For some of us, there are those rare occasions in life when little things occur that make you feel kind of special. I’m not talking about those little endearing things that we recognized as true blessings in our lives like the laughter of children or a warm hug.
I’m talking about things that are overall completely and utterly superficial like the time I had just purchased a brand-new Geo Tracker — the wannabe Jeep — and I drove with some friends to Ocean City. When we got to the parking lot, they asked me to put the car in the front, up on a concrete platform. They chose my car to put on display. It feels good to be recognized.
And then there’s this other little thing — well, I’ll let Saint Augustine tell you: “The beard signifies the courageous … the earnest, the active, the vigorous. So that when we describe such, we say, he is a bearded man.”
Yes, it’s the beard. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fielded compliments and kudos, raves and recognitions. On more than one occasion I’ve had offers of gifts (mostly drinks), and once, when my wife and I were in Boston, we went to an establishment that asked for a $10 cover charge. I shook my head. I wasn’t going to pay $20 to go into a pub just to pay for overpriced drinks. As we started walking away, the doorman yelled over to me that he liked my beard and that we could go right on in.
It hasn’t always been this way. You see, I never really thought of myself as a beard kind of guy. I tried in high school to grow some facial hair, but ended up with what looked not unlike a small patch mold spores growing under my chin. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I could grow an actual beard but, by then, I was in a committed relationship with a woman who, in no uncertain terms, was not a fan of the facial fuzz.
Fast forward 25 years when, as I am sitting in the living room with that same woman, now wife, she says, “I wonder what you would look like with a beard?” And with that, I ditched my razor and began my growth.
Just like that I was part of some exclusive club. While there is no secret handshake, there is a look members give to one another when passing on the street. That knowing nod that says, “Hey, bearded guy,” and you give them a nod back that says, “Hey, bearded brother.”
Of course, there are those who are not a fan of the cheek sprouts. A friend of my wife’s always told me how much older the beard made me look. In fact, I had run into a student who I taught just the year before I started my beard. “Wow, Mr. Johnson. Look at you. What have these kids done to you? You look so … old!” When living the bearded life, you take the good with the bad. Fortunately, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
First of all, not shaving is a real time saver. According to a survey, men spend a total of 45 days of their lives shaving — that’s 65,520 minutes, and who’s got time for that?
And it’s a money saver. No more buying those expensive razors and shaving cream. Now it’s nothing but beard oils, beard balm, beard wax, beard wash, beard soap, beard conditioner, and beard butter. Oh, and a beard brush. And a beard comb — wood — to beat static. OK, not much of a money saver, but, man, what I could do with 45 extra days!
Another reason to grow a beard is that a beard is a well-known symbol of man’s virility and strength as we are told by our early church fathers. Saint Clement of Alexandria in the second century told us that “[God] adorned man like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him as an attribute of manhood … a sign of strength and rule.” Lactantius in the third century said that “[T]he nature of the beard contributes in an incredible degree to distinguish the maturity of bodies, or to the distinction of sex, or to the beauty of manliness and strength.” The bearded life cannot find better endorsements.
Many of the apostles have been represented in the earliest icons as having beards including Saint Peter.
And speaking of popes: Of the 266 pontiffs, 188 have had beards. Of those 188 bearded popes, 82 are saints. Out of the 78 beardless popes, only four are saints. That means out of 86 total pope saints, 82 have had beards. That’s a whopping 95 percent!
We must remember, of course, that, unlike Samson, it was not the hair that made these saints and popes great. It was their great integrity, their humility, their sense of devotion, their utter selflessness, their desire to serve, their love of Christ, their faith in God, their open hearts to hear his call. And to that end, we are called to live saintly lives.
While it may feel nice to be recognized for having a nice house, a cool car, or a great beard, we must be careful that these temporary adornments and the attention they may garner do not fill us with a false and shallow sense of self, glorifying ourselves instead of giving the glory to God.
Remember, it certainly does not take a beard to be a good Christian and good Catholic man.
But it can’t hurt.
Dean P. Johnson teaches in Camden and is a member of Mary Mother of Mercy Parish, Glassboro.