Christopher West’s Theology of the Body

David L. Schindler
Provost/Dean and Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family

Regarding his interview on Nightline, Christopher West says that his remarks were taken out of context. In some sense, this is surely true. However, the comments as aired are the latest in a long list of statements and actions not inconsistent with the context set by the Nightline editors.

Though occasioned by West’s Nightline appearance, the present statement addresses his theology as a whole.

Let me stress that I agree with those who vigorously defend West’s intention of fidelity to the Church. Certainly he has had positive results in drawing many Catholics into a deeper understanding of their faith. As for myself, I do not initiate anything about West in my classes, but only respond when asked a question. Then I begin by emphasizing West’s intention of orthodoxy. As I have often put it, “he would throw himself in front of a bus for the Church.” It is important to understand, however, that good will is not synonymous with sound thought; and I must say, not without reluctance, that West’s work seems to me to misrepresent in significant ways the thought of John Paul II.

The following examples have been verified by persons directly involved or by things written by West himself (and I regret the necessary adoption of West’s own language).

West’s work has involved suggesting that a man and woman bless their genitals before making love; blessing the ovaries of women in his classes; advising young men in college and the seminary to look at their naked bodies in the mirror daily in order to overcome shame; using phallic symbolism to describe the Easter candle; criticizing “flat-chested” images of Mary in art while encouraging Catholics to “rediscover Mary’s … abundant breasts” (Crisis, March 2002); referring to the “bloodied membrane” of the placenta as a “tabernacle” (Colorado Catholic Herald, 12/22/06); stating that, while “there are some important health and aesthetic considerations that can’t be overlooked,” “there’s nothing inherently wrong with anal penetration as foreplay to normal intercourse,” (Good News About Sex and Marriage, 1st ed., emphasis in original), though qualifying this in the revised edition and stressing the subjective dangers of lust in such activity; and, on Nightline, praising Hugh Hefner for helping rescue sex from prudish Victorian attitudes, saying that there are “very profound historical connections between Hefner and John Paul II,” while emphasizing that John Paul II took the sexual revolution further and in the right direction.

I offer these examples not merely because they are vulgar and in bad taste, not to mention sometimes bordering on the just plain silly, but because they indicate a disordered approach to human sexuality. An objective distortion in approaching sexuality does not cease to be such simply because it is theologized. West to be sure will point toward the “orthodox” intentions and context of the examples, but my criticism bears on the substance of his preoccupation as reflected in the examples. (As a Thomist friend of mine used to say: pay attention to a man’s subjects, not his predicates.)

What, then, are the objections to West’s theology?

First, West misconstrues the meaning of concupiscence, stressing purity of intention one-sidedly when talking about problems of lust.

When I first pointed this problem out to him several years ago, his response was that he refused to limit the power of Christ to transform us. My response is that concupiscence dwells “objectively” in the body, and continues its “objective” presence in the body throughout the course of our infralapsarian existence; and that we should expect holiness to “trump” temptations or disordered tendencies in the area of sexuality exactly as often as we should expect holiness to “trump” the reality of having to undergo death.

Second, West has an inadequate notion of analogy. He conceives love in a reductive bodily-sexual sense, then reads the Christian mysteries as though they were somehow ever-greater and more perfect realizations of what he emphasizes as key in our own experience, namely, sex.

But sex is not even the most important part of human love, let alone the key to the Christian mysteries–the Eucharist, for example. Missing in West’s work is an adequate idea of the radical discontinuity (maior dissimilitudo) between the divine love revealed by God–and indeed the (supernatural) love to which we are called–and sexual love or intercourse. To be sure, the spousal love between man and woman is central in man’s imaging of God, and the gendered body and sexual relations are an integral sign and expression of spousal love, which also includes what John Paul II calls all the other manifestations of affection. However, as Joseph Ratzinger says, it is only because man has a capacity for God that he also has a capacity for another human being. The former indicates the “content,” the latter the “consequence,” of man’s likeness to God.

In the end, West, in his disproportionate emphasis on sex, promotes a pansexualist tendency that ties all important human and indeed supernatural activity back to sex without the necessary dissimilitudo.

