The Human Thread

Tag Archives: Saints for Garment Justice


St. James, the Camino, and Garment Justice

July 07, 2017

Author: editor

Category: Uncategorized

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Today, the Feast of St. James the Great brings me back to two momentous summers. Twice, once in 2010 and again in 2014, I walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela with my father. The first time, we walked from St. Jean Pied de Port, a bit over 500 miles, and the second time from Pamplona, perhaps closer to 450 miles, to visit the tomb of St. James, who according to tradition had journeyed to the city that now bears his name and, sccording to the same tradition, is buried in the cathedral there.

The camino teaches many lessons. My first lesson, as we began from St. Jean over the Pyrenees, was “Comienza viejo para terminar joven.” “Start old to finish young.” It was a gentle reminder that I should not expend too much energy too early in the day. Little did I know how much crossing the Pyrenees would take out of me.

Camino 2014-31

We had daily lessons in gratitude: the kind offer of a cup of cold water, warm conversations with fellow pilgrims, and gentle attention from strangers to aches and pains and blisters, as inevitably happen over such distances.  There was gratitude in simple things. Our world encourages us to gather more things, as if they will make us happy. On the camino discovers that things are not so urgent or even valuable in abundance. The best backpack for the camino is a light one. I learned to carry really only four sets of clothes– even though only two or three would be necessary. I brought one for the airplane coming and going, and three sets for the days on the camino. Washing clothes daily, a huge wardrobe in a backpack would be counter-productive.

Our modern fixation on bulging closets and rapid turnover of our fashion go against the lived experience of the Camino and, actually, against the lived experience over millennia of human existence. We really do not need as much clothing as we have, and we need not treat our clothing as disposable at the same time. Sadly, a further lesson of treating those objects as disposable is that we extend that same treatment to the nameless, faceless garment workers so distant from us who make our clothing. They, too, become disposable.

Again, St. James teaches gratitude, and, on this Feast of St. James, I wish to deepen my gratitude.

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I am grateful to St. James, Santiago, brother to St. John the Evangelist. St. James, you were present at so many intimate moments in the life of Christ. You were atop that mountain when Christ was transfigured. You were near Him in the Garden of Gethsemene. You called us, in your letter, to join our faith with works, directed especially to those most poor. You were the first apostle to lay down your life. Your closeness to the Lord, your generous service, draw me and encourage me to be a more faithful disciple, and I am blessed to have now made it twice to your pray at your place of rest.

St. Francis of Assisi: A Saint for Garment Justice

October 10, 2016

Author: editor

Category: Pray

Benozzo Gozzoli, Apsidal chapel, San Francesco, Montefalco

Renunciation of Worldly Goods

When brought before the bishop, Francis would brook no delay nor hesitation in anything: nay, without waiting to be spoken to and without speaking he immediately put off and cast aside all his garments and gave them back to his father. Moreover he did not even keep his drawers but stripped himself stark naked before all the bystanders. But the bishop, observing his disposition, and greatly wondering at his fervor and steadfastness, arose forthwith, gathered him into his arms and covered him with the mantle which he himself was wearing.
Thomas of Celano, Vita Beati Francisci (“The Life of Blessed Francis”; often called the “First Life”)

Born in Assisi in 1181 or 1182 to Pietro and Pica Bernardone, Francis was born into a world of wealth and opulence. His father was a cloth merchant, supplying cloth to Medieval versions of Ralph Lauren.

Francis went to war at age 20 and was taken prisoner for almost a year. He was released and became seriously ill, which began a major turn in his life. His conversion took some time and involved numerous moments. With his return to Assisi, a spiritual change commenced. Francis, like society in his time, had a repulsion of lepers, and an encounter with a leper changed his heart. In one renowned episode, he went to the tattered small church of San Damiano, where Christ on the cross came to life and told him: “Go, Francis, and repair my Church in ruins.”

The culmination of his conversion, perhaps, could be said to have happened when Francis’ father, Pietro, questioned his son’s generosity and servitude to the poor. While standing before the bishop of Assisi, Francis stripped off his clothes and renounced his paternal inheritance.

The image above portrays Francis’ renunciation. Consuming two thirds of the foreground with the townspeople, Pietro Bernardone carries his son’s clothes on his left arm, and holds a belt in his right hand. A narrow space separates him from Francis, who is seen at prayer. The bishop covers the saint with his vestment, underscoring the religious nature of the scene. The contrasting depiction of the father and son expresses the dramatic nature of their conflict, supported by the arrangement of two opposing groups of figures: a secular group and a religious one. The fresco’s explanatory inscription reads: QUALITER B. F. CORA(M) EPISCOPO ASISII REN(UNTIA)VIT PATRI HEREDITATEM PATERNAM ET O(M)NIA VESTIMENTA ET FEMORALIA PATRI REIECIT – “How St Francis renounces his father’s inheritance before the bishop of Assisi and his father, and throws his upper garment and hose down before his father.” Francis’ renunciation was a rejection of the consumer society that was represented in his father’s way of life. Going naked was his public commitment to enter into an entirely different way of life committed to his heavenly Father. In saying he would no longer call Pietro Bernadone his “father” on earth (which he did so for the rest of his life), Francis now entered into solidarity with all of the children of the one he would call “Our Father” in heaven.

Amid plaster of Paris depictions of St. Francis, we tend to lose something of the revolutionary and radical nature of his life. Quite literally, for St. Francis, his clothes were an obstacle to his radical call in following Jesus. For Francis, no dependable security was to be found in clothing, shelter, wealth, or fame. These were the things that might have kept him in the kingdom of this world and prohibited his access to the kingdom of heaven.

