Sunday, July 12, 2009

Novena Day Four: Clothe the Naked (July 13th)

It may surprise those who know me, but I have little fashion sense. No, really. I can hear my friends and family insisting that my choice of clothing is surely trendy and at times avant garde; nothing like black socks, Bermuda shorts, and a t-shirt just a bit too tight 'round the middle...okay, I dress like a schlemiel. I tend to wear blue jeans until they're transparent. My t-shirts are stained from barbecues. It always seems like my clothes are in the washing machine when someone has smuggled a red crayon in their pants pocket. And if I look like I picked up something off the floor and put it on, well, I did. When it comes to buying clothes, my attitude is, if it ain't on sale at WalMart, I ain't buyin' it.

Despite all that, I do allow myself one secret little fashion indulgence: each spring I buy a new suit. Basic black, a few shirts, a tie or two, and a new belt. This may not seem like an indulgence to most, but for me it is a pleasure I anticipate yearly. For the last several years "George" would help me find the best suit for my budget, measure and mark it expertly, and send it off for tailoring. He always found the perfect tie, shirt, and belt. He was a true gentleman, and each suit was impeccably prepared. He was well aware that I am a missionary, and even managed to come once or twice a year to offer his hand in food preparation or some other activity. A faithful Catholic, he insisted that it was his honor to help me to look my best. For you see, I purchase the suit each year to wear as I renew my promises of poverty, chastity, obedience, mercy and charity on Divine Mercy Sunday. He knew that, and took pride in helping me prepare for my important day.

In March I returned to the shop, as always, ready to get this year's suit, but George wasn't to be found. I inquired, and the young lady and gentleman assistant with her suddenly became quiet and gently told me that George had died. He had been late for work, very uncharacteristically, and when they checked on him they found that he had died in his sleep. He was, indeed, an elderly man, and had had his share of medical problems. Nonetheless, I was heartbroken. I regret that I was not able to attend his funeral and pay my respects at that time.

After sharing a few stories and expressing my condolences to his co-workers, the young lady offered to assist me in my purchase. She was helpful, but she just wasn't George, but God bless her, she tried, and I did end up with a beautiful suit. As she began to tally the bill on the computer she remarked that my birthday was in March, and I was eligible for the birthday discount since it was still thirty days since then. She recognized my puzzled look immediately; "My birthday is in December," I said, wondering why George had put in the wrong date... and then we both realized what George had done. He knew that as a missionary I promised poverty to God. He knew I didn't have a big budget. He also knew that each March I bought a suit. He fudged it. He did what he could do to help.

Each year I wear my new suit to the Divine Mercy Sunday Mass, and this year was no exception. But this year I prayed for George, that he would enjoy eternal life with God for his generosity and faithfulness while here on earth. I bet he's there already.

There are many ways to clothe the naked. Each day I see men, women and children walking around the Mission with shirts and sweaters advertising private schools, country clubs, and travel destinations...I know those places are foreign to the wearer. The clothes came from donors, folks dropping off bags at our door so others may have something to wear. Some buy brand new baby clothes for donation; others sponsor company clothing drives. The donations are hung with care in the "Mission Mall", where those who have not may stroll and sift through the clothing to find what they could not afford. It is truly a blessing.

It isn't hard to do. There are plenty of agencies that would gladly take what we no longer wear, no matter where we live. It is a concrete way to perform the corporal work of mercy, Clothe the Naked.

St. Camillus, you recognized that the poor needed to be given the necessities of life when they could not provide for themselves. Even today we are surrounded with those who cannot afford simple, decent clothing. Pray that we may have generous hearts that recognize this basic need. Give us the conviction to give from our bounty that others may be adequately clothed. We ask all this in the name of the Merciful Jesus. Amen.

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