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Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not neglect it when you find it naked. Do not do it homage here in the church with silk fabrics only to neglect it outside where it suffers cold and nakedness.


" St. John Chrysostom

The Corporal Works of Mercy are found in the teachings of Jesus and give us a model for how we should treat others: as if they were Christ in disguise. When we “clothe the naked,” we are clothing Christ. Or as St. Vincent de Paul wrote, “Service we owe our neighbor, who is the image of God.”

St. Vincent de Paul, whose feast day we celebrate on Sept. 27, became a priest of the Catholic Church, dedicating himself to serving the poor. “I am for God and for the poor.”

St. Vincent de Paul is the patron saint of volunteers. His spirituality was based on the encounter with Christ through the needs of one's neighbor. He was not focused on charity as an impersonal handout but on the relationship with a person. He believed when you “Go to the poor: you will find God.” He began with the relationship and was intentional about meeting the practical needs of his neighbors. St. Vincent teaches us that by being in relationship, our neighbor’s needs became apparent.

Relationships are at the heart of charity. Our most important relationship is the one we have with God. When we encounter God’s amazing love for us and then choose to love him in return with all our heart, soul and mind, it naturally flows into loving our neighbor as our self.

The gospel of life demands that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Because we are a people of life and for life, our support of life must be accomplished through the service of charity to our neighbor, who is everyone. “Service we owe our neighbor, who is the image of God.”

Charity extends beyond benevolent giving. You have likely heard this advice when deciding which clothes in your closet to keep and which to give away: If you haven’t worn it in the past 12 months, then it’s time to get rid of it. Although John the Baptist advised, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none,” charity is much more than cleaning out your closet to find the more-than-12-months-since-you’ve-worn-it clothes to give away. Mature charity moves beyond donating “stuff” to an organization that collects stuff to give to the naked; it is the giving of self.

Mature charity could mean changing our consumption patterns by reconsidering whether we need another coat, another tie, another shirt, another color, another pair of shoes.

Mature charity could look like educating yourself about where your clothes come from and the kinds of working conditions that are involved with these products. Are we “unclothing” someone in order to clothe ourselves because he or she is paid an unfair wage that doesn’t cover basic necessities such as clothing?

Mature charity could look like intentionally going with less of what is legitimate so that my neighbor might have something. Why make these choices to “Clothe the Naked?” To clothe Christ.

Cato is director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland. Fr. Libra, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, is director of pro-life activities in the archdiocese.