This evocative action by St. Francis of Assisi gives us much to consider. From his encounter with the leper, Francis said he felt mercy or compassion. The lepers of Francis’ day were those separated from society. Are those making our clothes separated from us as well? According to Pope Francis, such a degree of separation based on our consumerism creates indifference in a way that blots out compassion. While we may not be called to strip in the city square, we know as well that our clothes, how we treat and pay those who make them, and how our clothing harms the environment are obstacles in our discipleship and living in right relationship with God, with neighbor, and with creation. One simple step that does not require stripping before town and bishop is to take the St. Vincent Pledge. The pledge calls us to:

Pray for the cultivation of solidarity between the consumers of clothing with the people who produce them in order to create sustainable communities through a more just economy. Learn about and educate others on the real consequences (both negative and positive) of globalized supply chains, especially in the clothing industry. Assess how we — as individuals and in our families, faith communities and places of employment — are able to confront the ’globalization of indifference” in the clothing industry by taking greater responsibility for the unintended consequences of our behavior as consumers. Act to change our choices and behaviors as consumers to improve the lives of the people who make our clothing and other goods in the global economy. Advocate for Catholic principles, priorities, and values with retailers, brand owners and government bodies concerning the wages and working conditions of the people who make our clothing.

St. Francis understood that his conversion required him to change his relationship with everything, even his clothes. As we continue our campaign with Macy’s and Kohl’s, the example of St. Francis gives us much to consider.

St. Vincent De Paul: A Saint for Garment Justice

September 09, 2016

Author: editor

Category: Pray

Garment Justice

St. Vincent de Paul

Pope Francis invites us to be a poor church for the poor, to build community, to become a church on the margins. To do this, we need help from the saints, both as intercessors and as examples.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Vincent De Paul (24 April 1581 – 27 September 1660), a French priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor. Renowned for his compassion, humility, and generosity and known as the “Great Apostle of Charity,” he was canonized in 1737.

Vincent’s life was full of dramatic moments. At 24 years old, Vincent was taken captive by Barbary pirates and spent two years in bondage as a slave. As a young priest, rising quickly among the ranks of the clergy, he abandoned the path for advancement when he experienced a call to serve the poor, a call that changed his life.

A tireless apostle, St. Vincent de Paul founded an order of priests, the Congregation of the Missions, to work with peasants in villages. Called the Vincentians, today there are almost 4,000 members of this religious order. Vincent also assisted Saint Louise de Marillac in founding the Daughters of Charity, an order of women religious who served the poor in the world, rather than living a cloistered life. As well, his exampled is imitated by the Society of St. Vincent De Paul and its many councils in parishes around the world and in numerous thrift stores that bear his name.

The spirituality of St. Vincent De Paul concretely connects faith to action:

So then, if there are any among us who think that they are in the Congregation of the Mission to preach the Gospel to the poor but not to comfort them, to supply their spiritual but not their temporal wants, I reply that we ought to assist them and have them assisted in every way, by ourselves and by others, if we wish to hear those consoling words of the Sovereign Judge of the living and the dead: ‘Come, beloved of my Father, possess the Kingdom that has been prepared for you; because I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me.’ To do this is to preach the Gospel by words and by works, it is to do so most perfectly and it is also what Our Lord did and what those who represent Him on earth, in office and in character, such as priests, should do. –St. Vincent de Paul (Conferences to the CM’s, Conference 195, p. 608.)

At an event accompanying the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta, Pope Francis said, “The world stands in need of concrete signs of solidarity, especially as it is faced with the temptation to indifference.” The saints for garment justice whom we highlight, including St. Vincent De Paul, are those “concrete signs of solidarity.” They give witness to paths that overcome “the temptation to indifference.”

Prayer from the Missal
O God, who for the relief of the poor
and the formation of the clergy
endowed the Priest Saint Vincent de Paul
with apostolic virtues,
grant, we pray, that, afire with that same spirit,
we may love what he loved
and put into practice what he taught.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Blessed Anton Schwartz: A Saint for Garment Justice

September 09, 2016

Author: editor

Category: Pray

Blessed Anton Schwartz

Blessed Anton Schwartz

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Rerum novarum, inaugurating the era of modern Catholic social teaching and signaling the Church’s solidarity with the industrial working class. Among those who prepared the way for this teaching was Anton Schwartz, an Austrian priest who was moved by the hardship he witnessed among apprentices and young workers in Vienna who spent long hours in factories working for pitiful wages and often enduring terrible conditions. At the time he was a chaplain to a hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy. At first the archbishop denied Fr. Schwartz’s request to be relieved of his duties to devote himself to the workers, but eventually, with the support of the Sisters, he was freed to pursue his true vocation.

In 1889 he and five religious Brothers founded the Congregation for the Devout Workers of St. Joseph Calasanz. Fr. Schwartz perceived the struggle to overcome social injustice as “one of the most significant and hardest problems of our time.” He actively sided with the workers in labor strikes, denounced their exploitation, and promoted the formation of associations to promote their education and protect their interests. His open engagement in the social struggle drew bitter attacks, including many from within the Church. But support from his archbishop finally stilled his critics. Schwartz died on September 15, 1929, and was beatified in 1998 by St. John Paul II.

Blessed Anton Schwartz defense of the dignity of the worker makes him a saint for garment justice.

Those Catholics are worthy of all praise who, understanding what the times require, have striven, by various undertakings and endeavors, to better the condition of the working class by
rightful means.

—Pope Leo XIII

A Prayer in Honor of the Blessed Anton Maria Schwartz

O God, who have taught your Church
to keep all the heavenly commandments
by love of you as God and love of neighbor;
grant that, practicing the works of charity
after the example of blessed Anton Maria Schwartz,
we may be worthy to be numbered among the blessed
in your Kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
[from The Roman Missal]