Clothing the naked

| Father Michael Van Sloun | October 26, 2016 | 0 Comments

The corporal works of mercy deal with care for a person’s bodily needs. Food and water stand at the top of the list, and clothing comes right behind (see Sir 29:21). Jesus described this merciful work as “naked and you clothed me” (Mt 25:36). Nakedness can mean nudity, the complete lack of clothing, but more often it means partial or inadequate clothing. Destitute is a synonym for nakedness because it usually is caused by extreme poverty.

Emotionally, nakedness is humiliating, and clothing eliminates the embarrassment and shame. Physically, clothing is needed to protect the body from the elements. Thin or lighter clothing is needed in sunlight to prevent sunburn and skin cancer; heavier clothing is needed in cooler conditions to prevent chill, hypothermia and frostbite; work clothing is needed to protect from abrasions and slivers; and footwear is needed to protect from cuts, bruises and falls.

To clothe the naked as an act of mercy is firmly grounded in the Hebrew Scriptures. Tobit instructed his son, Tobiah, “Give … to the naked some of your clothing” (Tb 4:16). The prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, declared, “The fast that I choose … clothing the naked when you see them” (Is 58:6,7); and the prophet Ezekiel, also speaking on God’s behalf, stated, “If a man is just — if he does what is right … [he] clothes the naked” (Ez 18:5,7).

Several biblical examples include the sons of Noah, who covered their drunken father (Gn 9:20-23); Joseph who gave fresh clothing to his brothers when they came to Egypt (Gn 45:22); and the Israelite soldiers who gave clothes to naked captives (2 Chron 28:15).

The classic example is St. Martin of Tours. As a young man he was a Roman soldier, and one wintry day he was riding on patrol and came upon a poor beggar at the city gate. The man was old, hunched and almost naked, shivering and suffering from the cold. The beggar cried out for alms, but Martin had no money. With only the clothes on his back, Martin withdrew his sword and sliced his tattered, thick military cloak in two and wrapped one piece around the beggar. That night, Martin had a dream in which he saw Jesus in heaven wrapped in the same cloak he had given to the beggar. An angel asked Jesus, “Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak?” Jesus replied, “My friend Martin gave it to me.”

In modern Western society, there is a disturbing contemporary aspect to nakedness — immodesty.  Ironically, even though ample clothing is available, an individual may decide to wear only a few clothes, leaving more of the body exposed than is appropriate. Parishes, schools and families, priests, teachers and parents, need to educate everyone, particularly the young, about the importance of modest dress and honoring the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

When it comes to providing clothing, charity begins at home with the purchase of adequate clothing for the family, and it continues with dressing young children and those with a sickness or disability that hinders their ability to dress themselves. Beyond the home, it includes almsgiving to organizations like the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Red Cross or a local emergency shelter. It is also desirable to go through one’s closets and drawers periodically to gather clothes to be donated to Goodwill or other organizations that assist the poor.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. Read more of his reflections at CatholicHotdish.

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Category: Year of Mercy