Third, West’s treatment of shame and reverence is marred by a too-male vision of things–not only too much maleness but distorted maleness. If we could just get over our prudishness and sin-induced guilt, he seems to think, we would be ready simply to dispense with clothes and look at others in their nakedness. He has no discernible sense of the difference between what might be a feminine as distinct from masculine sense of unveiling. He (thus) lacks a reverence for the body entailing a modesty not reducible simply to shame, or again a patient reverence presupposing the “veiledness” proper to what essentially contains mystery. His work is preoccupied with what is external to the detriment of the interiority proper to persons. In this context, we can say that West’s theology ultimately lacks a Marian dimension: not in the sense that he fails to make references to Mary, but because his work is not adequately formed, in method or content, in Mary’s archetypal feminine-human sensibility.

Fourth, a style of preaching is not merely a matter of “style”–a difference in personality or taste. It is always-also a matter of theology itself. West often tends to treat resistance to the content of his lectures, for example during the question periods, as matters of resistance to the Holy Spirit (to the Spirit now speaking in and through West’s “charism”), urging questioners to pray to overcome the fear induced in them by their bad theological-spiritual formation. Well-balanced persons have spoken of how West makes them feel a sense of guilt, of resistance to the Holy Spirit, if they experience uneasiness about what he is saying.

Pope Benedict XVI’s sacramental “style,” integrated within the objectivity of a larger truth that always first calls ourselves into question even as we preach to others, provides a helpful lesson here.

Regarding Hefner: West fails to see that Hefner at root does not correct but misconceives and then only continues the error of America’s Puritan Protestantism. For both Puritanism and Hefner, the body is merely a tool, though to be manipulated differently: by the former exclusively for reproducing children and by Hefner for pleasure. It is not only Puritanism but also Hefner that fails to understand properly the body and bodily desires in their natural meaning as good.

In sum, West’s work provides a paradigm of what is most often criticized today in connection with John Paul II’s theology of the body–and rightly criticized, insofar as that theology is identified with West’s interpretation: namely, that it is too much about sex and too romantic.

West presents a problem for the Church, not because he lacks orthodox intentions, but because his unquestionably orthodox intentions render his theology, a priori, all the more credible. His work often deflects people from the beauty and depth of what is the authentic meaning of John Paul II’s anthropology of love, and thus of what was wrought in and through the Second Vatican Council. It is scarcely the first time in the history of the Church that abundant good will did not suffice to make one’s theology and vision of reality altogether true.

West has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Church. However, if his work is to bear the Catholic fruit he so ardently desires, he needs to subject basic aspects of his theology to renewed reflection.

David L. Schindler
Provost/Dean and Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology
Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family
The Catholic University of America
Washington, D.C.

The Christopher West Show: A Neo-Catholic Scandal

Christopher A. Ferrara
REMNANT COLUMNIST, New Jersey

from the Remnant Newspaper

Christopher West at a recent Theology of theBody road show in Hawaii.

(Posted 07/01/09 www.RemnantNewspaper.com) Christopher West’s appearance on Nightline, during which he praised Hugh Hefner and asserted that John Paul II advanced the sexual revolution “in the right direction,” is but the latest in a long series of scandals arising from West’s promotion of “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body” (TOB).  [Caveat: I am forced to quote some of that scandalous material here—not for the sake of multiplying scandal, but rather to demonstrate its existence as a warning to Catholics to keep themselves and their children away from this man’s morally offensive presentations, and those of his fellow “experts” in TOB.]

Based on his rendering of John Paul’s 129 deeply obscure audience addresses filled with the Pope’s clearly personal “reflections”  and “meditations” as a private doctor, West has turned TOB into a veritable branded product, complete with a Christopher West logo, which he markets in every conceivable venue with all the fervor and conviction of the late TV pitchman for OxiClean.  And the marketing pays off big: a million books and three million audios sold.  Yet another success story in Neo-Catholic Land.

TOB, West  exclaims, “has already begun a ‘sexual counter-revolution’ that’s changing lives around the world. The ‘fire’ is spreading and in due time we can expect global repercussions.”  Not impressed? Wait, there’s more!: “Brace yourself! If we take in what the Holy Father is saying in his Theology of the Body, we will never view ourselves, view others, view the Church, the Sacraments, grace, God, heaven, marriage, the celibate vocation…we will never view the world the same way again.

Oh come off it, will you?

