Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Is it Sacrilege to Suggest that Chastity Feels a Bit Like This?

I only went to Confession on Saturday...and its only Tuesday now. God preserve us. Ouch! Ouch! Make it stop! How long this State of Grace will last is anyone's guess...

I was thinking about St Sebastian today when I was learning (yawn!) about double entry book-keeping at the Pitman Training Centre in Brighton today. I was thinking about his depiction in many paintings as being virtually naked in the face of his persecutors and murderers. Most depictions of my Patron's martyrdom show him naked on his grill as well. In fact, many of the Martyrs were, when killed by the wicked, naked at their death. Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Gospels would have us believe was allowed scant if any modesty during His Crucifixion.

It seems that when people really want to degrade and humiliate people, torture them or subject them to punishment, stripping them of their clothes and making them naked before the clothed is quite common. The dark and sadistic eroticism of Abu Grahib, the pictures of human beings stripped of their dignity, made to do all kinds of things against their will, bore witness to Mankind's capability to use nakedness, the naked form and utter vulnerability as a weapon on victims.

Nakedness is really about intimacy. When lovers embrace in full union they are naked before each other, vulnerable, but consoled by each others love and desire. Perhaps this was what shocked the people of Assisi, when St Francis shed his clothes and stood before the Bishop and crowd. He was almost in that instant imitating the martyrdom of his Master and the Holy Martyrs in stripping himself of his garments and presenting himself naked to the crowd. Had the Bishop not clothed him, who knows how long he would have stood there!? Yet he wasn't doing a 'full monty'. He was saying to God, 'Take everything, leave me naked, with nothing, for all I desire is You, for what good are even these clothes without You!' And of course, the Lord responded graciously, filling him with such faith that would later move mountains!

When we pray too, there is a sense of nakedness in that before God our hearts are open and known. He knows what is in the depths of our hearts. He knows our desires and wants, our sins and faults we commit. He knows where we rise and where we lay down as the Psalmist says. Yes, in prayer we are naked before Him now, in our hearts, as we shall be naked before Him on the Last Day, when we shall stand before Him in the flesh and see Him face to face.

So in a way, although the stripping of the Holy Martyrs such as St Sebastian was cruel and terrible, there is something fitting in a naked death; that those holy men and women who were subjected to such cruel torture for their Faith, died as they had lived, naked before God, before Whom they knew they were always naked, only to be clothed by Him in Heaven in the garments of Eternal Glory.

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