My father died eleven years ago. But what he taught me still lingers in my heart. “Son, keep your eyes always open because life can teach you many things, more things than you can ever learn at school. Life is the real school. ”
Following this advice, I glanced inquisitively through the book that was lying on the table. The name was appealing, The Wisdom of the Cloister, an anthology of readings taken from monastic writings. There, I found a story that in the beginning I did not understand but the more I reflected on it, the more I realized the depth of this anecdote.
Patrick one day wakes up to find out that he has become invisible. He can see his watch and reads the hour but he does not see his wrist. His pajamas stand upright but there is no one in them. He has become invisible! He goes out and it is amusing to see people who cannot see him. Everyone keeps walking besides him without noticing him. He even hears them speaking but there is no interaction. When he speaks to them, they do not answer. What was amusing in the beginning, however, turns out to be tiresome. He starts feeling isolated and alone.
Then, he make a discovery. He notices that if he uses make-up on his face and puts on certain clothes then he can be seen by others. This is what he does. He gets into specific clothes and puts on a lot of cosmetic and now he can interact and intermingle with the other people. He is happy. He feels like living.
But his happiness is short-lived. Because he discovers that the others also are invisible, simply they do not know it. He realizes that he is not relating to persons but to the cosmetics and clothes of the persons. He is speaking to facades and masks! It is not real persons who speak to each other. In life, he finds out, one interacts with cosmetics and clothes. Every one’s true identity is invisible! This is why everyone is unknown and terribly alone!
One and all has his own uniform, his own type of clothes. Those wearing blue do not like those wearing red and those wearing red do not like those wearing blue. They spend all their lives comparing and confronting each other. Everyone is divided into factions and each faction keeps a distance or meets head-on with the other bloc.
This is sad, Patrick argues. The fact that you are not yet dead is not sufficient proof that you are alive. It takes more than that! What can he do?
Suddenly, he has “a blinding intuition – like a child seeing the sun rising in the morning for the first time”. He finds out that once, a Man lived without clothes and make up. He lived naked! He went around without uniform, interacting with everyone, keeping himself open to all. He did not fall into any cliques. He managed to relate to persons and not to masks! Somehow, being naked, he was able to love and His love dissolved all the barriers which kept one person away from the other.
So Patrick decides to follow in his footsteps. He starts a long process of undressing from his clothes and washing away all his make-up. It is not easy and the journey is long. But somehow he realizes that it is worthwhile. He understands that only if he learns to live with “the solitude of the mystery of his being and his total poverty”, that his life would acquire a meaning and a real happiness.
The mystics, these deep lovers of God, had this same intuition when they spoke about “Nudus, nudum Christum sequere” – Latin for “Naked, let us follow the naked Christ.”
John Wesley is protestant, the founder of the Methodists. But what he says here is valid. “To abandon all, to strip one’s self of all, in order to seek and follow Jesus Christ naked to Bethlehem where He was born, naked to the hall where He was scourged, and naked to Calvary where He died on the cross, is so great a mystery that neither the thing nor the knowledge of it, is given to any but through faith in the Son of God.”
Patrick enters a church where Mass is being said. The priest, a truly spiritual man, sees him in his invisibility. Patrick himself feels called to let himself be taken up into the movement of Christ’s sacrifice – this total gift of the Father out of love for mankind.
Patrick eats the Body of Christ. He drinks His Blood. And finally the miracle happens. The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ gives his nakedness a visibility! He is visible, but in a different way! He starts seeing the others. He can communicate with them beyond their uniforms. He can relate now person to person.
He can start loving them. “But I, being poor, have only my dreams… Tread softly because you tread upon my dreams” (W.B. Yeats). He starts treading softly towards the others.
And in this love he discovers who he is. He is saved. He is no longer alone. Jesus Christ has made it again!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.