I can imagine it now, you have clicked on the link and thought, what does she have to say about how I dress? What is it going to be this time? My skirt is too short? Top too tight? Same old same old – Modesty doesn’t change.
Well no, I’m not here to tell you how to dress and I’m not here to tell you how the Church wants you to dress, because as you will find out the Church doesn’t tell you how to dress. I’m here to share with you my own experiences as a young Catholic, discovering the truths of the Church in all things.
Before I go any further, I need to clarify a few points. Firstly, what is modesty? Modesty isn’t just one thing. It is a few things: freedom from vanity; regard for decency of behaviour, speech and dress; it is simplicity and moderation, and it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
I agree, it might sound old school, but it got me thinking, why would/do we even bother to dress and act modestly? I think that the biggest question here is that in order to understand modesty, we must understand the reason for it. You have probably heard it said (particularly for us girls) that we have to dress modestly so that we don’t cause others to sin. But let’s be honest, while this can happen (and we definitely don’t want to be the cause of someone else’s sin), in today’s world there is far worse out there, so long as we’re doing everything else right, then surely it doesn’t matter too much, right? It’s not really the best excuse for dressing however we want, but let’s not get side-tracked, why even consider dressing modestly in the first place…
*Here is where I insert a massive chunk of the Catechism and say ‘The End’. But there wouldn’t be much fun for either of us in that… *
Growing up Catholic is tough. One of the main reasons for this is living out one of the fruits of Confirmation called Purity (Chastity). We are bombarded by the Media with everything other than how to live a pure life. In the article ‘Catholic Dating for Dummies’ the lovely Bonnie Watt, beautifully sums up the truth about being in a chaste, but still loving relationship – it is far from easy!
‘The virtue and gift of Chasity, lets us love with upright and undivided heart.’ CCC 2520
Purity isn’t just about being chaste in relationships – waiting till marriage etc. – purity gives us the opportunity to love completely. It is not until we are living a pure life, through prayer, confession, regular communion and the grace of God, that we are able to say no to temptation.
Why is purity so important for modesty?
“Appearance arouses yearning in fools.” CCC 2520
Society tells us our bodies are made for pleasure (so does the Church, but in the context of marital, life giving love), for lusting and for my own gratification. This is so far from the truth. Our bodies are beautiful and sacred, and made for true love.
“Purity requires modesty, for modesty protects the intimate centre of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.” CCC 2520
This quote from the Catechism sums up beautifully the importance of modesty in today’s world. Love is “to will the good of the other.” In cultivating the virtue of modesty we are showing true love for ourselves and others.
Modesty is a highly debated topic in Catholic circles, especially amongst women. I have been in a few situations where people debate so strongly, they begin to lose sight of the bigger picture. We are all on this journey together, and it’s not easy. Women and men alike need to be supportive of each other in order to find the truth in a world so clouded with sin.
When you dress, try not to think, ‘Well he can look away, it’s my body and I can wear what I like‘. That may be the easiest thing to do, but we are called to dress in a way that promotes our dignity and protects the dignity of others, enabling them to recognise the beauty of who we really are, and not just a body!
But modesty isn’t always about how thick your straps are or how long your skirt is; rather it takes into consideration your whole person.
“Modesty is external and internal; it inspires one’s choice of clothing and encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships.” CCC 2520
For example, I could be completely covered and wearing baggy clothes, but I am walking and talking in a provocative manner. Yea, I don’t have everything hanging out, but I’m pretty much asking for people to look and think of me not as a person, but as a body. The way a woman holds herself and acts, speaks to the heart. I know it sounds clichéd, but they see the beauty of the interior person rather than just the beauty of the body.
Guys, be mindful of modesty too; it’s not as obvious for you but it often feels that – for us girls – we are the ones left to carry the weight of the modesty cross, and it’s hard. Have a think about it: there are definitely ways guys can dress and act when it comes to purity and modesty. Maybe for guys it’s purity of speech, more than dress…
The way you dress, the way you act, the way you speak all require purity of heart. It is not until we develop a purity of heart that we can begin to understand and live a ‘modest’ lifestyle. It’s not easy, I myself have tried to dress, speak and act in pure ways, but honestly sometimes it’s all too hard. I’m on a journey, we all are, and this journey is life with our final destination heaven. Through prayer and bucket loads of grace we will all get there.
Keep praying and striving for purity of heart!
St Maria Goretti – Pray for Us!