February 02, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

Preaching for Garment Justice: A Bulletin Column

Field of lilies

Field of lilies

Capuchin friar Robert Wotypka wrote the following for his parish bulletin (St Ambrose Parish in Grosse Pointe Park/Detroit MI) for Sunday, February 26th, the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Cycle A.

This poor friar was never a slave to fashion, but in the years before I joined the Saint Joseph province, when I worked in hotels and as a consultant, one could identify me as a fellow traveler. It simply wouldn’t do to check in or go to dinner in my dog-walking pants; no, it was pretty clear what togs were needed in the “right crowd and no crowding” set. Two reminisces, OK? There was the time Prince Charles came to stay at the five-star joint I worked at back in the 90s in NYC. When I saw how well his suit fit, that the buttons on his jacket sleeves actually buttoned, well, I felt – and probably looked – like the titular character in Shane shopping with the sodbusters in the general store, turning in my fringed buckskins for flannels and jeans. The other misty water-colored memory is from Hong Kong, at a Starbucks, where I often did my reports. Every patron’s entrance was like a runway show, from the door to the counter and back, and it was impressive.

Things are different now. A friar does dress to impress, at least that was the hope of Saint Francis. As our Capuchin Constitutions say, “Remembering that Saint Francis wore a penitential garment made in the shape of a cross, we, too, wear the habit as a reminder of conversion, a sign of consecration to God, and of belonging to the Order. In this way we also express our condition as lesser brothers, so that even the clothes we wear witness to poverty.” That’s voluntary poverty, to be clear, and that’s a whole other spool of thread, to be taken up in another post.

I’m needling on the topic of clothing because of today’s Gospel, Matthew Chapter 6, “The Lilies of the Field,” where Jesus urges us to depend on God and God’s generosity for needful things. It’s a call to whole body conversion that has to be life-giving, otherwise it would not have been proclaimed by the one who conquered death. Let me hem in on my point: my retreat from the fashion wars owing to lack of material, and my transition to thrift stores and other re-use modes, has been good for me and, I’d propose, good for the planet. The world grows too much cotton, a water- and pesticide-intensive crop that is heavily subsidized, and produces too much clothing, buoyed by branding and relentless ads. “Fast fashion,” the production and distribution model followed by the biggest global firms, creates involuntary poverty and immense waste. The call to embrace something different is a matter of life and death, in particular for people caught up in the clothing supply chain, as was shown in 2013 at Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh. To learn more, please check out an initiative from my province at http://www.humanthreadcampaign.org/. Thank you.

Editor’s note: And thank you, Bro. Robert, for your reflection!