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Old Pictures And Nuns Who Get It

November 27, 2020 Frontpage No Comments


When I was a kid, I used to laugh at old pictures of my grandfather and how his mother dressed him when he was a kid. Boy, those sure were some funny-looking clothes mothers put their sons in back in those days. I remember thinking how my grandfather and his little friends looked like sissies in those clothes.
Fast forward fifty years.
The other day, I was looking at some old family photos from when I was a little boy. It struck me how my mother dressed me when I was little. I had to smile at the memory of what I thought about my grandfather’s dress when he was the same age I was in those pictures. What goes around comes around, because I was thinking how much I looked like a sissy in those pictures.
Fact is, my grandfather was no sissy. He was every bit a man, and I’m certain he was all boy when he was a kid. In fact, I’m certain of it, because I remember stories he told me of his own childhood. The boy who looked like a sissy in those old photographs was anything but a sissy, as he was doing a man’s work by the time he was ten — learning his father’s trade as a blacksmith.
Neither was I a sissy, despite how my mother dressed me. I, too, was all boy. I recall seeing my mother on laundry day going through my pockets before washing my clothes. She would get a look on her face like she was about to get her hand cut off and held my pants at arm’s length as she stuck that hand in my pants pockets. I asked her when I was older why she did that. She told me it was because she never knew what she might find in my pockets. She said it could be a dead snake or a frog or some other creature she couldn’t identify. Yeah, I was all boy . . . despite the clothing of the time.
But something has happened since those days, and I really can’t put my finger on what it is. When my grandfather got older, he began choosing his own clothes and dressed like a man. The same thing happened to me. When I was twelve and had to begin buying my own clothes with the money I earned for myself, I began dressing like a man. That doesn’t seem to be the case these days, though.
Time was when a man took pride in how he looked and was perceived by others . . . especially other men. His face was clean shaven, his shoes polished, his clothes unwrinkled and clean, his hair combed. Men tried to look like, well, men.
Today, however, men aren’t that way. There’s nothing wrong with a beard, but many men don’t grow beards. They simply go days at a time without dragging the razor across their whiskers, so they go around looking like they’ve been on a four-day drunk or are homeless. Men who work with their hands have never necessarily worn polished shoes and worn unwrinkled clothes, but they did at least comb their hair and looked neat — even if their work made them dirty.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, men these days never bother to grow up, and it shows in their personal appearances. How a man dresses and his personal appearance demonstrate self-respect and that he respects the opinions of others. A man’s personal appearance also shows how much he respects others…especially how he respects Our Lord at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When I see men coming to Mass wearing T-shirts and cargo shorts with sandals, I wonder why they are still letting their mommies dress them.
After all, they’re not there to visit mommy. They’re there to spend time in the worship and adoration of the Creator of the Universe who is coming to them under the appearances of bread and wine. A man who dresses like he’s going to a picnic isn’t showing any respect at all toward his Creator.
Does how we dress for Mass really matter? Well, in and of itself dressing is morally neutral, as long as it’s modest. But it really does matter, because how we dress for Mass demonstrates a man’s attitude. When a man dresses sloppily for Mass he’s telling everyone his focus is on his own comfort and not at all on the Incarnate Word of God who reposes in the tabernacle and will soon be on the altar and received in Holy Communion.
I hear both men and women say they dress the way they do because it’s more comfortable, or that it’s cooler in the warm weather. Comfort. That seems to be what we’re all about these days, and that priority is the very antithesis of Catholic spirituality.
I recall a group of the Little Sisters of the Poor living in a very hot climate of the country where the humidity always made it feel like it was 10-20 degrees hotter than it really was. They cared for the elderly and the dying who couldn’t afford to take care of themselves. Where their charges lived was air-conditioned and comfortable, as one would expect for those who were being cared for by these remarkable sisters. But the sisters’ living area had no air-conditioning, and they wore their traditional wool habits.
The chaplain for the sisters thought the reason they didn’t have air-conditioning was that they couldn’t afford it, so he purchased a central air unit to be delivered and installed as a surprise for the sisters. When the workmen showed up to install the unit, Mother Superior sent them back to town…with the unit. When Father called Mother Superior to ask why she refused his gift, Mother said, “I don’t think Jesus had air-conditioning on the cross. I don’t think Jesus was comfortable on the cross.” Hmm. Lots to think about in her words, isn’t there?
I’m not advocating doing away with air-conditioning or going out of your way to be uncomfortable. I’m merely trying to drive home two principles of Catholic spirituality. One principle is, comfort isn’t a priority. Being uncomfortable once in a while can be offered up to God as a gift in reparation for your sins and the sins of the world. It makes you a better Catholic, a better man, and a step closer to becoming a saint…which is our primary purpose in this life.
The other principle I’m trying to drive home is, we men must set the example for our families and the community, and we owe Jesus Christ all the respect and love we can show Him for His sacrifice on the cross. If you’ve ever seen Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, then you’ve seen a pretty good depiction of what our Lord went through…for you. And no makeup artist in the world could show the Christ in that movie how He really looked, as one saint described Jesus on the cross as “one open, gaping wound.” We owe Him our best!
Men, we need to keep in mind that our rightful role, demanded by Almighty God, is that we are the spiritual head of our household. It is our responsibility to set the example for our children, our wives, and those outside the fold of the Catholic Church. Mommy doesn’t dress you anymore. It’s time to put on your big-boy pants. It’s time to grow up and be a man!
Men, how can you expect your children to be the sort of adults you want them to be if you don’t set the example? You can’t merely do the minimums and expect them to do the same, because human nature doesn’t work that way. Those you want to set the example for will never do as much as you, so whatever you do they’ll do even less. You have to go above and beyond what is comfortable for you. If you won’t do it for Christ, then at least do it for the sake of your children. Take charge in your household, as God has ordained (cf. Eph. 5-6, et alia).
After you clean up your act, insist that your sons dress like they’re going to visit God . . . because they are. Insist that your daughters dress in a way appealing to God rather than appealing to men — that they dress as they would at the foot of the cross while Jesus hangs there dying for our sins. Not only will you and your family be showing Jesus the proper respect, but you’ll also be going a long way to keeping your children mindful of their duties under the Sixth and Ninth Commandments…those Commandments that deal with sexual purity.
I’d be willing to wager that if you could listen in to your teenage children’s conversations with their friends, pay attention to the shows and movies they watch, check out what they do on the Internet, and review what it is they read, you’d find they don’t have a huge priority in their lives for those two Commandments.
Don’t worry. I’m nowhere near done with the topic of being a Catholic parent, because this is what we believe and why we believe it.
If you have a question or comment you can reach out to me through the “Ask Joe” page of, or you can email me at
Hey, how would you like to see things like this article every week in your parish bulletin as an insert? You or your pastor can learn more about how to do that by emailing me at

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