A Seamless Garment

By Joseph McDaniel, OSFS

Cover me, Lord, with the cloak of innocence and the robe of love. My God, do not let me appear before you stripped of good works.

Of the many beautiful prayers found in St. Francis de Sales’ Spiritual Directory, the dressing prayer has remained a personal favorite of mine. It expresses Francis’ genius that any action, even as mundane as fastening the buttons on a shirt, can become a moment of sanctification. A simple piece of fabric becomes a symbol of spiritual transformation.

Tomorrow, as I don my customary workaday attire, my thoughts will also be with the hundreds of thousands of people who will be lacing up more robust footwear and zippering jackets in preparation for the annual March for Life in Washington, DC. Their primary goal concerns those whose sole clothing is the skin given to them by God, those who are as yet unable to raise their own hands or to whisper their own voice.

As St. Francis de Sales recognized God in every act of clothing oneself, another wise prelate would also unfold the image of a garment as he reflected upon the effort to recognize God in every act of looking upon another human being.

In 1984, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin surveyed a political and social scene where divisions were evident, as they most certainly are today. He recognized that the fabric of the Church’s public witness could be torn if it began to be identified solely with one of many disparate pieces in a patchwork public square. In response, he proposed that a seamless garment, a consistent ethic of life, be the Church’s habit as it engaged in cultural discourse.

While not all may agree about the efficaciousness of placards, slogans and rallies, the principle of the sanctity of all human life from its conception to its natural end remains a vital strand that is meant to draw people together in the midst of otherwise diverging viewpoints and opinions.

Just as human life forms a continuum from the time it is clothed in its first cell membranes, to the time it is clothed in a funeral shroud, so must be our efforts on behalf of this life. In the words of Cardinal Bernardin, from a 1984 lecture at St. Louis University, our Catholic tradition “joins the humanity of the unborn infant and the humanity of the hungry; it calls for positive legal action to prevent the killing of the unborn or the aged, and positive societal action to provide shelter for the homeless and education for the illiterate… the systemic vision of Catholic ethics is seen as the background for the specific positions we take on a range of issues.”

As we work for the safeguarding and nurturing of all human life, may we clothe ourselves with the seamless garment of which Cardinal Bernardin spoke, and may we pray with St. Francis de Sales: Cover me, Lord, with the cloak of innocence and the robe of love. My God, do not let me appear before you stripped of good works.