus badge. I view my Catholic apparel as my habit.
I realized that we all advertise for whatever is on our clothing. I have seen highly offensive T-shirts that promote violence and promiscuity. People clearly identify themselves with certain sports teams even when they are not attending sports events where those teams are playing or are members of those teams. People walk around wearing the logos of the clothes they wear as if they were promoting them. Why not advertise for Jesus?
After more than a year and a half of wearing Catholic clothing, I still have to get over some awkwardness at times. But I know that I am not doing anything wrong. Why does doing the right thing sometimes feel strange? I know I am going against the flow, but I try not to let that deter me. It is easy to wear my faith out loud when attending a Catholic men’s conference, church event or other faith gathering, but my clothing should still witness to my identity when I am in the secular world.
It all pays off, though, when people tell me that they like my shirt or ask me where I got it. I have even had checkout ladies at the grocery store call from a few checkouts down that they like my “Pray” hoodie that has a rosary on it. At a recent county fair, my son was wearing a shirt with an image of Jesus on the front, and the guy on the stage said that he “digs that guy, too.” I will never know how many people notice and are encouraged but say nothing, but it is great to know that my clothing at least has some positive impact. If nothing else, it impacts me for the better.