Our Gospel takes place within a context of Jesus’ efforts to teach his listeners to put God first and trust that all else will be given them. But I’d like to highlight one small area he chose to exemplify among our many worldly concerns:
“Do not worry about your body, or what you are to wear; is not the body more than clothing? Why are you anxious about clothes [or appearances]? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. If God so [beautifully] clothes the grass of the field…, will he not much more provide for you? So do not ask ‘what are we to where?’ All these things the non-believers seek. Your heavenly Father knows you…, and knows what you need…”
I’d like to invite you to close your eyes and stand before God himself gazing upon you. This gaze of God penetrates both your external appearance and your internal, innermost self. You are a creature he has made with great effort & interest—and, as Genesis tells us, He finds this creation exceedingly “good”. He has watched you grow—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He has given you a unique personality, a truly unique “SELF”; and he has clothed that unique, interior & invisible self with a visible body enabled to manifest it.
In his Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II put it this way:
The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual… It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from all eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.
Intriguingly, the human body alone is designed and enabled to transpose the invisible mystery of my innermost self, conceived by God from all eternity, into the realm of the day-to-day visible reality we see all around us. These two basic dimensions of every human being go together in an amazing way: your invisible consciousness (or your “inner self”), and the exterior body. Both are good, and neither exists without the other. This is “you”! Yet it’s important to realize that the exterior, visible body is the expression of something more profound than itself. It is a portal to a much deeper mystery that is the “me” that it manifests. What has just been said is probably one of the most fundamental teachings of Catholicism—and one of the most controversial.
We don’t have time to go into every aspect of that controversy; but consider this: in centuries past, there were heresies—erring groups of Christians—who insisted that the body was evil since its tendencies lead us to sin. The body, as the source of the passions and reactions and vices, had to be punished and harshly disciplined. Ultimately, “heaven” as these believers tried to conceive of it, was the liberation of the inner soul from its imprisonment in the body.
We can thank Catholicism for steering society away from that pitfall. But today I think we might perceive the opposite extreme already unfolding: the over-emphasis of the body and my appearances, regardless—even oblivious—to the innermost “self” it is meant to reflect and complement. For various reasons our culture has been infected with several trends of narcissism, or the obsession with personal appearance (Some of you might remember the Smurfs cartoon and “Vanity Smurf”…? That was a caricature of narcissism.) In so many ways our culture insists that we have to take absolute care of our bodies and how we look before others. It’s obviously true that we need to take care of ourselves; but to what measure and for what reasons? How much care is too little, or too much?
I think Our Lord’s teaching helps put things into proper perspective. The body is more than clothes or food—much more than fashion or diet! Quite simply, it is no less than the visible expression of my innermost self; and that self is something uniquely beautiful, and sacred to God. We have to avoid the tendency to overemphasize the reflection in a way that is disconnected from the “self” it was created to reflect. In other words, my looks are important but only to the degree that they tell the story of who I am. I dress and act in a way that manifests my personality. I don’t wear a façade—no masks. I don’t dress according to fads or peer pressures that seduce me to reflect someone I am not.
Imagine if the staff at Starbucks Coffee spent all their time washing & revamping the store’s logo, its signs out front, while neglecting their well known high-quality coffee. That would be absurd! Or what if they charged only $.05 per cup? (That might be great for us Starbucks clients; but it would not say very much about the worth of the coffee that price reflects.) Interestingly enough, even marketers know that if you charge a higher price, it reflects a higher worth; and people are more likely to purchase that brand instead of the cheap, “generic brand” item. Similarly, let the clothing you wear reflect faithfully the priceless gift that you carry underneath. (That does not mean you should always wear expensive clothing! Rather, clothe the body with apparel and action that are faithful to the “self” they inevitably portray.)
Likewise, no one buys Mercedes whose top-quality engine is encased in a dented, rusting shell. The car is both the engine & the appearance, harmoniously assembled and maintained. We might say that both elements are important; but as a car, the engine necessarily is basic and most important. We expect the appearance to reflect the engine that runs it.
We could reconsider our Lord’s words as inviting us to “Seek first the interior self, the beauty of God imprinted on your soul… and let all else flow from this.”
I’m almost finished; just a few things to reflect on: have I begun to get to know this “self” which I bear deep within my heart? Do I know myself, really? Who am I, to God? And then—only then—how will I appear before others?
Ask yourself: What factors do I consider in choosing what to wear each day, or how much makeup I put on (or hair gel)? (Note to you, ladies: the Church obviously has no real qualms with a little mascara; but please keep in mind that the word itself means “mask”. Makeup is not meant to mask the “self” it adorns, but rather to make it more easily visible for others to see and appreciate.) How much time do I look at myself in the mirror—and what am I looking at about myself? What factors—or fads—pressure me to appear a certain way?
Or take it a little further: What activities do I get involved in? What music do I listen to? Can I honestly say that what I wear and what I do reflect faithfully the “me” that God sees? Or do I allow passing fads or trends (or pressures) to define—or redefine—my self-image and self worth? Is there anything that moves me to conceal or distort that “self” before others? Do I feel I have to mask something in order to be “the person they expect of me”—instead of who I truly am?
That’s for myself and my criteria. Allow me to finish this from a different angle. What if I’m focused on just the outside of the car, or just its windows, or the cool steering wheel… without ever getting to know the engine and core? When you seriously look at a car, look first at its engine! Get to know that basic element first, without becoming absorbed in its other aspects. In the same way, when you look at another person, look first into her eyes. Focus on “who he is” before you get distracted by “what he’s wearing”. (Notice we didn’t say to look “at” her eyes but “into” her eyes—and there you will truly begin to discover the treasure God is most proud of in her heart.) In short, SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD, present in the other person’s inner Beauty, “and all else will be given you besides”.
To Download a PDF Version of this Homily, Click Here: 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Fr. Stephen Dardis was ordained a priest in 2012 for the Legionaries of Christ, with a Bachelors in Theology and a Licentiate in Philosophy. He currently serves as Associate Pastor for Our Lady of Lourdes Church in New Orleans, Louisiana.
 ToB 19:4 (Textbook page 7, 2g)