Saturday, July 6, 2013

No Top Hat; No Dancin' Shoes!

Reading a homily St. Augustine preached on the anniversary of his ordination as a bishop, I came across this quote which impressed me in no small way. It struck me in a manner quite irrelevant to the point the Bishop of Hippo was making, but salutary enough to want to share it:

“…if you remember the poor, because you yourself are also poor, whatever the abundance of your wealth, you are clothed in the rags of the flesh;” [Augustine, Saint; Daniel Doyle, O.S.A.; Edmund Hill, O.P. (2007-01-01). Essential Sermons (p. 391). New City Press. Kindle Edition.]

There was an old expression (Hollywood maybe?) "glad rags", which referred to dress-up clothes. The genius of the expression was indeed to be found in its caprice: nothing transforming, nothing permanent about dress clothes, just something fun to be put on for an occasion and maybe put away again for another such fun time.

I get the impression we don't know so much about "glad rags" any more and perhaps all the money spent on plastic surgery might be an indicator. This is my second summer in Kyiv and I have to say in that regard that the young men I see about town shock me in that regard. How much plastic surgery goes on is irrelevant, but with less clothes on, how much is spent on tanning or otherwise coloring skin, on tattoos, and so on. Here and elsewhere there is something which goes on which is tagged "body sculpting" and all of a sudden, well, "glad rags" just are not enough.

When it comes to worrying about or being preoccupied with outer appearance, not just health, neatness, and presentability, but with an almost ascetically hard won appearance often termed "buff", well, I guess it is time across the centuries for St. Augustine to come to the rescue to tell me and to tell you right in the face: you are clothed in the rags of the flesh. St. Francis of Assisi, pretty boy, left aside his "glad rags" to embrace Lady Poverty and to overcome his fears by kissing that leper who blocked his path. He had it hard, but by the grace of God Who loved him more than the parents who had showered him with material gifts, he attained freedom really in embracing Sister Death.

The "glad rags" and their contemporary equivalents involving "body sculpting", anything which goes beyond athletic training or an exercise regime to foster good health, must be rebuffed with St. Augustine's words: you are clothed in the rags of the flesh. We have here no lasting dwelling place, and as nice a thing as beach season might be, it is all vanity and a chase after the wind (saith Qoheleth).

I wish one and all a happy summer without too many cares and too many second glances in the mirror.

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