Last Christmas, my wife gave me a little gift for my newly grown beard: a two-ounce tin of beard balm from Catholic Balm Co. Not only was I excited to have something to tame what was then an unruly, course, and somewhat itchy face covering, I was also delighted that the manly grooming product was from a company who was proud to be Catholic. With scents like Chrism, Holy Smokes, Franciscan, Orthodoxy, and Lectio, and with a quote from St. Augustine reading, “The beard signifies the courageous,” prominently displayed on their website, it was easy to see that these folks knew how to market to Catholic men – I was sold.
However, I did not foresee that my new beard balm would turn out to be more than a nice-smelling novelty gift with a creative and witty title. While I will grant that they are very well named, I must also say that their products are not empty show developed only to make a buck; the proceeds of Catholic Balm Co. go directly to supporting Catholic youth ministries. In short, providing handmade beard balm to Catholic men is not just their business, but also their ministry.
Included in every purchase is a prayer card entitled “Daily Blessing of the Beard.” As before, I initially thought this was simply a nice gesture to round out the experience of buying a Catholic product, but that prayer eventually became a part of my morning routine – and more importantly, a part of my daily prayer life – as I applied the beard balm each day. It reads, “Lord above, bless this beard as it grows from my face. Let it serve as a reminder that I am yours. Let it serve as a symbol of my role in your kingdom. Let it serve as a sign of your blessing in my life. As I was anointed and claimed for you at my Baptism, I anoint this beard as a reminder of love. Amen.”
Now, this is not just a plug for a product I like. This is a reflection on the deeper meaning behind a product whose purpose it is to further the Kingdom of God by providing a framework in which bearded Catholic men can live their vocations while continually remembering their faithfulness to their Creator.
One of the many reasons that I am attracted to Catholicism is the fact that it is so tactile. Our sacraments and sacramentals involve reality and are displayed or administered tangibly, and I think that all these physical ways through which we express our faith draw their inspiration from the Incarnation, from the fact that God physically became man. My daily Blessing of the Beard and the aroma carried along with the balm helps me to make my faith tactile – to make it real.
This may sound superficial or vain, but I think an argument could be made that it is a good and holy practice. God is not with us only when it’s convenient for us, or when we’re in church, or when we are praying before a meal. He is with us always and in everything we do; in response to this fact, St. Paul urges us to “pray without ceasing” and to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thes. 5:17-18). Since most of us do not live in a hermitage, and therefore do not have the opportunity to actually pray without ceasing, we must find other ways of continually turning our attention to God throughout each day. To do this, we should take advantage of things that are constant, things that are always with us, just as God is ever-present. What is always with me? My beard. And if you’re like me, then you know how much a man touches his beard throughout the day; if you don’t know, it’s about a bazillion times per day. Imagine the potential of turning something so simple and so familiar into a source of prayer and thanksgiving.
In my daily beard blessing, I am consecrating (so to speak) my beard to God, and I am asking for it to be a reminder of God’s unwavering presence in my life. Every time I look at myself in the mirror, I remember that my beard is a sign that I belong to Him. Every time I tug on my beard, I am reminded of my calling to proclaim the Gospel to all of Creation. Every time I catch the scent of sandalwood and vanilla (Lectio aroma), I recall the fact that earlier that day, I anointed myself with beard balm as I was anointed during my birth into the mystical Body of Christ in baptism. At any given time throughout the day, I am able to be reminded of my identity as a man and as a beloved child of God by what my beard signifies. In this way, I am aided in answering our call to pray always and to walk with God in everything I do.
If you have a beard and are looking for more ways to enhance your habit of daily prayer, I would definitely recommend getting your own tin of Catholic Beard Balm and becoming well acquainted with the Daily Blessing of the Beard (there’s even a community around it that partakes in the “Nazarite Challenge”). If you don’t have a beard, why not grow one? Take a look at your favorite male saint – chances are, he had a beard; and even God wore a beard when He walked the earth. A great way to kick off your bearded-ness is to participate in the Nazarite Challenge, the details for which can be found at the link below. If you cannot grow a beard for whatever reason, the same process of transforming something common into a form of prayer can be followed to the same end; and for your information, Catholic Balm Co. also makes non-beard products such as lotion and lip balm.
By forming a habit of prayer around something tactile, we will be able to answer St. Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing while having a heightened awareness of our commitment to live a Christian life at all times.