12 January 2017

An Immodest Proposal


Today's readings:

  • Hebrews 3:7-14
  • Mark 1:40-45

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other mass texts.

Take care, brethren, that there is no heart among you so warped by unbelief as to desert the living God. Each day, while the word To-day has still a meaning, strengthen your own resolution, to make sure that none of you grows hardened; sin has such power to cheat us. We have been given a share in Christ, but only on condition that we keep unshaken to the end the principle by which we are grounded in him.
Hebrews 3:12-14 (Knox)

The last couple of days I've noted things that might seem very liberal or untraditional: saying that we can get to Jesus without doctrine, and about inclusive stuff like that. So I want to be clear today: Jesus can reach us without doctrine or tradition. However, we cannot eliminate those things. The readings today back me up. It's one thing to find Jesus in all the twists and turns of this world - as it were by accident - and it's quite possible to find him outside of any structure you might expect. Yet having found him, how can you stay with him? As with any relationship it's a matter of learning about the Other, but unlike any other relationship: your divine lover already knows everything about you. And, while you might think you found him, in fact, it was he who found you. God is the active party here. "Jesus was moved with pity; he held out his hand and touched" you. Yet if you would continue on the path of revelation, you must find the "principle by which we are grounded in him".

That faith - which lead you on this journey - is found, is deepened, is rooted and strengthened, in Christ's body, the Church. It is the fellowship of believers that help us. It makes sense, really, if you think about it: if our salvation is in that dancing to the beat of his divine Heart - who wants to dance alone? If that dancing is in service to the world around us, who wants to serve alone? It's not meditation or mysticism that will save you, it's this relationship. Which is with God, with Christ in the hearts of his faithful. "Take care, brethren, that there is no heart among you so warped by unbelief as to desert the living God." If you would learn more about Jesus, would you not go to those who have been following him for 2,000 years? When we fall out of sync, when we lose the rhythm of the dance, then we are in our own private world, where even our contact with Christ becomes nearly delusional (but for his Grace) and can be lost.

It is sin that pulls us this way - and many are our sins. I want, here, to tie into another of the prayers of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, the next intention of the daily 15; here's what we pray for in the 3rd Hail Mary:
For modesty in our dress and movement, that the way we dress and carry ourselves may veil the mystery of our being, and that we may have the strength to resist the allurements of fashion and the glamour of sin.
Modesty is such an underrated word. For some it means long dresses and head coverings, but this prayer really gets to it: "veil the mystery of our being". Nor is it only about the clothes we wear, but about the way we carry ourselves in public - and in private. We do not do this just for sexual issues, but to avoid the "glamour of sin."  Another prayer I say in the mornings asks me to "turn away my eyes that they may not see vanity".  It is this seeing - even of someone else's vanity - that can lead us away. I've heard many a sermon about women's clothing. But so few sermons address men: and we have some tight clothes of our own to show off our bodies. And we can have much more clothing choices outside: toplessness, gym clothes, sweat pants, etc. We are adventurous. We do this not thinking how we may "show vanity" in public and lead others astray. We also brag and boast, another meaning for immodesty, right? We punch up ourselves - and so make others do the same. We "Mansplain", attempting to push ourselves up by putting others down.

And while I'm talking about men - because I am one - most of what I say is true about women.

It is a daily chore, this struggle against the glamour of sin. We must, "Each day, while the word To-day has still a meaning, strengthen your own resolution, to make sure that none of you grows hardened." We can lose track of sin in our lives - not just sexual sins but all sorts of immodesty. Then we "grow hardened", by which St Paul means we can't even tell it's sin anymore.  We just do it. Then we discover, truly, "sin has such power to cheat us" out of our life in Christ and our very selves.

So we pray that our modesty be returned, to veil our being - even the sinful parts - and keep us focused on God. Unlike in some religious traditions, Christians are not veiled to hide from the world's view - but to keep our eyes off the world. Nuns are not covered up to keep me (or any man) from seeing their bodies, but to keep their bodies focused on God. When I was a Benedictine Novice, I did not wear the robes to keep you from seeing my body... but to neutralize the world's effect on me. Monastics and clergy do not get to dress really fancy under their robes - as, for example, a woman might underneath her burqa, keeping her fancy clothes to show off when she's with her friends or family. "The Death of Fashion" as the Orthodox put it: to answer all the little questions that sound like "what do I want to wear today?"  Black - this black sack. And black - this black belt.  And black - this black over-sack. My eyes now can focus on God, because I'm not to be concerned with all this stuff.

Modesty requires very little attention - and yet a lot of work. We must strengthen our resolution, and we must focus our eyes, lest they see vanity and we be drawn into that dance. If we stand in Christ's body, the Church, if we listen to his voice (and harden not our hearts), if we keep unshaken to the end our faith... then we shall be firmly rooted in eternity, even as we serve in love those around us. OUr modesty will shine like the stars, yet our eyes will be fixed on Jesus.