Seamless Garment

When Jesus died on Mount Calvary, the soldiers stripped off His garment and cast lots for it. Because it
was a seamless cloth, they determined that it should not be torn and divided. As with the story of the
Messiah’s birth when the baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes, we use the image of a seamless
garment to illustrate how we, as a Christian society, ought to be clothed, i.e., instead of tearing and
dividing, we are to be one, much as it is stated in our nation’s motto “E pluribus unum.”

Cardinal Joseph Bernardine of Chicago, who died in 1996, was architect of the “Seamless Garment Ethic”
of the 1980s, a time when government leaders in Washington, D.C. often looked to American bishops for
moral authority and guidance. Though the influence and leadership of the United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops has waned drastically since then, a remnant of their impact still exists. Bernardine and
his colleagues hoped and prayed that our society—from courtrooms to classrooms, judicial and
legislative chambers to Christian and non-Christian churches, Wall Street to Main Street, pregnancy
clinics to hospice houses—would value and teach the seamless garment philosophy as they address
aspects of earthly existence. This understanding helps us reverence the dignity of life and a consistent
ethic from womb to tomb, cradle to grave, and conception to natural death.

If the seamless garment notion cloaked our diverse, multi-cultural society, it would broaden our scope
and behavior. For example, we would realize that the right to life is not limited to pre-natal existence in
the womb but inculcates all life issues: child-care and healthcare, euthanasia and the death penalty,
immigration and racism, unjust aggression and war, as well as a host of socio-political issues connected
to life’s dignity. A seamless justice would, likewise, seek unity in our diversity, especially across
divisional lines of color, wealth, power, creed, religion, social mores, and other demarcations that often
glare at us. The seamless garment would help us weave a fabric of understanding so that we could co-
exist be er in ways that establish common ground and unity, recognizing that all life-issues are

Kansas City’s history includes a sad chapter of redlining, a form of socio-economic and racial division
that, we might say, tears the fabric of society. Even our diocese, probably unknowingly, participated by
the way it grouped parishes. For example, an eastern deanery was clustered together along a north-
(old Saint Augustine), while the neighboring western deanery goes from the Plaza (Visitation)
to Martin City (Saint Thomas More) along the State Line. It would seem more seamless and broad-
thinking if we reached east and west rather than dividing along the narrow north-south seam.

I don’t know if our city or nation—or even some of our families—are suited well to wear Christ’s
seamless garment but I do believe that some of us, through religious, educational, legal, or political
channels, can influence increasingly more people to suit up, i.e., try on the sacred garment, see how it
fits, wear it around for a while, stretch in new directions, and move toward a more unified a itude that
honors God and more willfully respects people who’re different from us or who operate out of mindsets
that counter ours. If so, there might be less tearing and dividing. Wrapped in the seamless cloak, we
will be clothed in Christ’s undying presence and in majesty.