The cyber-wars over modesty have been raging for a while now. I became aware of this phenomenon when I posted a sign, similar to the one Vatican displays, on my Facebook wall. It clearly illustrates the do’s and don’ts of clothing while you are visiting. As I quickly found out, however, the sentiment on this prickly topic is not as black and white as I had first presumed – even among ‘good’ Catholics. Some of the comments on my wall made that very clear.
I have learned a lesson from all of this; there are, indeed, shades of grey when it comes to modesty. While I can understand the hard line that must be taken by a place like the Vatican – where allowing sleeveless dresses could and would easily morph into spaghetti straps – the lines can, and should, be softened when it comes to the day to day people attending a church near you.
Last night I read a sincerely distressed blog post concerning this very topic. In it, the writer spoke of her frustration in battling for modesty. And yet, she found that she had grown in her expectations and softened her attitude when dealing with others. This line of thinking resonated with me. It got me to pondering the stages of life and the origins of individuals.
As we are told in the Gospel of Luke, “…unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required”. Yet we are all infants, spiritually, who are simply in differing developmental stages. Some have been exposed to our wonderful Church for a longer period of time and have been taught throughout their lives by parents who learned before them. Others come into the Church as searching adults who have not been as readily catechized. Even among those who are cradle Catholics, there will be nuances of development and conscience.
This has led me to these conclusions in my quest for modesty:
- Promoting modesty to increase the respect given to women in these overly sexualized times is a burden carried by all of us - men and women alike. Ideally it will begin with our infant girls. We should feel the love of neighbor enough to reflect moral values in the way women are respected for their unique gift of femininity. Theirs is truly a place of dignity and honor.
- Although we are called to fraternal correction, we must always do so in a way that is helpful and not hurtful. There might be a time when we unintentionally cause hurt, so we must continue to love others and to allow them the room they need to develop their own conscience.
- There are concrete areas when it comes to modesty. It is a given that showing too much flesh is an occasion of sin for others. When we speak of extremes – cleavage, miniskirts, and strapless clothing – we are safe in knowing that these are hard and fast lines of decorum. However, this does not give us a right to judge the soul of another.
- There are grey areas as well. Whether or not to exclusively wear dresses, veils, or even dressy clothes is a cultural issue. That we would like to encourage others to wear their best – whatever their best may be – is an area that should ultimately come down to personal responsibility (or perhaps a pastor’s comment). After all, during the course of the Church calendar, we will all be hearing of wearing the appropriate ‘wedding garment’.
In conclusion, it is evident that we are called to be the best child of God that we can be. We should all strive for perfection every single day. However, we must distinguish between the black and white, and the grey areas. We must maintain our Christian charity, while maintaining our desire to help one another in this journey. And we must recognize that, as children of God, we are all unquestionably loved by Him. Our love in return must guide not just our dress, but also our interaction with our family – our brothers and sisters in Christ.