Thursday, January 10, 2008

From Hot Pants to Habit

Apropos of Richard and Elizabeth Gerbracht's article "Theology of the Bawdy" (Nov. 2007): At our monastery we have a sign out front explaining our dress code. It reads: "Worship the Lord in holy attire (Ps. 96:9). That is, when you come to the house of God, make sure you are wholly attired. Please refrain from wearing shorts or short dresses, sleeveless, backless, or front­less clothing -- or anything you wouldn't wear on Judgment Day. Thank you for your respect for the Majesty of God."

This works (most of the time). It applies mainly to women, though I'd also like to see men come more often in their Sunday best. I do wonder sometimes, though, just whom the occasional immoderately dressed woman is trying to impress in an obscure little monastery populated with aging, bearded men in black robes.

I remember one striking occasion of the value of coming right out and telling people they are inappropriately dressed for church. Over a dozen years ago, a woman came here for a retreat (I was guestmaster at the time). She was a corporate attorney. She had bleach-blond hair, wore Hollywood sunglasses and pink hot pants. As I showed her to her room in the retreat house, I matter-of-factly said: "By the way, make sure you put on some clothes before you come to Vespers."

That was the beginning of a years-long dialogue (and sometimes debate) over various issues in the Church and points of faith and spiritual life in general. Little by little, she abandoned her defensive and dissenting positions, and when she agreed a few years later to join me in a group going on pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe, something really opened up for her. Today she is a nun in a traditional, strictly cloistered monastery (needless to say, totally clothed), and she loves it! Whenever she writes me, she thanks me profusely for helping her out of her errors and guiding her to the truth.

So you just never know when something as simple as reminding someone of the importance of modesty, especially in church, might be the beginning of a complete change of life -- and another soul consecrated to God!

Abbot Joseph
Mt. Tabor Monastery
Redwood Valley, California

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's an amazing story. Sometimes women wear "seductive" clothing because they feel worthless--they need affirmation of value--by giving this woman positive regard--in telling her to put some clothes on--you gave her affirmation of her human dignity. Kinda like, "you don't need to run around like a slut." You cared--and oh, how we women respond to the love:)

Thanks for sharing this remarkable story of Abbot Joseph, Vincenzo.