The Heart of the Gospel

Part 3

Clothe the Naked


God Himself leads the way in performing the corporal work of mercy which is to clothe the naked. The account in Genesis of God's encounter with His sinful creatures concludes: And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin, and clothed them.(Genesis 3:21) In justice, the Creator pronounced punishment and banished our first parents from the Garden of Eden. In mercy, He made them the first promise of a Savior. Then that mercy went a step further. With a Father's delicate respect, the Lord replaced the withering fig leave aprons they had sewn together with sturdier garments befitting their dignity as His children.

Clothe the naked when you see them! (Is. 58:7) The prophet's cry took on greater urgency in the new dispensation, when Jesus made this work of mercy part of the standard on which we would be judged:
I was naked and you clothed me. (Matt. 25:36) St. James confirmed the importance of clothing the naked when he wrote: If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? (James 2:15-16) In recounting the raising of the disciple Dorcas, St. Luke describes how the local widows, beneficiaries of and witnesses to her faith-filled charity, came to St. Peter weeping and showing coats and garments Dorcas had made while she was with them. (Acts 9:39)

There was something else at work in the early disciples' efforts to clothe the naked. The question posed by the just and the unjust in Christ's parable on the last judgment, Lord, when did we see you naked (Matt. 25:39), resonated for them with a certain poignancy. For some of His first followers had seen Christ naked stripped of His garments on Calvary. Clothing the poor became for them both an act of compassion and an expression of reparation to the Lord who had suffered so much.

Through the centuries, clothing the naked has always been part of Christian charity. Thus, when those who knew St. Clare as a child say that she was busy with every kind of good work, this may very well have included her making and mending clothes for the poor. The reliquaries of Assisi contain ample evidence that Clare was an excellent seamstress: an alb decorated with exquisite lace, hand-spun linen which she used to make corporals for the poor churches in the area, a pair of cushioned sandals to protect St. Francis' stigmatized feet and an expertly darned and patched choir mantle.

The circular letter which was sent to her monasteries after the Seraphic Mother's death also contains a telling reference: When it happened as it occasionally does that someone who was helpless, needed clothing or was hungry or thirsty [came to the monastery], she would huny into their midst. The monastery parlor was the privileged place of encounter for Clare and the poor. She gave what she could from her community's meager store of material goods. And from the treasury of her heart, she clothed the poor with her prayerful concern, urging them to "put on Christ" as they shared so intimately in His sufferings.

Respect and reparation, compassion and thanksgiving so many noble virtues come to the fore as this corporal work of mercy is exercised. There are many different ways to clothe the naked hands on sewing, clothing drives, purchasing new garments, monetary contributions. Even young women preparing to enter the monastery become "workers of mercy" when they donate their secular clothes to a local thrift shop. No matter how the gift is given, our Lord's assurance is always the same: You did this to Me!

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