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Modesty is an essential virtue August 23, 2011

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, Dallas Diocese, foolishness, General Catholic, North Deanery, sadness, scandals, Society, Virtue.

Modesty is one of the moral virtues, but one much ignored in our present culture.  Modesty of dress, in particular, has fallen by the wayside in many people’s considerations regarding what they wear.  A recent post at Renew America (meh), proposes a hypothetical letter to a priest, where the subject of immodest dress at Mass comes up.  The writer describes a semi-circular Church design, where people on one side are often all too visible to those on the other side of the half-circle.  The writer describes an exchange between a  young man and a priest in the confessional, wherein the young man relates the fact that his occasions and near occasions of sin are occurring at Mass, due to scantily clad women. 

I have experienced exactly that problem.  In a traditional church layout, all the people would face the same direction, with the pews in front blocking much of the view.  If someone was dressed immodestly, the temptation is limited to a small area.  But in many churches built in the last few decades, there are often occasions when people face each other.  There is one church I’ve been to down in Boerne that is really bad in this regard – the church seating is set up like a football stadium with congregants on both sides of a center aisle.  One has to look way down to one side to see the altar, and the priest tends to theatrically stroll up and down the large aisle during his homily.  You can’t help but see people plenty on the other side, especially those who sit in the front row.  I remember being there once, and there were several young ladies, likely still in their teens, wearing extremely short skirts.  It was very distracting (along with the entire layout of the church, which was and is heavily biased towards the ‘community’ aspect of the Mass), and, frankly, a certain near occasion of sin for me, and possibly an occasion of serious sin both for others, and for the ladies so dressed.  Yet another reason to favor traditional church design, and to stop having our church layouts specified by diocesan ‘liturgical committees) and architects focused primarily on sightlines, ingress and egress, and other really secondary considerations.

Fr. Acervo has some comments on the virtue of modesty.  While I do believe that priests should give regular sermons (at least once or twice a year) on the necessity of being both chaste in behavior and modest in dress, really, the practice of this virtue must start at home:

Modesty (which I’ve written about before HERE) is a virtue that must be taught at home and practiced everywhere, not only at church.  Modesty is about self-respect, treating one’s own dignity with care.  How do people expect to be treated with respect when they don’t treat themselves with respect by dressing so immodestly?

It’s also about not being an occasion of sin to others.  Both men and women need to be mindful of the messages their attire sends to other people.  Yes, we are responsible for the custody of our eyes.  But we must be careful not to be a source of temptation: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt 18:6).

Parents, protect your children’s beauty and dignity by teaching them how to be modest.

The author goes on to make some other excellent points in the article which you can read HERE.  His point about weddings is spot on.  A majority of weddings that I have done have involved people who were not appropriately dressed either in the bridal party or in the congregation. [In fact, I have found that weddings, even those celebrated in churches, seem to have morphed in to trolling grounds for unmarried (especially young) people.  Far too many young ladies dress very immodestly at weddings, wearing many of the same clothes they would wear out to a nightclub (which isn’t the right thing to do in the first place).  It is at times difficult to assent to assist at a wedding because of the the likelihood of scandal] People simply have forgotten (or have never been taught) how to act in church – talking, immodest clothing, eating, and drinking.  I once saw someone sitting in a pew drinking a cup of coffee. [there is a certain mega-church in town that serves concessions during their services, complete with drink vendors going up and down the aisles of the auditorium.  In fact, many of these megachurches do so.]

Here is an excellent sermon on proper behavior at Mass, from Audio Sancto:

Our Place in God\’s Plan for Grace in the World

In the end, it is simply a vice to dress immodestly.


1. Mary - August 23, 2011

I think it needs to be pointed out that as a female, I can be held accountable for the sins I could cause others to commit- if I dress revealingly, and a man sees me and goes and commits a mortal sin because of my lack of dress, I could be held accountable when I meet God face to face.

As a parent to young girls, I have to teach them to dress modestly. I am responsible for that for the same reason, I’m accountable for teaching my children proper dress.

It is similar to the WWJD phrase that was popular a few years ago, I must be thinking about how my actions or inactions can affect others.

2. Cori Hyland - August 24, 2011

Inevitably, if we are thinking about how to not be a stumbling block to our fellow man, we’re more likely to be saints ourselves. It’s that one step out, looking back at our actions that gives us the perspective to make some spiritual progress. It’s the same with lots of things…if something doesn’t work in context, like a painting or a computer program, what the heck good is it? If our style of dress is going to hurt someone, we might as well stay home and do laundry or sew (perhaps sew more fabric onto our clothing!!).

There was one thing that I’ve seen lately that was a good use of cleavage display, though. It was an ad on a box of a garment attachment intended to cover up cleavage. It showed a before and after pic of what a well-endowed woman looked like with and without it. Made so much visual sense that it really stood out. If a woman wants to be taken seriously, she might really not want to flaunt her stuff. There is a time and place to do that…and it’s much appreciated in those situations, right? But, for the general public…and in front of my 12, 10, and 8 yr old sons? Save it, ladies! We’ve all seen enough…and it isn’t airbrushed…so put it away.

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