Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

My Photo
Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Friday, August 26, 2005

Vanitas Vanitatum!

St Augustine of Hippo, that great saint, bishop and Doctor of the Church will not be formally remembered this year because his feast falls on Sunday but he is particularly important to the Order of Preachers because it is his Rule that St Dominic adopted for his Order. The Rule of St Augustine is (unlike so many of his other writings!) rather succinct and it is full of compassion and 'common-sense'. As I was reading over it last night, this sentence caught my eye:

"Avoid singularity in dress, and strive to please others by your conduct and not by your clothes."

Over the last few days, my family, who is organising a huge party for my grandparents' 80th birthday and 60th wedding anniversary, has been agonizing over the seemingly simple question of "what to wear"! Hours have been spent in debate, argument and discussion on this issue and it has vexed me somewhat. I simply cannot understand why people get into such a state over finding the right outfit for a dinner party... One would have thought that so long as one dressed decently, with Christian modesty, in clean clothes, that would be acceptable. Unfortunately in the cultural melting-pot that is South East Asia, one agonizes over whether to wear a suit, or a Malaysian batik shirt, or Chinese wear, or (my preference) the elegant and simply beautiful barong Tagalog from the Philippines (shown above, with Daniel Jeffries). Women are in an even worse quandry as the choice expands to include the sari, the kebaya etc! Moreover, these questions take on an almost political nuance. Some have suggested that it would be odd for a non-Filipino (like myself) to wear the national shirt of the Filipinos to a Malaysian party. I might well retort that I am not European either nor Malay and see no reason why I should be stuffed up in a suit and tie nor a garish batik shirt!

Incidentally, it is mainly the many happy memories of people, places and experiences I have left behind in the Philippines which motivates me to wear the barong Tagalog. For me, that simple, hand-made shirt symbolises all that I love about the Filipino people and my year among them and it is this experience and love I want to bring to my family party. It just means so much more to me than any other suit or shirt I could get from a shop. I suppose in this way, I am a very sacramental person; some things I wear or do has a deeper meaning and symbolism than would be immediately apparent.

In the issue of clothing, I believe that St Augustine's Rule is full of wisdom. We should wear that which is decent and comfortable, reasonably presentable (for the occasion) but not ostentatious or aimed at drawing undue attention to oneself. For what matters, at this family event, is not so much what one wears but that we are present together to celebrate as a family and that we maintain the family in a bond of love. Nor should one's affection or loyalty to one's country or political stance be drawn into question by what one wears.

The bottom line is that many of the questions surrounding what one wears and the issue of vanity is motivated by an undue attention to society's superficial opinion of oneself. When one is concerned about what others think, one becomes very self-conscious about what one wears and what one looks like. It becomes what Alain de Botton calls "Status Anxiety" and he has written comprehensively about this in one of my favourite books of the year. Such superficiality does not appeal to me. It is much better that we measure a person by their conduct and what they do and say than how they look! It occurs to me that the Scriptures warn us time and again against judging a person by appearences or what they wear. Indeed, De Botton highlights Christianity and Philosophy among the 'solutions' to status anxiety...

Quite frankly, I welcome the day when I shall be given a habit to wear, which will innure me somewhat from these questions! However, I suspect that even then, in these days, one must ask oneself whether or not one should don the habit for every occasion, at all times!

St Augutine's Rule has yet more to say on the issue of clothing and is worth quoting from again:

"Try not to concern yourselves about being provided with clothes exactly suited to the changes of the season, still less about whether you receive the same which you had before or those which another had. Let everyone, however, be supplied with that which is necessary, And if any disputes or murmurs should arise among you upon this matter and one should complain that something not so good as he had before has now been given him and should think himself slighted in being made to wear the clothes formerly worn by another brother, reflect that much must be wanting in that inner garment of sanctity which should clothe the heart, when you contend about the mere raiment of the body."

It seems that, if one were to worry and fret excessively about what to wear, whether it be to a dinner party or the religious habit, then surely this indicates a need to become more detached, to grow in holiness and improve the conduct of one's life. These are sobering and wise words of guidance for me for this weekend and indeed, the years ahead!


Post a Comment

<< Home