One of the topics of conversation this past Sunday in our virtual coffee gathering was how we are coping without going to the barber or hairdresser. Now since being in the monastery and having a barber who - no offence to Brother Angelo if he's reading this - wasn't exactly Vidal Sassoon, I have, for the most part, just cut my own hair. It's not terribly complicated, and if I mess up too bad (it's happened) I can just buzz it all off and start over. I don't colour my hair (as someone asked me on Sunday) so my haircare couldn't be simpler. On Sunday most others seemed to agree that, even if they hadn't got to the point where they would cut their own hair, they were worrying about it less. What else can one do?
We also talked about what we wore - or didn't wear - during this lockdown. I am a very early riser, but these days it's not unusual for me to stay in pyjamas until I go out for my evening walk (as the postman and many delivery persons can attest). On Sunday most others agreed that, even if they weren't constantly decked in pyjamas, they were worrying about what they wore less. What else can one do?
I have to say it's not an unwelcome development, this general relaxed attitude to appearances. Don't get me wrong - I look forward to some future sparkling social occasion where I will have the opportunity to get dressed to the nines - but concentrating less on how we look and what we wear is not a bad thing, to be sure.
Catherine of Siena, whose feast we celebrate today, wrote: "What is it you want to change? Your hair, your face, your body? Why? For God is in love with all those things and he might weep when they are gone." I love that image! It's very much also in line with what St Paul writes in our second lesson this evening that "we are what God has made us." A proper haircut, a nice colour and set, something fab to wear: there's no harm in any of this, of course. But all of these things pale in comparison with striving to be what God has made us, which is already pretty darned beautiful - so beautiful that our not recognising it might just cause the Almighty Himself to get choked up like an impassioned hairdresser.
There are those who say that concentrating on the beauty of creation and the beauty of humanity when there is so much ugliness around is a waste of time, that we need to focus on the ugliness and changing it. And I'm all for changing that in our world and in our lives which is ugly; I long for the correction of so many of society's ills. And I know that there are those in the world who cannot see the beauty, either in themselves or in the world around them; I long for them to be healed, whole, loved.
But I can't help it: I still think there is a beauty in the world and in humanity that is powerful. I think that ugliness has no real need of messengers - it sullies everything on its own without much effort. But beauty? It needs to be recognised, cherished, and pointed out to others. And then, bolstered by the awareness of all that God has given us - in ourselves and in our world - we begin to have the strength to go forth to change what is ugly. I see this pointing out of the beauty of God's creation as part of my vocation, not because I'm a priest, because I am a Christian, to echo Saint Paul: that what God has made me. And I'm not alone in this, of course; it really is the vocation of all of us.
And the nice thing about it? We can carry it out in pyjamas and sporting fuzzy, colourless hair.