Prayers, please, for Jane and for her Mom, Peg, who is hospitalized
with pneumonia and has chronic respiratory complications; also for
Michael and for his aunt, Alice, who died yesterday. Special prayers
for someone who in the early stages of reconciliation with his
Church. Thanks so much! God's will be done! NRN JL
April 7, August 7, December 7
Chapter 55: On the Clothes and Shoes of the Brethren
Let clothing be given to the brethren
according to the nature of the place in which they dwell
and its climate;
for in cold regions more will be needed,
and in warm regions less.
This is to be taken into consideration, therefore, by the Abbot.
We believe, however, that in ordinary places
the following dress is sufficient for each monk:
a cowl (thick and woolly for winter, thin or worn for summer),
a scapular for work,
stockings and shoes to cover the feet.
The monks should not complain
about the color or the coarseness of any of these things,
but be content with what can be found
in the district where they live and
can be purchased cheaply.
The Abbot shall see to the size of the garments,
that they be not too short for those who wear them,
but of the proper fit.
Let those who receive new clothes
always give back the old ones at once,
to be put away in the wardrobe for the poor.
For it is sufficient if a monk has two tunics and two cowls,
to allow for night wear and for the washing of these garments;
more than that is superfluity and should be taken away.
Let them return their stockings also and anything else that is old
when they receive new ones.
Those who are sent on a journey
shall receive drawers from the wardrobe,
which they shall wash and restore on their return.
And let their cowls and tunics be somewhat better
than what they usually wear.
These they shall receive from the wardrobe
when they set out on a journey,
and restore when they return.
Well, I could write another love song to the habit, and I surely do
love it, but there is an issue here for all who are outside the
cloister, yet still with the monastic struggle. Clothes do not make
the monastic, but they do set up some very potent markers, for good
or ill. The Benedictine job is to find the golden mean, avoiding
Some of my happier younger days were spent in Pittsburgh, with Amos
House Catholic Worker (now defunct,) and the Thomas Merton Center. My
friend Ellen (who gets this reflection daily,) and I had a theory,
shared by some other activists about how one should dress for anti-
nuclear and peace demonstrations. We dressed preppie all the way:
Oxford cloth, button down collars, khaki chinos and loafers. Let me
assure you that prep is never out of style and that it is always
available very cheaply at thrift stores! A lot of clothing mileage
for the money!
We did that because of a strong sense that people needed to see
themselves on the other side of the line in order to identify with
the cause. Middle America will often discount at once people whose
attire screams alternative/radical at first glance. One's clothing
sends a message, fair or not. The message it sends may very well
advance or inhibit any subsequent messages one my try to send.
Sometimes lay people who are intensely religious will go overboard in
what can only be called frumpiness in dress. Bad move! Right or
wrong, our society writes off frumpiness at first glance. The odds of
being a witness who is heard are diminished. We should want our
appearance to suggest that Jesus Christ is WORTH turning to, not that
we are simply damned fools with no fashion sense.
Simple, decent, clean, middle-of-the-road clothing is a goal
virtually any Oblate can attain. Not too flashy and costly, but
neither so tacky or beyond the fringe that it invokes scorn. The
cheaper the better, but not just for stinge!
The clothing industry in the West rides roughshod on the backs of a
LOT of oppressed people in the less developed countries. Buying your
good clothes used may not stop those awful practices, but it will at
least stop your direct complicity in them. Buy a used $45 shirt at a
Salvation Army Thrift Store and your $5 or less will actually go
towards helping someone in need, not just perpetuating that need.
Think how you look, but think very carefully of where your money goes.
A further little fussy word here. Beware of labels that show OUTSIDE.
I speak as one who used to love buying used shirts with Ralph
Lauren's polo player emblazoned on the breast. Sigh... It is not
written on your forehead that you bought it used and it shouts pricey
to all and sundry. Conspicuous consumption rides on visible labels
like that, and you could be adding to a fire you'd rather extinguish.
Great clothes, TONS of wear for 4 or 5 dollars, but no labels. As a
monk, I became embarrassed to wear such things. It sent the wrong
Lastly, almost everyone I know could make do with less clothes. We
pack a lot of consumerist variety into those closets of ours and that
sends a message, too. Always remember that the coat in our
chest "belongs to the poor," as one of the Eastern Fathers said. (I
think it was St. Basil, but it might have been St. John Chrysostom.
Anyone help me out with this one??)
Love and prayers,
St. Mary's Monastery Petersham, MA