There are many things that we take for granted or simply do not notice on a daily basis. When was the last time that you actually thought about the fact that you are always breathing the air around you, that your heart is constantly beating, or that the sun comes up every day? Another one of these things that we take for granted is the phenomenon of clothing. It’s a part of your daily routine to get up and put on your clothes, but when is the last time you really considered why you are wearing clothing at all?
Perhaps the answer is so obvious that the question seems ridiculous. “Why do I wear clothes? So that I’m not walking around naked, of course.” However, the question would not have been all that ridiculous to Adam and Eve. God did not create them wearing clothes; rather, as the author of Genesis tells us, “The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame” (2:25). Saint Pope John Paul II describes this nakedness as “the original good of the divine vision” (TOB 13:1). In short, God wanted their nakedness to be an occasion to see the other as a gift to be received in love, rather than an object to be taken and used out of lust. In John Paul II’s words, “[B]oth are ‘naked,’ because they are free with the very freedom of the gift. The human body…contains ‘from the beginning’ the ‘spousal’ attribute, that is, the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift” (TOB 15:1).
Unfortunately, this power to express love was obscured after the Fall: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons” (Gen 3:7). Those parts of their body that were meant to express their mutual love for each other became the occasion to use the other for their own selfish pleasure: “The relationship of the gift changes into a relationship of appropriation” (TOB 32:6). As a result, Adam and Eve wear clothes for the first time. They do this as a way to protect themselves from the lustful glance of the other and thus to safeguard the dignity and original meaning of their bodies (see TOB 28). So, we can say that the clothing they were wearing (or not wearing) reveals much about what was going on in their hearts and minds.
The same is true today. Our attitudes about clothing can explain a lot about where we are as a society. Many use clothing (or lack thereof) to provoke lustful reactions from other people. Others practice modesty in their clothing as a way to protect their dignity. Some buy the most expensive clothes or wear certain brands to make a statement about their societal status. Clothing can also have a simpler meaning, such as how uniforms indicate that this person is a fireman, police officer, priest, chef, etc. But no matter the intention or reason behind the clothes you wear, what you wear reveals something about you.
This is also true in our first reading today. The backdrop for this passage from Baruch is the Babylonian Exile, when many of the people of Judah were deported to live in captivity in Babylonia. Jerusalem had also been captured by the Chaldeans. As such, the people had “clothed” themselves, so to speak, in a “robe of mourning and misery” (Bar 5:1). Their external expressions (or say, “clothing”) reveal what is going on internally in their hearts: sorrow and affliction for the loss of their homeland. But there is hope. God is calling them to take off their robe of mourning and put on a robe of glory, splendor, and justice. This will not and cannot happen by their efforts alone; rather, it is God’s work: “God will show all the earth your splendor…God will bring [your children] back to you…God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low…God is leading Israel in joy” (Bar 5:3,6,7,9).
These lessons from Adam and Eve and Baruch still have meaning for us today. What sort of clothing do I wear, both literally and figuratively? Am I struggling with a robe of sorrow and affliction in my own life due to some past sin, holding onto a grudge, or turning away from God in some way? God invites us to follow the exhortation from the Book of Baruch: take off your clothing of sin and shame and put on a robe of glory. Like in Baruch, this cannot be done on our own efforts alone. We need the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ to free us from whatever is holding us back. This is precisely what John the Baptist is preparing us for in our Gospel today: “Prepare the way of the Lord…all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Lk 3:4,6). Jesus, when he is stripped of his clothes during the Passion, is putting on the clothing of sin and suffering so that we might be clothed in salvation and glory.
As we prepare for the coming of the infant in swaddling clothes at Christmas, we pray that we would cast aside our robes of sin and sorrow and put on the cloak of grace and mercy. Jesus, our Savior, clothed in glory, is coming soon. May we always put on our best clothes, literally and figuratively, to meet him when he comes. God bless.
Rev. Craig Borchard was ordained for the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in 2016. He is a former intern and student of TOBI, and is currently the Associate Pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Plymouth, Indiana.