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Traditions of the Church Reflected in Garments with Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI is admired for his wisdom, profound intellect, and compassionate eyes. If you Google search his name, you might be surprised by the numerous secular articles that note his fashion sense. During his reign as pope, Benedict’s red shoes became something of a trademark, inspiring ABC News to call him a “fashionista” and Esquire to name him “accessorizer of the year.” His iconic red shoes gesture towards the Passion of the Christ, leaving the secular word fascinated by the theological connection. This gesture is in continuity with the saints who understood the value of expressing the Gospel in our garments (read more in our article: Saints Who Cared About Fashion).

As Catholics, we have a rich heritage and capacity to communicate the Gospel, even through our clothing! This goes beyond merely dressing intentionally. We have a duty to see the other and uphold human dignity.

Pope Benedict XVI recognized the dignity of the person behind each garment and accessory. Arellano, the maker of the red shoes, shared with the Catholic News Agency, “When we got there to greet him, the pope recognized me, smiled, and said, ‘Here is my shoemaker.’ It was a wonderful moment, because he makes you feel important. He gave a blessing to me and my family and we said goodbye.”

He also had an immense appreciation for the arts and the way in which God reveals Himself through beauty. In his work, The Spirit of the Liturgy, he emphasizes the pertinence of preaching the Gospel as accompanied by beauty stating, “God has acted in history and entered into our sensible world, so that it may become transparent to him. Images of beauty, in which the mystery of the invisible God becomes visible, are an essential part of Christian worship.”

Pope Benedict XVI knew that ornate vestments, breathtaking art, and harmonious hymns are not simply nice little ornaments but an essential part of Christian worship. Tangible beauty is needed to aid the soul in pondering He, who is infinite Beauty. Our garments have a transcendent capacity when we incorporate them into our worship as a means of uniting our heart’s intention with our body’s reflection.

Lillian Fallon dives into this idea of garments having the capacity to orient us towards heaven by expressing the soul in her book, Theology of Style: Expressing The Unique & Unrepeatable You, (set to publish in the fall) she writes, “Because the body manifests the soul and the soul is expressed through our bodies, the things we choose to wear can communicate the invisible beauty of the soul while dignifying the visible beauty of the body. We can tangibly see the beauty of shapes, fabric, colors, textures, but more importantly, the intangible beauty of the human person shines through it all. Personal style really is a tool for growing in understanding of one's identity, made in the Image of God.”

Dressing with intentionality does not mean a substitute for prayer or creating a distraction, but offering an expression of the rich layers of the faith through aligning the body and soul’s purpose. We have an opportunity to cultivate our relationship with Christ by orienting our bodies to a posture of prayer and surrender through what we wear. When we are captivated by ornate architecture, endless mountainscapes, and exquisite mosaics we are called to rest and ponder. By adorning ourselves in beauty as a means to reflect the colors of the liturgical season or the story of a saint, we call those around us to ponder and rest. As Pope Benedict XVI stated, in images of beauty “the mystery of the invisible God becomes visible,” let us be vessels of God’s goodness to a point that we testify to the faith even in our clothing.

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