Year of Mercy - Clothing the Naked
Thursday, 18 August 2016 00:00


 The Year of Mercy


 ‘Clothing the Naked’


EDITOR’S NOTE: We offer this series of reflections on the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy in observance of the Year of Mercy, promulgated by Pope Francis. The jubilee year began on Dec. 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and will end Nov. 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King.


By Sister Maureen Burke, S.N.D.

The third Corporal Work of Mercy – Clothing the Naked – seems straightforward. We are encouraged to clothe those who need protection from the elements. In our harsh winters we know the needs of children for winter coats, or we understand that many in our area are homeless and carry with them all of their clothes. We also realize that, for many, new clothes are a luxury and clothes that fit properly are rare.

As one of eight growing up, I remember how thrilled we were when a cousin brought us clothes that her family had outgrown. We didn’t really think of them as hand-me-downs – they were new to us. I also remember my mother telling me that, growing up in Ireland, they eagerly awaited packages from America that contained dresses and other apparel. It didn’t matter if it was stylish. It was new and modern to them.

So to clothe the naked we respond to the call for clothing drives, participate in Coats for Kids, and give to the less fortunate. This work of mercy might be accomplished by cleaning out our closets. Many of us have clothes that haven’t been worn in quite some time. It is not unusual to have clothing in various sizes, hoping we will fit back into the size of our youth. This might be the time to part ways with that which is sitting in the back of the closet. Or perhaps this work of mercy might encourage us to buy something new for the clothing drive – giving someone else the pleasure of experiencing that “new clothes” feeling.

Yet I believe the third Corporal Work of Mercy challenges us to do more than give away a shirt. Clothes are not just about physically covering the body, especially for us in the United States. Clothes are about our dignity as human beings. As much as we are called to physically clothe others, we are called to clothe those around us with the dignity each person deserves as a child of God. Proverbs 31: 25 reminds us: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.”

We might also recall Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The emperor thinks he is wearing the finest of clothes, but he is really naked. He has allowed his own vanity to make him vulnerable to the weavers’ claim of being able to provide clothes beyond comprehension. To clothe the naked means allowing people their dignity as persons – to not be susceptible to the lure of luxury and riches. When we allow ourselves to be trapped by false appearances, others see our foolishness, just as the emperor’s subjects saw that he was naked. The emperor’s subjects laughed at him as he paraded through town thinking he was clothed in gold threads. To fulfill the work of clothing the naked calls us to shed all forms of hypocrisy so that we allow each person we encounter to know the dignity that is theirs as a child of our Creator.

Finally, to clothe the naked means that we must allow ourselves to be transparent. Stripping away our hypocrisy gives us the opportunity to look at who we really are. Are we kind? Do we nurture our relationship with our God? Do we recognize God’s goodness at work in our lives? As we reach out to help others, do we pat ourselves on the back for our actions, or do we acknowledge that we are stewards of God's gifts? Too often we do the externals without thinking about why we do what we do.

As we clothe the naked, both literally and figuratively, we explore the true nature of mercy. As we clothe others, we clothe ourselves in the mantle of justice and the mantle of God’s kindness.


Notre Dame Sister Maureen Burke is president of Ashtabula St. John Catholic School.