This Week's Reflection
Oratory Reflection 578: Washed Clean: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
“I, John, heard a voice saying to me: ‘Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates. ‘I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star.’ The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ Let the hearer say, ‘Come.’ Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water. The one who gives this testimony says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”
-Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
This reading suggests that we think about doing our dirty laundry. Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life. The next sentence begins, “I, Jesus,” so that here we have what may be the last recorded words that the Risen Lord spoke to us from heaven. They have the same form as the first words that Jesus spoke when he began his earthly ministry. According to St. Matthew, the first beatitude that Jesus spoke from the mountain was, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” In Revelation, the last beatitude that he speaks from heaven is, “Blessed are they who wash their robes.” There’s a connection between the two. For, those who are spiritually impoverished are those who know they are sinners; and those who know they are sinners are the ones who need to wash their robes clean in the Blood of Jesus.
Cistercian writers have often seen this symbol of the robe as an expression for moral character. Their favorite parable was the parable of the prodigal son, where the father, in the sheer exuberance of his love, orders his servants to bring the finest robe and put it on his son instead of the rags he had been wearing. The Cistercian rite of solemn profession speaks of the white cowl as “appointed by our holy Fathers to be worn by those who renounce the world, as a sign of innocence and humility.”
Abbot Adam, the 13th-century abbot of Perseigne, speaks of this tradition when he says: “O how much innocence of heart and purity of conduct ought to be in my monks, who imitate the whiteness of the virginal lily both by the habit’s whiteness and by title of their name! They are especially called white monks not only because they shine in white clothing but because they stand out as the spiritual ministers of virginal innocence.” A robe in this sense is much more than an article of clothing. It represents the person. It is an outward sign of the inner life, and corresponds roughly to what we might call character.
This mysterious robe that Jesus speaks about, the robe that stands for the moral life or character of the person, is made by each individual wearer in the course of his life. Every one of us, whether monk or layperson, carries about with us a mystical sewing machine, and we are always sewing this robe that we wear, with every thought and action becoming a thread in the robe. Moment by moment we make that mysterious thing that we call character. It is our own self, modified by our actions.
And all of our robes are dirty. Adam of Perseigne goes on to ask, “Why are we both poor and utterly dirty under our white habit?” It is a result of all that we have done in life, but if Jesus speaks of those who wash their robes clean, then there must be a way of doing so. The reading does not say how, but in another passage from the same Book of Revelation, we read that they washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. And in the first letter of St. John, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. The Christian paradox is that the red blood washes the dirty robes, because it has the same source as the water of life. Both flow from the side of Christ on the Cross. All who want it may have their sins forgiven and their character sanctified.
And to show that he loved us to the end, he gave us his Blood in the Eucharist, so that sins may be forgiven, and so that our character may have the possibility of changing for the better. Jesus says, “Blessed are they who wash their robes,” meaning that there will be many washings before our robes are clean. We don’t wash them once and for all, but repeatedly throughout our lives, as St. Benedict knew when he had his monks take a vow of continuous conversion.
We’re always getting our robes dirty again. But we can always come to the Fountain of love and mercy which is Jesus himself. In the Eucharist, we have a chance to bring all our dirty robes to Christ, who alone can make us clean. It’s up to us to receive his precious Blood with humble faith in its purifying power, though faith itself is a gift from Christ. We can feed on “the tree of life” today and every day of our lives, and at last enter the city through its gates, for we will have washed our robes clean in the Blood of the Lamb.
-Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO, Genesee Abbey
Edited by Erica Faunce
Jesus, Lover of chastity, Mary, Mother most pure, and Joseph, chaste guardian of the Virgin, to you I come at this hour, begging you to plead with God for me. I earnestly wish to be pure in thought, word, and deed in imitation of your own holy purity. Obtain for me, then, a deep sense of modesty which will be reflected in my external conduct. Protect my eyes, the windows of my soul, from anything that might dim the luster of a heart that must mirror only Christlike purity. And when the “Bread of Angels becomes the Bread of me” in my heart at Holy Communion, seal it forever against the suggestions of sinful pleasures. Heart of Jesus, Fount of all purity, have mercy on us!
“Every moment this Merciful Love renews me and purifies me, leaving in my soul no trace of sin.”
-St. Thérèse of Lisieux
What sorts of things can get our “robes” dirty? Is it always within our control?
What does it mean to be poor in Spirit? How is this a good thing?
In the lay vocation, how can we form for ourselves robes of purity and innocence?
Why does Jesus ask us to repeatedly wash our robes clean instead of doing so once and having done with it?
Why might Christ think it’s worthwhile to wash us clean over and over again?
In the reading from Revelation, how are thirst and cleanliness connected?
In the Old Testament, being marked with the blood of a sacrifice to God was a sign of purification and covenant. What does it mean when Christ himself is the sacrifice?