THE SCARLET CLOAK
"They put a scarlet cloak about him." (Mt. 27:28)
We will now proceed to examine for a short time the meaning of the scarlet cloak which the malicious enemies of our Lord, Jesus Christ threw in derision over his bruised and bleeding shoulders.
In order to understand the mysterious significance of this extraordinary event, we should reflect that our first parents in the terrestrial paradise had no need of any material dress so long as they were clad and adorned with the-beautiful robe of original grace and innocence. The same should have been the happy condition of their posterity, had they persevered in their state of holiness. Innocent childhood alone partially enjoys this privilege now, and this only for a very short space of time. But the prevarication of Adam and Eve caused the rebellion of the flesh against the spirit and produced a general feeling of shame. All this combined with their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and their perpetual exile to this cold region of the earth, imposed upon mankind the necessity of external dress. Dress then should be considered both the badge and the punishment of sinners. Here we may begin to understand the profound meaning of the scarlet cloak thrown over the shoulders of our divine Savior. Being essential holiness he could not assume the guilt, nor, strictly speaking feel the remorse of sin. But in his infinite mercy he could assume its appearance, and experience its temporal effects. Hence our Lord was first stripped of that sacred garment which he had received from the immaculate hands of his most holy Mother. Thus he was in appearance deprived of the essential attribute of his inseparable holiness. Then a soiled and worn out red cloak of a Pagan soldier was temporarily cast over his sacred shoulders. This cruel and humiliating insult was permitted by divine Wisdom to enable us to understand that our merciful Savior wished, through this action, to signify that he consented to assume the filthy dress of sin, deeply dyed in the blood and crimes of mankind during the long period of four thousand years. This is the admirable expression of the great Origen who said: "Suscipiens Dominus clamydem coccineam in se, sanguinem mundi, idest peccata suscepit." (Homil. 35 in Matt. 27:29)
In assuming and wearing before heaven and earth the degrading livery of sin, our dear Lord had also to bear the burning shame and confusion due to all sinners. He had moreover to endure a special mortification, and to feel a deep blush at the conduct of those worldly persons that boldly carry vice in triumph in the extravagance of public luxury in dress, in the ridiculous whims of modern fashions, and in the scandalous immodesty of unblushing vanity. Oh! If Christian men, and more especially if Christian women were able to reflect occasionally on the deep shame and confusion their criminal vanity and extravagance in dress caused our suffering Savior: they should remember that at the Baptismal font they were solemnly pledged to renounce worldly pomps and empty vanities and bound to appear in public, as St. Paul directs, "in decent apparel, adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, and not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array." (I Tim. 2:9) But alas! That modishness has affected the brain, and corrupted the heart of modern society, which disdains to listen to the voice of truth ...
Some courage and firmness of determination is certainly necessary to withstand the frothy, sweeping current of modern fashion, which carries away headlong so many thoughtless victims to the abyss of temporal ruin and eternal misery. But let more serious Christians reflect that our Lord Jesus Christ, by the shame and ignominy which he underwent in Pilate's hall, has sanctified modesty and has acquired for Christian society the necessary grace and strength for resisting the seductions of worldly vanity. By bearing the humiliation and the blushing shame of the old scarlet cloak, our blessed Savior has hallowed evangelical poverty, simplicity, humility and modesty in dress. This is one of the principal reasons why the poor, humble and modest habit of religious persons is generally honored and respected not only among real Christians but also by Pagans and by savages as daily experience teaches. Let us conclude with the opportune words addressed by the Prince of the Apostles to all Christian women. "Considering your chaste conversation with fear: whose adorning let it not be in the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold, or the putting on of apparel; but in the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptibility of a quiet and meek spirit, which is rich in the sight of God." (1 Pet. 3:2)
The Fathers of the Church in their enlightened zeal frequently inculcated these salutary lessons with such warmth of eloquent power, that made a deep and lasting impression on the minds of their Christian auditors. The effects of their sermons were evident on the modesty of Christian society. All our female saints and great servants of God, have been remarkable for their strict modesty and evangelical simplicity in dress. The bright example of the holy Empress, St. Pulcheria, the daughter, sister and wife of an emperor, that of St. Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal, of St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, of St. Bridget, Duchess of Sweden, of St. Frances of Rome, in short of all Christian female saints should convince us that modesty in dress is the most valuable ornament of a Christian lady. "Favor is deceitful," the Holy Ghost says, "and beauty is vain: The woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her works praise her in the gates." (Prov. 31:30)
May all men of the present frivolous age understand and appreciate the worth and beauty of Christian modesty. It will adorn them in life, it will comfort them in death, and finally it will-clothe them with a mantle of glory during an ever blessed eternity, "when the Lord will reform the body of our lowliness, and make it like the body of his glory," as St. Paul teaches. (Philip 3:21)