This is a continuation of the 73 Steps to Spiritual Communion with God. The previous are posted below among the other posts and last week’s archives. Here is the fifteenth step:
(15) To clothe the naked…
For some reason the first thing that comes to mind when confronted with this counsel of St. Benedict is something that I read some years ago in a work by Peter Brown in a book entitled The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity -a book that among other things, looks at early Christianity’s view of the body. Brown speculates that the Church’s view of modesty in the Roman World is colored by the fact that nudity was the privilege of the wealthy.
Another thought that comes to mind, is the way in which Baptisms were done in the early church. The catechumen would strip naked leaving the clothing they entered the church with behind, as they entered the Baptismal pool and then as they emerged from the waters and had oil poured over their heads, they would be clothed in a new garment.
The young man in Mark’s Gospel (Mk 14:52) who fleas the scene of the arrest of Jesus naked, is another image that comes to mind. Whereas the apostles had left everything to follow Jesus, now at the crucial moment of decision this young man (thought by some to be the writer of the Gospel–Mark) leaves everything behind to get away from Jesus.
But it could be that this young man’s presence in the Gospel is also an indication of the early Church’s Baptismal practice. When you understand how Baptisms were done, and also what entering the waters of Baptism symbolizes (entering into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus) you will see the connection between the young man leaving his clothes behind and then reappearing after the Passion in the Empty Tomb, (in place of the Angels who are there the other Gospels).
I have worked in a clothing closet before. Handing out clothing to the homeless. They would come in on Saturday mornings about 30 minutes before the soup kitchen would start serving food and would tell you what they needed.
“I need a shirt, extra large. Something in dark colors.”
I would go to the rack of men’s clothing and look for something that fit that description. Often the item would be an expensive shirt donated by someone who no longer felt it fashionable enough for their taste. Hardly ever was the clothing in any form of disrepair.
The poor man would usually snatch the piece of clothing from my hand and look at it before grunting and moving onward toward the kitchen. Some would thank me, many would avoid looking at me in the eye—embarrassed, only once did someone ask for the shirt that I was wearing—which I wish I could say that I had given to them.
None of the people I handed clothing to were ever naked.
So who are these “naked” that we are to clothe?
Are they the rich who in their warmth, security and pleasure filled lives, find in their nudity a way to recreate Eden without God?
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