Marriage! The Virtue of Modesty
Few Catholics understand Modesty
I find that when dealing with the subject of modesty, particularly in regard to how one dresses, very few Catholics seem to understand either the true nature of modesty or the importance of this virtue. It is a very sensitive subject particularly for women, because it is always personal, dealing as it does with how we dress, how we choose to present ourselves and with how we would like others to see us. This is why some people get upset whenever this issue is raised.
Pitfalls to be Avoided
In coming to an understanding of the importance of modesty there are a couple of pitfalls that must be avoided. The first is the idea that the human body is bad. From this mistaken point of view, modesty is about covering as much of the body as possible because the body is inherently bad and will therefore have a corrupting influence on others. Therefore the body needs to be hidden away. It is easy to see that such an attitude will not attract many to dress modestly. It is also easy to see that this view is mistaken if we look to the account of creation in the book of Genesis.
“And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)
All that God creates is Good
All that God creates is good and at this time the man and the woman were not clothed. “And they were both naked: to wit, Adam and his wife: and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25) Which brings us to another of the pitfalls that must be avoided when discussing modesty. This is the denial of original sin! The human body is both good and beautiful, but man’s nature is fallen on account of original sin, which leaves in us a tendency to use the good things that God has created for unworthy purposes and sometimes even for evil purposes. The Church calls this tendency towards that which is evil, ‘concupiscence’ and we all have it. Baptism removes the ‘stain’ of original sin in our souls but it does not remove the effects of original sin.
Denial of Original Sin leads to Materialism
Those who deny, either explicitly or implicitly the fallen nature of man, which came about through original sin, tend to think that it does not matter how anyone behaves in public, so long as they don’t cause any physical harm to anyone else. The spiritual realm and the existence of sin are also denied, leaving only the material world from which one must derive as much pleasure and happiness as possible with the sole caveat being, that one does not physically harm another. Interestingly, in our modern corrupt age, this latter caveat can be set aside where there is mutual consent to the harm done. Immodesty is not an issue for those who think this way because dressing immodestly does not cause any physical harm to anyone else.
Modesty is Connected to the Mystery of the Incarnation
The Catholic understanding of modesty is surrounded by mystery and is directly connected to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. God is not constrained by time nor is God dependent on time. Time does not ‘pass’ for God. When God created Adam and Eve, He knew that they would fall and He also knew that this fall would lead to the Incarnation. “O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem”, – “O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer”. (Exultet, Easter Vigil Mass). Jesus Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, is Himself to be conceived within the immaculately conceived, yet fully human, body of the ever Virgin Mary. The fullness of the dignity that the Incarnation bestows on the human body of the Virgin Mary is beyond human comprehension. It is a great mystery how the body of a woman can itself contain and give birth to the creator of the universe.
The Exaltation of Mary – The Dogma of the Assumption
This exaltation of the body of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which itself bestows a great dignity on the bodies of all human beings because Our Lady is one of us, pales almost into insignificance when we consider that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, Himself became man.
It was because of this great dignity of the Blessed Virgin Mary that Pope Pius XII on November 1st 1950 proclaimed the Dogma of the Assumption in the apostolic constitution “Munificentissimus Deus”.
“by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” ( Munificentissimus Deus 44).
Belief in the Resurrection of the Body
He also urged the faithful as follows
“It is to be hoped that all the faithful will be stirred up to a stronger piety toward their heavenly Mother, and that the souls of all those who glory in the Christian name may be moved by the desire of sharing in the unity of Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body and of increasing their love for her who shows her motherly heart to all the members of this august body. And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.” ( Munificentissimus Deus 42).
The Mystery of Our Bodies
Our human bodies will rise once again on the last day and if we have died in a state of grace, they will enter into heaven to be re-united once again with our immortal souls. We know that nothing impure can enter into the presence of God, therefore there is a great mystery attached to the human body that deems these bodies worthy to be in God’s Holy Presence at the end of time. It is because of this great mystery that the virtue of modesty is so important and that the sin of immodesty is so repugnant.
Nine Ways of Co-Operating in the Sin of Another
During Advent, I looked at the nine ways in which we co-operate in the sins of another. It would seem to me that many of these nine ways are of particular relevance to the sin of immodesty. When those in authority over Catholic schools in Ireland, expect young women and girls to wear short immodest skirts and tights as part of their school uniform, they sin by consenting to what is sinful. They sin by command, in that the girls must wear these uniforms. They sin by counsel, in that the shallow standards they have adopted are seen by others as being OK because it is a Catholic school that has such an immodest uniform.
Immodesty is a Cause of Scandal
My wife was mortified and very saddened one time during a conversation she happened to be engaged in with a Muslim man about the Catholic faith. This man told her, that when he lived in England, he could always tell the Catholic school girls by the short skirts they wore. These immodest uniforms therefore, are also a cause of scandal to others.
The Good Example of Schools in Limerick
On the other hand, if you live in Limerick city, or are ever there when the young women are either coming from or going to school, you will notice that the three main secondary schools, who wear a blue, a maroon and a green uniform respectively, all have ankle length skirts as part of their uniform. It is a pleasure to see these young women going to and from their studies in beautiful modest uniforms. Somebody in having a good influence on the school dress code in Limerick, long may it continue and praise God for such wisdom, foresight and care for these young women.
Schools Promoting Immodesty
The schools that promote immodesty through their uniforms do a great disservice to the young women who are expected to wear this immodest clothing. The young women who happen to be slim, become objects of sexual desire for the young men who behold them. The young women who happen to be overweight, can become objects of ridicule, disdain and teasing, because the short skirts highlight the fact that they are overweight and draw attention to it. This is because immodest clothing emphasises the body.
Modest uniforms, such as those worn by the schoolgirls in Limerick, on the other hand, draw attention to the person of the young women as opposed to their bodies. There is a spiritual dimension to modest clothing. Pope Pius XII highlighted this in his address to the ‘Latin Union of High Fashion’ .
“In those cases in which the aim is to enhance the moral beauty of the person the style of the clothes will be such as almost to eclipse physical beauty in the austere shadow of concealment, to distract the attention of the senses, and concentrate reflection on the spirit.”
Co-Operating in Sin through Praise or Silence
Other ways in which we can co-operate in the sin of immodesty are by praise of the immodest attire and then by our silence in the face of such immodesty. This silence is particularly noticeable in Catholic young people’s organisations in Ireland whereby young, immodestly dressed women, are free to present themselves for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion whilst dressed immodestly. Some organise annual dances at which many of these young women dress immodestly, without anyone correcting them. Such silence in the face of immodesty is sinful, and because the matter of the sin concerns the virtue of purity, such sins are gravely sinful. This is a great danger in our time because, with full knowledge and full consent, those who dress immodestly are in danger of falling into mortal sin as are those who remain silent in the face of such dangers.
Remaining Silent does not Help our Young people
We are not doing our young people any favours by remaining silent or by ignoring this grave problem in our midst. As one American priest recently said “If we promote chastity out of one side of our mouths and, by our silence, give tacit approval to the immodesty in our midst, we are kidding ourselves. By saying nothing about the immodest dress among women (not to mention among men) we are perpetuating the image of women as objects of enjoyment. We are prolonging the denigration of women.” (Fr Thomas G Morrow).
We need a crusade in Ireland against immodesty. In my next article I will answer the objections of those who think that I am being a little prudish, or that I am exaggerating the problem, or who simply think that I have a fixation on women’s clothing. This is not primarily about women’s clothing, this is primarily about the salvation of souls. For us, nothing else should matter.
© John Lacken 2017
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