The Clothing of a Vocation
In any consideration of the human person, the fundamental and universal human nature is the basic element in all individuals which defines them exactly as they are and ought to be, and imbues them with particular and certain value.
Each person is defined by, exists by or through, a “self-presencing or self-possession,” as Father Norris J. Clarke puts it in his text Person and Being. According to Father Clarke, “it is the nature’s own proportionate act of existence, actualizing it as an existent, which formally constitutes that nature a person. The person is the concrete whole resulting from this union, expressed by the term ‘I’.” This “presencing” or making-to-be of this being here and now is in its unique form that which constitutes a person, his unity of body and spirit in a combination immediate and present. Being within human nature is always manifested in this “haeccity” or “this-ness,” an individual and unique presence. This haeccity is exactly what comprises a unique person or individual’s personhood. Yet, the entirely unique individual participates, by this very universal occurrence of presencing in both material and spiritual matter, in the universal human nature of being. These aspects of every person add up to an invaluable, immeasurably precious being. Additional in the formation of this value is a specific purpose for every individual, bound up or interwoven within the unique act of being or the presence which exactly constitutes each person partaking of the human nature. Furthermore, the actions of every person demonstrate an orderedness in human nature towards the good, a directed push towards a higher and better end, regardless of how this end is perceived by the individual. The good each person seeks is what is perceived or understood by the intellect and chosen by the will as fitting for the person, completing of his being. The person’s purpose, then, is to reach and fulfill that which completes him; in a properly ordered will, the truly highest and purest good. So in very basic terms, the uniqueness, the presence in both spiritual and physical matter, and the directed purpose of every person, together give him his ultimate value as a human being.
Formative of the unique and specific purpose of every individual person is the unique or individual set of characteristics making him to be as he himself is, the individual nature within the universal nature. The person of the woman is purposeful in her biological, spiritual, entirely personal makeup. The woman is by her particular nature nurturing of her environment, civilizing of her surroundings, and both completing of and complementary to the person of the man. These aspects are demonstrated in the physical and spiritual characteristics of each woman to at least some extent. Biologically, of course, the female is designed for cooperation in the creation and sustenance in the gestation of her children, of new life. Every component of the female body has some part in the nurturing of her offspring, especially the components which define her as a female. Her biology or physical makeup is purposeful and nurturing in form. A woman’s biology/makeup is also deeply relational. To put things delicately, once a woman begins a relationship with a man her very chemistry compels her to remain in the relationship with and grow progressively closer to him.
In this continuing and growing relationship prompted biologically, a woman at least ideally civilizes or brings to the ideal the man she remains with. Women in history, literature and the blessed ranks of the Catholic Church Triumphant have acted as catalysts for the civilization and sanctification of the men in relationship with them as sons, brothers, or husbands. Queen Isabella of Spain was a woman of peaceful resolve in her decision to marry Ferdinand of Portugal and lose her courtly power and inheritance, and become a devoted mother who extensively educated herself, her sons, and her daughters, and patronized learning and art throughout her country for its development in culture and beauty. Penelope, of Homer’s immortal Odyssey, is a figure of domestic tranquility, a force or source emanating peace in the turmoil surrounding her, a treasure protected by and fulfilling of her husband. St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, was a woman who practiced a steady and gentle influence to such extent that her adamantly pagan husband and her son in his blatant moral renunciation both converted to Christianity after long and numerous years of her prayers and quiet example. Women of virtue play a role of example of the ideal in the lives which surround and involve them. The peace and care of the woman is derived from her aforementioned makeup, specifically designed for nurturing her children and balancing her environment for nourishment.
By balancing the surrounding environment and idealizing the state it should attain, the woman also fills in the gaps and mediates the extremes present in her individual relationships. Her instinct, if acted upon, to assist, soothe or strengthen those she may impact shapes them into more complete or fulfilled persons, for she may affect them to so much depth and extent. She is through the actualization of this natural potential the completion of the man’s person in his particular circumstances, as well as the elevation of mankind unto the ideal.
With this naturally certain and uniquely feminine dignity, and the understanding that human beings are both spiritual and physical, a combination of soul and body, the female human being is deeply deserving of a resultant outward expression of an inward value. Herein ties the true meaning of “clothing,” of characterizing or designating a being for what its essence is. Clothing is certainly an indication of what is swathed – by definition, an appropriate enveloping, enclosing and signifying of a thing needful of such. It is, then, only in accordance with the nature of the human person and in particular the female person, to cover appropriately and to signify what lies beneath the covering – a being of immeasurable value, a person with the unique traits of nurturing, idealizing, and completion of those around her. As the woman’s very body clothes with appropriate reverence and care the new human life which may be carried within her, so ideally her clothing dresses her person as exactly what it is, not in the greedy and prurient eyes of modern anti-culture but sub species aeternitatis, “under the eyes of eternity”. Truly appropriate clothing of the woman as God sees her will signify to her surroundings the true nature He has endowed her with, as a person and one with the unique vocation of a woman.
Thus, the woman is left with two options – to clothe this invaluable, extremely precious physical part of the person with lesser, cheapening and meaningless garb, or with the respect and the care which alone is in accord with the nature of the human person and the unique defining character of the woman. The words of Pope John Paul II with regard to the dignity of the human person in relationship to other persons will shed light on this vast responsibility and calling of each and every woman: “A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use…What is truly immodest in dress is that which frankly contributes to the deliberate displacement of the true value of the person by sexual values, that which is bound to elicit a reaction to the person as to a ‘possible means of obtaining sexual enjoyment’ and not ‘a possible object of love by reason of his or her personal value’…What is most essential to love is affirmation of the value of the person: this is the basis on which the will of the loving subject strives for the true good of the beloved person, the entire and perfect good, the absolute good, which is identical with happiness.”