No Shirt No Shoes …

“I can’t believe you’re wearing that to go see your friends,” my fiancée said to me as we were leaving for my fifteen-year college reunion. She was wearing a nice, though casual, outfit of dark slacks and a short-sleeved knit pullover, but felt overdressed next to my more casual jeans and tee-shirt (okay … old, fraying tee-shirt) ensemble. I wondered for a moment if I should at least put on a nicer shirt, until it occurred to me: I hadn’t brought one.

Of course she had dressed with some sense of meeting some old, very dear friends of mine for the first time; she wanted to make a good impression. I, on the other hand, had dressed for a weekend of hanging out – reliving some of our college days, minus the classes. We had each dressed for the same occasion, but with very different points of view.

As it happens, reunion season also corresponds to the time of year when some priests (and some laity) start talking about dressing appropriately for Sunday worship. Summer is traditionally a time of relaxed fashion standards when many seem to feel that beachwear is appropriate for any occasion. But in an environment of worship, the question of appropriate attire can be difficult at any time of year.

As a fan and admirer of St. Francis of Assisi I have to ask myself, did God actually wish that this holy and most devoted of Christians would get himself a decent tunic for Sunday mass? Somehow I doubt it. And yet, I do make it a point to dress up for mass each Sunday (although I draw the line at a tie, which I believe only impresses other people, not God, and should therefore be shunned in light of Luke 16:15 and similar Gospel sentiments).

One of the beautiful things about our faith is that God takes us as we are. Christ comes to call, in the weighted words of Matthew 9:13, “not the self-righteous, but the sinner”. I know God has seen me at my best, at my worst, and everywhere in between. It would take more than a clean shirt and pressed slacks to make a good impression.

But Sunday mass isn’t supposed to be about my personal relationship with God; it’s about getting together with the Family – all my brothers and sisters in Christ’s sprawling, extended, sometimes dysfunctional Family. As Catholics we are a sacramental people; we understand how, even beyond the Official Seven, our outward signs and actions can bring us inward grace. And so I make a point to dress up for Sunday mass, to remind myself that this is important. It’s God’s Holy day, spent with God’s Holy family.

2 thoughts on “No Shirt No Shoes …

  1. I appreciate this even-handed, thoughtful, and non-judgmental approach to the topic of appropriate dress for mass. In the parish I belonged to as a child, my family had trouble with the priest because his favorite sermon topic seemed to be clothes — he stressed “wearing your best for God,” criticized women who wore shorts to church, parents who brought their babies in pajamas, etc. In a farming community where most parishioners rushed to Church with their hair still wet from an after-chores shower — and where most of the congregation were such conscientious Catholics that they had MANY children to bring to Mass with them — the Father’s sermons seemed ridiculously out of touch. But your post puts the issue in better context, by recognizing that Church is not just a visit with God, but with “the family” and that each person should dress accordingly depending on what that means to them.

  2. Thanks. I’m glad you found it non-judgmental — I’d intended it that way but after re-reading it I began to fear that my tie comment might not come across as tongue-in-cheek as I’d intended.

    Actually, I do pretty much believe what I said about ties in general … but I’ve never felt the need to impose that particular belief on anyone else.

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