Extreme Fashion Make-over

Shortly after I became a teacher, I decided that I was going to really let my students and others know that I took my job seriously, that I was a professional, that I was a credible example of what makes a good teacher. I went shopping and bought a lot of dress shirts and ties. I bought dress shoes, belts and new dress pants. The first day of my new teaching career arrived, and I was dressed for success! Imagine my disappointment, however, when I arrived at my upper-middle class all white school only to discover that I was only one of two male teachers dressed so professionally. The other man was 65 years old and on the verge of retirement and all the other men wore sweats, jeans, khakis, and polo shirts—even my new boss, the principal. I continued to dress that way for 5 years, and only recently have I decided that I am going to be comfortable AND professional, whatever that means. Some days there might be a tie involved, but most days, that is no longer the case. Today, I dress differently as a priest, in the alb, stole and chasuble of a Catholic priest in a Catholic church. I am still Michel Holland, but now I am bound by my vows to proclaim and live the Gospel even more faithfully, and to share the sacraments of the Church—neither of which I can do without God’s constant assistance. My students on FaceBook tell me that my posts are usually too serious there, that I am not the funny, sarcastic person I am when I am in the classroom. Part of the reason that is true is because the way we dress has a bearing on what we say and how we act. In English legal tradition, when presiding over the court, the judge puts on not only a black judicial robe, but also a wig. This covers the judge’s individuality. The robe and wig remind the judge—and the court—that the judge makes judgment not on the basis of personal preferences, but on the basis of the law of the land. (This is the theory, at any rate!) Sometimes our dress determines what we say and how we say it as well as how we behave. And it’s also the case with the People of God. In our second reading today from Revelation, John offers us a vision of God’s eternal dwelling place. Knowing that any reading taken from Revelation is bound to be challenging, we should remember that the book was written to encourage Christians in Asia Minor, the western part of Turkey, near the end of the first century C.E.. The writer, a leader of the church now in exile, urges Christians to remain faithful despite pressures to abandon their faith, despite Roman government officals forcing Christians to sacrifice to images of the Emperor instead of to God. In fact, the Roman Emperor took as one of his titles “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”, while in Revelation, it is Jesus who is declared to be “King of kings and Lord of lords!” Some Christians chose to declare their loyalty to the Emperor in order to save their lives; others chose martyrdom rather than make that capitulation. That’s why John writes Revelation. He’s not trying to scare people with vision of hell and damnation, fire and brimstone. He’s trying to encourage Christians to remain faithful, no matter what the personal cost. That’s why the book is full of visions like the one of saints and martyrs, now in heaven, worshipping and celebrating in the presence of God and the Lamb. And did you notice how the saints are dressed? In his vision, John asks his heavenly host to explain what he’s seeing. The elder announces, “These are the ones who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They’re wearing their divine attire! It’s not business professional or teacher casual, no, they’re wearing robes that have been washed white through the efforts of the Lamb. In his death and resurrection, Jesus has defeated sin and death. In eternal glory, he shares his victory with his faithful followers, so the saints wear the divine robes of victory, given them in the process of dying and rising to new life. Notice, too, that they wave palms and celebrate the victory of the once-slain Lamb, singing the text of a hymn that would have been well-known by the readers of Revelation: “Salvation belongs to our God, and to the Lamb! Blessing and glory, honor and wisdom and strength and glory to God forever!” Gathered around the throne of God, in the eternal presence of the Lamb, the triumphant People of God continue the same worship they had done while on earth. It’s as if John is offering a reminder, a word of powerful encouragement to those who are struggling under any form of oppression: “When you worship, you are acting as if God’s victory is already yours—and, indeed, it is! When you worship, you are making present the eternal rule of God, right now! When you worship, you are brought into the mystical presence of God, and you remember God’s promises, and you know—you know!–that nothing can undermine you. The divine attire, the white robes are not only their clothes, they are our clothes as well. We are the ones who’ve been purified through the work of Christ. We are the ones who are assured that, no matter how tough life can get here on earth, God has claimed us as God’s own for all eternity. We are the ones who hear the Shepherd’s voice telling us, “You are mine! Now and forever, you are mine!” In the Middle Ages, when a young novice joined a monastery, he was given a monk’s robe and cowl. The robes were all the same size—adult size. A young man or teenager wearing the large robe of a full-grown adult, probably had a hard time moving around and no doubt looked pretty ridiculous! Over time, the young man would grow and mature, and, one day, the habit would fit him perfectly. So it is with our white robes. Yes, we continue to fall short, we continue to trip over our oversized robes, getting them soiled perhaps, but God sees us only in our full stature. God sees how our story will end, how we will transcend every limitation someday, and so God keeps encouraging us, leading us, calling us, inviting us to grow and mature, so that the clothes we were given will someday fit perfectly. John encourages us his vision because we are already the People of God, the Saints of God, wearing our bright white robes. Even now we gather around the presence of God, worshipping, experiencing, tasting a bit of the Life to come. And we help each other to see ourselves for who we truly are, who we are called to become and who God has, from the very beginning, created us to be.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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