In his fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes, Danish author Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of a monarch known for his luxurious tastes. When two weavers offer him their services for an exquisite garment, he cannot say no. But they are swindlers. The weavers manage to fool the entire court by spreading the word that the fabric of the new robe will be so fine and light that it cannot be seen by stupid and dishonest people. The weavers charge for the finest silk and other precious materials, but pocket the money themselves. Pretending to work hard, they only move the empty loom for show. Several courtiers inspect the work and, afraid of being judged as stupid, burst into admiration, even though there is absolutely nothing to see. Finally, the false robe is finished. With dramatic gestures but empty hands, the weavers pretend to dress the emperor, who then rushes to parade his new clothes in front of the people. Once again, the entire court and the assembled crowd indulge in rapturous admiration, until a child sees through the charade and cries out: “But he hasn’t got any clothes on!”


Andersen’s story is one of vanity, prestige and, at its deepest level, fear – the fear of not being enough for the human beings we are. The emperor seeks the distraction and pomp of ever greater luxury, while his courtiers and subjects, fearful of falling out of favour, make fools of themselves in a ridiculous attempt not to appear so. It takes the eyes of a child to see that the emperor is naked.


The message from the Book of Genesis is not too far removed from the moral of Andersen’s tale. It is also about nakedness and the fear and shame of being exposed and vulnerable. Genesis unfolds the story from the beginning and tells of creation as God intended it to be, and how our trust in him, in the world and in ourselves was shaken. The message provoked by the serpent and that of the child in the fairytale was the same in both cases: you are naked. Both messages were true, but while one had been destructive, the other had the potential for healing.


In his encyclical Laudato Sì, Pope Francis writes that “we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.” The Pope calls for a conversion of heart, characterised by sobriety and humility, and a deep reflection on our connectedness with God and all of creation. The healing image that may guide us on this path is that of the naked Christ, who came into the world powerless and died on the cross powerless, thus winning the fullness of life for us all.


A prayer for our earth (from Laudato Sì)

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.








Sabine Schratz OP

Picture: “Adam and Eve” (1894) in the Flora Park in Düsseldorf-Unterbilk, Germany.

Photo by Joerg Wiegels.,_von_Nordwesten.jpg

Licence: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

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