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All that glitters


“Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.”— 1 Peter 3:3-4

I have always loved the world of fashion. Some of my earliest memories are of dressing my siblings and myself in different outfits, and crafting tiny dresses for my dolls out of fabric scraps. I believe that the clothing you choose to wear serve as an extension of yourself. My style has always been one of my defining characteristics, and until I began to pack for my mission I never questioned my love for the fashion world.

Recently, on a day of retreat and reflection hosted by Fr. Michael here at Valley, over 80 women gathered to focus on the theme of inner spiritual beauty. Guatemalan culture is similar to American culture in that it pressures women to be physically beautiful all the time. Advertisements featuring gorgeous women adorn the walls of buildings and the pages of magazines, and private gyms are becoming more popular to join. When I was living in Xela, I watched in awe every time I saw a Guatemalan woman effortlessly walk on the uneven cobblestone roads in four-inch platforms.

Before I left for Guatemala, I visited some friends in New York City. As we were eating brunch, one of them complimented my lipstick. She paused for a moment, and then said, “What are you going to do when you’re on mission with your clothes and makeup? What will you wear?” At first glance, that question may appear to be superficial, but, for me, it speaks to something deeper.

Maeve's friend from NYC who inspired this post

Maeve (right) and her friend Madeleine Murphy who inspired this post

During the retreat, Fr. Michael mentioned that oftentimes women dress a certain way to impress a man they like. I have witnessed this phenomenon throughout my life and while I can understand it, I’ve never been one of those girls. I dress in a way that is only for me. If a swipe of purple lipstick or a blindingly bright orange lace skirt makes me happy, then you can be sure I’m going to wear it. So in New York when my friend asked me what I was planning on wearing on mission, she was asking because she knew that the way I chose to present myself was synonymous with my humanity and my happiness.

In Greek, the word “kalos” means both “beauty” and “goodness.” When God created the world and declared all He made as “good,” then He was also saying that it was “beautiful.” Back home, as I packed my suitcases, I made the decision to change my approach to my appearance during my time on mission. I recognized that I wasn’t going on mission for myself, but to be an emissary of God’s love to others. My time at Valley is spent on recognizing the beauty in others and loving the students here for simply being. God doesn’t love us because we’re physically beautiful, or because we’re smart or talented. He loves us because we exist and we are His.

Toward the end of the retreat, Fr. Michael quoted the ancient philosopher Epictetus: “Know, first, who you are and adorn yourself accordingly.” So how am I going to adorn myself for these next few years? I think it’s time to start caring a little less about Paris Fashion Week, and focus on both the children’s and my own inner beauty.

Maeve Gilheney-Gallagher is a returned lay missioner with Franciscan Mission Service who served for two years at Valley of the Angels orphanage in Guatemala City, Guatemala. She currently serves on the FMS Board and works as the Global Solidarity Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Mission. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, Dan, and three-legged dog, Lola.