Ps 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13
Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35
During the past year, I have become a little obsessed with Catholic “Mommy” blogs which have given me vital insight into raising my own almost-15 month old daughter in the faith. On Sundays, however, most of the blogs I read participate in a link-up called What I Wore Sunday where they show themselves dressed for mass with a brief overview of where they got their ensemble. I tend to find this link-up an annoying waste of time. Why focus on what we wear to mass? Doesn’t this breed an unhealthy preoccupation with appearance and sense of vanity in us readers? Doesn’t it make us more self-conscious about how we look? And isn’t the important thing just getting to mass with something on?
In our reading from Revelation this week, we have a beautiful account of the end times described in terms of a “new heaven and a new earth.” The reading continues,
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. It is a mistake to think that God, because he loves us, does not care about our beauty. When we think that love is indifferent to beauty, we lapse into a gnostic dualism that ignores the significance of the incarnation: “God’s dwelling is with the human race.” God created us with a body, and obviously took on a body in Christ, and so it makes sense that God would care how we present those bodies to others and to Him.
But in that passage from Revelation I just cited, we also see that beauty is not something self-referential. Beauty is a way of loving. It is for the other. Prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. What powerful images this verse brings to mind! The extensive preparations prior to the wedding, the perfect dress, the hair, the make-up, the anticipation of opening the doors of the church and having him see you like he has never seen you before.
Far from vanity, the bride adorning herself for her husband is a form of love for her husband (which is what our gospel reading is about). And this is what we do for God when we dress up for mass. We adorn ourselves for Him.
In a crazy way, I think this is what the new Dove ad that has been taking the internet by storm is trying to get to. Our beauty is not for ourselves. In fact, we often times can’t even see it. Rather, our beauty is for others, and in recognizing our beauty, others love us in return. Beauty calls us into relationship. It is when beauty denies relationship that it becomes vanity. I think of all the times when I haven’t wanted my picture taken because I didn’t look good enough. In the end, the picture is not about me. It is for my husband or my mother or my mother-in-law or my daughter who will want to remember this event. And chances are, they probably think I look beautiful even when I don’t.
So does it matter what we wear to mass? Yes. Is it the most important consideration we should have in entering the sanctuary? No, of course not. And we definitely shouldn’t obsess about our appearance. And we should also be mindful of our own socio-economic status, recognizing that our Sunday best may be an impossibility for our neighbor. But regardless of what we have in the closet, we should make the effort, knowing the One that we come to meet in the Eucharist loves us like the groom loves the bride that moment she begins her walk down the aisle.