In Catholic circles we are celebrating this year ‘The Year of Mercy’, during which we will be reflecting and acting upon the spiritual and corporal ‘Works of Mercy’. I have just produced the following piece for the dedicated website created on this theme for our diocese (the whole of the East Midlands and a little beyond!) If you like it you will find others, written by various people, on www.bemerciful.co.uk
I was naked, and you clothed me.
When all the people asked John ‘What must we do then?’ he answered ‘If anyone has two tunics, he must share with the man who has none…’ [Luke 3 10-11]
Awake, awake! Clothe yourself in strength, Zion. Put on your richest clothes, Jerusalem, holy city. (Isaiah 52:1)
If you clothe the man you see to be naked, Your light will rise in the darkness And your shadows become like noon. (Isaiah 58: 7-10)
You are God’s chosen race, his saints, he loves you; and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. ( Collossians 3: 12, 14)
The right kind of clothing has long since been seen as a way of demonstrating your status. Throughout history clothes have held this importance. Due to the global use of social media we live in a society where it is more the case than ever before that ‘image’ is everything. The fact that clothes are often now inexpensive to buy, due to cheap overseas labour being used to produce them, has fed the ‘throwaway culture’ in which we can all buy new clothes as often as we want.
Or can we? The readiness of clothes for sale everywhere we go, including in the supermarket when we are doing our groceries shopping, could lead us to take access to clothes for granted. Every week there seems to be a news story which is in some way related to a food bank, but when was the last time you saw a story about a locally housed family not being able to clothe themselves?
And yet, right here in our diocese there are thousands of families who have not much more than the clothes on their back. They are unable to afford to clothe themselves in a way which will help them improve their lives. They are suffering all kinds of temporary crises caused by benefits sanctions, low income or zero hours contracts, sickness, abuse, crime, addiction or poor choices of friends as young people. They are trapped in a vicious circle of striving with all their effort to improve their lives, whilst at the same time not being able to even begin that process because they can’t access decent clothes.
These people, as well as those suffering poverty and injustice in developing countries, present us with the challenge laid down to us in scripture. Simply by giving up our second ‘tunic’ we have the power to let our light rise in the darkness, to be a beacon of God’s hope in the world. If we clothe ourselves in compassion, understanding and love we will allow others to clothe themselves in strength; the strength to combat their current crises and create change within their own lives. When we help others to access dignified clothing we are quite literally clothing them in dignity, the dignity of the human person created in the image of God. And we wrap ourselves in the ‘cloak of integrity’ our faith demands (Isaiah 61:10) in the process.
The Works of Mercy are both personal and social.
They challenge us on two levels: what can I do? What can we do?
Consider your own relationship with clothes. Do you have some that you never wear? Try to live more simply by only buying what you need. Consider the amount of labour and the earth’s resources which went into your clothes, and prolong the life of your unwanted clothes by donating them to a charity which will use them to clothe people in a way which will help them to improve their lives.
https://sharewearclothingscheme.org/ A Nottingham based charity formed by members of a Catholic parish to clothe the naked and stop clothes being sent to landfill sites.
http://www.shoeaid.com/ Another Nottingham based charity which takes donations of shoes which appear to be at the very end of their useful lives. These are sent to African countries where people form cooperatives recycling the different components of multiple shoes to make brand new pairs ready for use. These cooperatives also provide much needed employment in the area.
http://livesimplyaward.org.uk/ Could your parish community take up the Live Simply challenge? Reusing our clothes in a compassionate way is just one of dozens of suggestions for living more simply, sustainably and with more solidarity. If we live simply others may simply live.
http://labourbehindthelabel.net/ A network of charities who campaign for better working conditions in the clothing industry.
http://www.waronwant.org/love-fashion-hate-sweatshops An ongoing campaign aimed specifically at keeping alive the fight for better pay and safer factories in Bangladesh.
http://www.traidcraftshop.co.uk/c-232-fair-trade-and-organic-clothing.aspx Why not consider making at least some of your outfits Fair Trade? Buying fair trade remains the most effective way of ensuring fair pay for a day’s work and fair prices to the producers, so that they can invest in sustainable production for the future.
http://www.cafod.org.uk/ The work of CAFOD’s partners overseas in around 40 countries ensures people in the poorest communities can lead better and more dignified lives, including enabling them to clothe themselves and their families.
http://blog.cafod.org.uk/2010/11/03/an-argument-over-clothes/#more-13975/ A useful reflection to use with young people.
Tender God, You number the hairs on our head,
And count as precious what others deem worthless.
Hold us in your care and touch us with your love.
Weave together our lives,
Build up relationships of trust
And show us the joy of intimacy.
Deal gently with our hopes and fears,
Nurture the people you would have us be
And bring colour to our dreams.
Smile on the work of our hands,
Fashion our vision for the future
And fan the wind of change.
Creator God, you make all things new;
Challenge the drabness of our lives
And transform our poverty into the riches of your grace.
Annabel Shilson-Thomas “Livesimply: A CAFOD resource for living”