Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Works of Mercy: Clothing the Naked

With the parish mission I’m giving this week, I will probably be away from wifi access later in the week, so I thought I’d better do my blogging while I can. I’ve been going through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy on the blog, in preparation for the Year of Mercy which begins exactly one week from today. It is so important that ‘mercy’ not remain on some vague abstract level of ‘well, let’s try to be nice to people’, or some vague theory about inclusivity or tolerance.

No, the Church has always spoken of doing works of mercy, and has provided us with a helpful list of same. We probably cannot each do all of them, but take your pick of them, according to what you can do, and do it.

We have reached this week the work of clothing the naked. Now, this is where the list reflects its origin in an older age, pre-Industrial revolution, when cloth was hand made and costly, and there would actually be serious issues around having covering for the body.

In North America, at least, this is not exactly the case. Between Value Village, Walmart, Goodwill and the local Vincent de Paul, there is a glut of cheap clothing – not the best quality, mind you, but clothing none the less. This happens to be something we of MH know quite a bit about, as here in Combermere and in our houses in Edmonton and Regina we have clothing rooms. The receiving, sorting, and distribution of clothes donations is a significant part of our work, actually.

On a humorous side note, where I grew up nobody had ever heard of ‘Madonna House’, but everyone knew about ‘Combermere’, which was the place you sent someone’s clothes when they died. Little did I know when I heard references to this magical land of dead-people’s-clothes-disposal that I would be making it my life’s work.

Anyhow, that being said, may I say as something of a professional in the matter that, while there is an insane glut of women’s and children’s clothing that comes in donation, men’s clothing is much less. Women recycle their wardrobes, and children of course grow out of them, but men on the whole tend to only have as much clothes as they barely need, and wear said clothes until they are raggedy. So, my brothers (and those who are married to them!), be mindful of that, and maybe go through your closets from time to time to give good men’s clothes to the local outlet. They will be very grateful, I promise.

Aside from the fact that the Goodwill and the Vincent de Paul (and Madonna House!) do need those ongoing donations of Good Quality clothes (it is not a work of mercy to give some worn out torn frayed thing to the poor – seriously!), and many of us do have more clothes than we really need, what else is there to say about this work?

At the risk of veering in the direction of abstraction and theory, it seems to me that clothing has something to do with human dignity. Food and drink are elemental needs of the body, without which we die. And certainly in a cold climate like Canada, adequate clothing is almost equally necessary. 

But there is a whole other element to it, that food and drink do not possess. Without decent clothes, it’s hard to get a decent job. The homeless, even if they don’t have other issues around mental health and substance abuse (which is tragically the norm), will find it hard to get off the streets and into a better way of life simply because they look so shabby, so unkempt. Life on the streets is rough—rough on the body, rough on one’s possessions, and yes, rough on one’s clothes. Not a lot of shoe trees in the alleyways and shelters of the big city.

A way of clothing the naked, not available to everyone of course, but one that people in a certain social position can do, is to offer a decent job to a struggling person. So many people, especially young people, are slipping through the cracks right now in our dicey economy. So much basic dignity is assailed by this – by not having work to do, by being unable to earn at least some money, maybe be able to start saving, buy some decent clothes for oneself, take a hold of one’s own life and start living it.

So many people—young ones is particular—are finding it very hard to do this. And so, while not everyone is in a position of hiring anyone to do anything (I’m not, for example), those who are might have a care for mercy in this Year of Mercy, and take a chance on someone who may be feeling quite naked, quite stripped of dignity. And maybe if you are not someone who is in the way of hiring people to do stuff, you probably know someone who is, and maybe you can be a sort of liaison in that situation.

It’s a bit of that ‘give a man a nice shirt, you’ve given him dignity for a day. Give him the means to buy his own nice shirts, he has dignity for a lifetime.’ So… let’s think about that for this year, and see what we can do about it.

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