Today, both readings taken from the Church's Liturgy of the Hours for today's Office of Readings have selections that deal with clothing. First from the Book of Revelation:
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ’The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “’I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead. Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments. I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
There are two aspects about this reading that I find striking; the first is that "you have the name of being alive, and you are dead", and the second, "Yet you still have a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments."
What bothers me about the present crisis is something that I have already been through myself, a revelation of what the church is like from the inside. It has taken me years to recover from this and I fear that when others encounter the elements of the structures of the church that are corrupt they too will suffer a crisis of faith. So this reading seems very relevant to the present crisis. Here we find Our Lord addressing the Church and telling this particular church that they are a "fraud". They have the name of being alive (sharing in his resurrection) but they are dead, i.e. they do not act as though they believe in the resurrection for their actions bespeak more of an Epicurean philosophy of "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die."
There have always been elements within the church that are dead. Some of them have died the slow death by being caught up in their position of authority (forgetting that it is from the Lord), others caught up in the adulation of the moment and wishing to remain there forget that the Lord's Palm Sunday is only a stop on the journey to Calvary. Whatever the reasons, it is a fact that good people can lose sight of God and it is also a fact that bad people have often found refuge in the Church and benefited from the good will of believers. It is not for us to figure out who is the wheat or tares, which are the sheep and which the goats.
Our faith is what really matters. Are we alive? Priests and bishops are not god. St. Thomas long ago argued that their moral life did not affect the power of God to work in spite of them. Even when we suffer at the hands of those who have evil intents, if we are alive in Christ we not fear that they have the power to destroy us. Remember Joseph's brothers who sold him into slavery…in the end Joseph was where God wanted him to be and the good work that he accomplished in Egypt was done in spite of the evil intent of his brothers.
The second part of the passage deals with garments. Since the second Vatican Council much has been made about the garments that priest and religious wear or choose not to wear. What interests here is how those garments are a sign that a person is in the Lord, and when bad things are done by those who wear the garments it is the name of the Lord that suffers. It is for this reason that those who find themselves incapable of speaking or living the truth that those garments proclaim should leave their ministry. They should exchange their soiled garments for penitential robes and retire to monasteries where they can pray for their own salvation that they may yet conquer, leaving the work of shepherding the flock to those who have "not soiled" their garments.
The second reading from the office today is from St. Cyprian to the people of Thibaris:
The blessed Apostle teaches us how to arm and prepare ourselves: "Put round you the belt of truth; put on the breastplate of righteousness; for shoes wear zeal for the Gospel of peace; take up the shield of faith to extinguish all the burning arrows of the evil one; take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God."
Let us take this armour and defend ourselves with these spiritual defences from heaven, so that when the evil day comes we may be able to resist the threats of the devil, and fight back against him.
Let us put on the breastplate of righteousness so that our breasts may be protected and kept safe from the arrows of the enemy. Let our feet be shod in the teaching of the Gospel, and armored so that when we begin to trample on the serpent and crush it, it will not be able to bite us or trip us up.
Let us with fortitude bear the shield of faith to protect us by extinguishing all the burning arrows that the enemy may launch against us.
Let us wear on our head the helmet of the spirit, to defend our ears against the proclamations of death, to defend our eyes against the sight of accursed idols, to defend our foreheads so that God’s sign may be kept intact, and to defend our mouths so that our tongues may proclaim victoriously the name of Christ their Lord.
And let us arm our right hand with the sword of the spirit so that it may courageously refuse the daily sacrifices, and, remembering the Eucharist, let the hand that took hold of the body of the Lord embrace the Lord himself, and so gain from the Lord the future prize of a heavenly crown.
Dear brethren, have all this firmly fixed in your hearts. If the day of persecution finds us thinking on these things and meditating upon them, the soldier of Christ, trained by Christ’s commands and instructions, will not tremble at the thought of battle, but will be ready to receive the crown of victory.
This second reading deals with how we should be clothed, with an armor of Faith. We should pray like we are alive be willing to stand for the truth. This is not a time to attack the messengers of truth like our faith depends upon it. It is not a time to remain silent if we have something to speak.
There are those who have called this a time of "purification" and so it is. Cyprian's letter to the Thibaritans was an encouragement to them to meet the "persecution" by giving witness (martyrdom). Those who have tales to tell should now telling them so that the purification of the church might be complete.
There are those whose garments are clean, and there are those who have the armor of their faith in tact. Hopefully they will emerge from the ruins left behind when this crisis is over and take their place as leaders of the Church. We can look forward to such a day; when again the true faith will be proclaimed, the forgiveness of sins will be preached, our hunger to receive the Lord in the Eucharist will be stirred and the TRUTH will set us free.
In the meantime, there are too many who remain silent to protect the clerical world which is crumbling before their eyes. They seek to protect their "place" like Caiphas wished to do when he said "it was better for one man to die than the entire nation perish." They have forgotten who God is and forgotten what the garment they wear signifies.
When the Pope makes a man a cardinal he clothes them in red, a sign of martyrdom. They are to witness the truth even to the point of shedding their blood for the truth. Unfortunately, sometime the red does not symbolize this willingness, in fact it becomes a sign of pride and vanity (the very antithesis of giving witness to Our Lord who was humility defined).
This reminds me of a recent song by Five for Fighting called "Superman (It's Not Easy)." Toward the end of the song there is the verse, "I’m only a man in a silly red sheet." Obviously, the line refers to Superman's cape, but it made me think of the Cardinal's who defy the truth and have turned the red cloth of martydom into a "silly red sheet."