Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Speaking on Modesty: Continuing into Easter with Virtues

Thanks for joining this Lenten discussion as we move beyond the fast and into Easter! I'll be continuing to post thoughts by Catholic women and men who have something to share on modesty: what it is, how it's lived out, why it's important to them. I don't agree completely with all of these people, and I don't expect you to either; but I do want to open up a conversation. To make it easier, I've turned off the Capcha (you know, those horrible little letters and numbers you have to type to post a comment), so share your thoughts freely.

This week's post is from Christie at Everything to Someone! Thank you Christie for keeping the conversation going!

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Modesty is a word our society refuses to let be.  It comes packed with presumptions, loaded with condemnation.  The funny thing is, it's a dirty word no matter what side of the debate one is on.  To contemporary culture, hashtagged Culture of Death, modesty is a repressive tool of the patriarchy, made to shame women into covering themselves in drab, shapeless clothing.  But to the opposing side, what the pinheads call the Culture of Life, modesty is subversively negative.  It suggests a superiority of the fully clothed, a snobbery of those "in the know," who look down upon or with horror at the skimpily dressed.

Like most things, left to their own devices and un-tamperd by human interest, modesty in and of itself is not a bad thing.  In fact, it is a very good thing.  But I suggest it is a negative virtue.  That is, it is not something inherent in the created order as we know it now, but made necessary by the fall.  To augment what once was balanced.

So if modesty is a negative virtue, what is its opposite?  What is the positive virtue that ought to accompany it?  By itself, modesty means nothing if we do not have charity.  Modesty needs love--love of self, love of others, and love of Christ.


I fear contemporary practice of modesty is lopsided.  We care to keep our brethren from sin and temptation and treat our own bodies like temples, but we do not care to see the skin for what it is--the fearfully and wonderfully made clothing of a soul, whose Tailor is Perfection Itself.  Why have we made the body a thing of shame?  We hate our bodies, whether we are subjecting them to outside conceptions of beauty or rejecting beauty altogether in favor of hiding them.  A woman ought to look like a woman, not a sack of flour or a bean pole.  If that were the case, God would have made women in the shape of bean poles and flour sacks.

Yet, the body is more than clothing.  We aren't just souls carrying around flesh like luggage.  The Incarnation means that we are our bodies.  C.S. Lewis said, "You don't have a soul.  You are a soul."  I think the statement is correct and not at all invalidated when inverted: "You don't have a body.  You are a body."  Because the argument that Christ's body was just a vessel--something he happened to "have"--is a long-condemned heresy.  It's called Monophysitism.

As Christians, we ought to nurture a culture of life, without the capitals.  We oughtn't make everything a Cause, though causes are sometimes important.  We shouldn't forget the natural order of things: causes proceed from devotion.  Devotion proceeds from love.  If we do not have love in our discussions of modesty, in our very perception of it, then we do the very thing we hate, and objectify the human person.  He or she becomes a "cause" that needs "fixing."

Now, the pro-life movement is justified in making abortion its primary focus.  After all, if we as a society can't respect life at the outset, there's not much hope for the rest of it.  But it oughtn't to stop there.  Human rights issues, social justice, the fair treatment of those with handicaps and mental disabilities, and the care for our elders are just as important.  Being pro-life means respecting the sacredness of all life, from conception to natural death.  It means having a healthy reverence for the mystery that is personhood.

What does this reverence look like?

St. Nonnus

There is a story about a crowd of bishops who stood outside of a cathedral in a city when a beautiful prostitute happened to pass by.  All the bishops looked immediately away to avoid seduction.  But one stared intently at her.  "Does not the wonderful beauty of that woman delight you?" he asked them.  They could not answer, for they could not see as he did.  As for the prostitute, she had never been looked at by any human person in such a way--with pure delight in his sister creation.  It made such a powerful impression upon her that she later sought out the bishop and became a follower of Christ.

That bishop was Saint Nonnus; the prostitute, St. Pelagia.

The Life of St. Pelagia

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Christie lives in Wales with her adorable river-baby and dear, beloved husband. She blogs at Everything to Someone and Spinning Straw Into Gold, writes poetry for numerous small journals, keeps a lovely home (in WALES!), and builds her imagination on the scent of Faerie groves and the sweet mystery of the Eucharist.

If you've missed our earlier conversations:

Read Kate Madore's opening post on Modesty


  1. Oh wow, the bio you wrote for me is so lovely, just what I hope someone picture for me! (Although,it's often much less whimsical, that's still my aim!) Thank you, Masha.

    And you picked a Mucha pick . . . Mucha Mucha Mucha. Love it.

  2. oh good! I'm so glad! It's how I see your life :)

    and Mucha is so wonderful!!! Right!