Two young grandchildren arrive at my door, looking like masked bandits, giggling with delight. They’re excited about today’s “field trip” to a children’s museum that’s moved some of its offerings outdoors. It requires masks of children over five, and this five- and seven-year old are trying to comply.
The widespread (we hope) wearing of masks sets off thought that dovetails with Matt Malone, SJ’s insight that when God found Adam and Eve hiding in the garden, ashamed of their disobedience, God asked, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen. 3:11) Fr. Malone hears the question not in a “Charlton Heston” booming, accusatory voice, but in a plaintive lament, “Aw—who told you? There goes all your innocent beauty!” Then God makes clothing for them (Gen. 3:21), as any protective mother would do, sending children into searing heat or chilling cold, knowing fig leaves just won’t do it.
These garments were temporary—until humanity could be clothed in Christ. To restore our confidence, writes Fr. Michael Casey in Balaam’s Donkey, “God has chosen to be unveiled before us. Jesus is the visibility of the unseen God…He calls us to come out of the bushes and be seen as we are, no longer fearful of rejection but confident that we are held in God’s all-embracing love.” Redeemed, we need no longer feel ashamed.
Back to the masks. The pandemic creates a different form of “naked,” for we are stripped of our professional and social activities. The usual errands and exercise are gone; we can’t attend a concert or play, give a presentation or retreat, go out for dinner, plan air travel. So little adult agency is left—it’s questionable if we can safely hug, shop, or ride in a car with a friend. How shrunken we seem, how much is lost, how fragile our flimsy masks. Depression like Michelle Obama’s is natural. It’s a pervasive joke that we live in sweats, the dressier clothes forgotten in the closet.
Jesus’ take on clothes was “consider the lilies.” Maybe we had to re-learn we were precious without the usual accoutrements. God calls us to an identity deeper than suit, better than ball gown. When held in an all-encompassing love that keeps us alive and united, does it really matter what we wear?