In the corporal works of mercy, Jesus calls us to do something. Actually do it. Not simply to talk about it, not to study it or to establish a committee to plan for it. But to really and truly clothe the naked.
Why? Because, Jesus says, when we clothe the naked, we are clothing him. In other words, we just may see the eyes of Jesus himself in the face of the person we clothe. Not only will a person find warmth and dignity in clothing, but we ourselves will also be transformed by the grace of God in the process.
Clothe the naked.
Generous followers of Jesus do just that.
When my friend Denise had cancer, a group of friends took turns driving her to chemotherapy treatment. On our assigned day, we would arrive at her home by 7:30 a.m., help her to the car and then transport her to the doctor’s office so she would be on time for the first round of chemotherapy administered that day at 8.
It was a humbling process for everyone. For Denise, as she slowly lost her hair and endured the physical indignities and sufferings that come with cancer and chemotherapy. And for the friends who accompanied her in their own small ways, driving, praying and gently encouraging her on the journey. Life becomes very fragile in a chemo-therapy clinic.
On one of her first trips to transport Denise, Lisa sat in the waiting area and read for the hours Denise was receiving her treatment. In the corner of the doctor’s office, Lisa noticed a box filled with knitted winter caps.
At two different times during the treatment, a nurse came out into the waiting area and led a chemotherapy patient to the box. They laughed as they sifted through the large selection of caps until the patient found one she liked, tried it on and took it home with her.
When this happened the second time, Lisa asked the receptionist about the box of knit caps. The reply surprised her.
“In the Catholic parish down the road, there’s a group of women who like to knit. And one of them decided a few years ago that no cancer patient should ever have a cold head. So, the ladies bring a batch of new caps by every few weeks to be sure that each patient here knows that someone really and truly cares.”
I’ve never met those knitting ladies, but I know what they look like. They look a lot like Jesus.
Knit. Clothe the naked.
For years, the Reyna family has had a Christmas Day tradition. Once all the presents have been given and celebrated, each member of the family takes a few minutes to go to his/her closet and gather items that have not been worn at least once in the past year. Each person then folds the selected slacks, shirts and coats and places them all in a bag. On the day after Christmas, Mr. Reyna then takes all the family’s bags of clothing to the St. Vincent DePaul Society (SVDP) center so that what has not been worn in the past year by the Reynas can be worn in the coming year by someone who needs it.
However, as the years have passed, Mr. and Mrs. Reyna have decided to take it one step further. Their income and financial comfort level have increased. They’ve noticed also that their gift-giving has evolved to being based less on children’s needs and more on their wants.
As a result, several years ago, the parents made a decision. They would still have the family gather unworn clothing each Christmas Day. But from now on, for every dollar they spend on Christmas clothing for their children’s gifts, they now give a dollar to SVDP. And as their children grow older, the parents invite them to do the same. In other words, every dollar in gifts to your own family will be matched with a dollar to assist another family in need.
The Reynas hope to teach their children not only to notice the needs of other families, but to recognize those needs as being equal to their own. Sacrificing to make a Christmas gift is designed to do just that: help the recipient while transforming the giver.
Sacrifice. Clothe the naked.
How will you respond to Jesus’ invitation to clothe the naked? You might begin by picking one of these two words. Knit. Sacrifice.