The brilliant David L. Schindler, for one, has had quite enough of West, who was one of his students ten years ago at the John Paul II Institute.  After the Nightline appearance, Schindler wrote a subdued and (in my view) overly respectful but devastating critique of West’s “work,” including this catalogue of some of the countless examples of his former pupil’s notorious gutter-mouth at work (which I have separated into bullet points for easy reading).  The following are not to seen by children:

·                     suggesting that a man and woman bless their genitals before making love;

·                     blessing the ovaries of women in his classes;

·                     advising young men in college and the seminary to look at their naked bodies in the mirror daily in order to overcome shame;

·                     using phallic symbolism to describe the Easter candle;

·                     criticizing “flat-chested” images of Mary in art while encouraging Catholics to “rediscover Mary’s … abundant breasts” (Crisis, March 2002);

·                     referring to the “bloodied membrane” of the placenta as a “tabernacle” (Colorado Catholic Herald, 12/22/06);

·                     stating that, while “there are some important health and aesthetic considerations that can’t be overlooked,” “there’s nothing inherently wrong with anal penetration as foreplay to normal intercourse,” (Good News About Sex and Marriage, 1st ed., emphasis in original), though qualifying this in the revised edition and stressing the subjective dangers of lust in such activity;

·                     and, on Nightline, praising Hugh Hefner for helping rescue sex from prudish Victorian attitudes, saying that there are “very profound historical connections between Hefner and John Paul II,” while emphasizing that John Paul II took the sexual revolution further and in the right direction.

Predictably enough, Janet Smith, the doyenne of neo-Catholicism, rushed to West’s defense against Schindler. “I want to add my voice to those who are enthusiastic about the West/Theology of the Body phenomenon,” she writes. In Neo-Catholic Land, you see, one must always applaud and defend the latest “phenomenon,” for phenomena and movements, rather than traditional Roman Catholic doctrine, dogma and liturgy, are what neo-Catholicism is all about—first and foremost the meta-phenomenon of Vatican II.

But what can one say in the face of the damning evidence Schindler presents?  One can only cavil about “context” and offer, as Smith does, the lame excuse that “it is important to keep in mind… who West’s audience is. It is largely the sexually wounded and confused who have been shaped by our promiscuous and licentious culture.”

Poppycock. Smith knows quite well that West is not speaking to little groups of sexually abused people in hushed tones in the privacy of their homes or in small meeting halls. He shoots his big mouth off and struts the stage in front of cameras and large audiences of well-adjusted Catholics, including parents who have had to flee the room in horror with their children. He plies his trade on his website, on EWTN, on YouTube, on network radio and television.  He wants the whole world to hear his “message,” and millions have.

Schindler, in a terribly difficult position because he is criticizing one of his own students, nevertheless has the integrity and the concern for souls to declare that West’s statements “indicate a disordered approach to human sexuality. An objective distortion in approaching sexuality does not cease to be such simply because it is theologized.”   Spot on.

The necessary implication of Schindler’s assessment is that West himself is inflicting a form of sexual abuse on his listeners.  And indeed he is. Running amuck with the all-but-impenetrable ambiguities of the original audience addresses, which he has no authority to interpret for anyone, West has turned the Pope’s “reflections” into the neo-Catholic novelty I explored in EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong: the “sexualization” of Roman Catholicism by elevating the physical aspect of marital relations to the level of a quasi-sacrament.

“Sex is holy,” West assures us, along with a host of neo-Catholic TOB apostles vying for the pulpit on EWTN and elsewhere. These include the equally foul-mouthed Gregory Popcak, whose work is heartily endorsed by West.  Popcak’s utterances have included the filthy and blasphemous suggestion on EWTN (“The Abundant Life,” broadcast of November 15, 2001) that married couples pray a “Lover’s Prayer,” in which they  “say something like ‘Lord, help me to kiss her with your lips. Help me to touch her with your hands and to love her with your undying passion….”

According to Popcak the answer to Deepak Chopra’s question “Does God have orgasms?” is “Absolutely yes. My own faith tradition teaches that God is a lover and that the cosmological orgasm physicists refer to as the Big Bang… is the model for human sexuality. Who wouldn’t give their eyeteeth for a night like that with their beloved?”

West gleefully offers the following disgusting endorsement of Popcak’s book “Holy Sex”:

Think of this book as Thomas Aquinas meets Dr. Ruth and enjoy…. Popcak goes right between the sheets, shall we say, providing a very frank, honest, and practical discussion of the sexual joys and challenges of the marriage bed…. Give Holy Sex a prayerful read and you will be on your way, as the good doctor puts it in classic Popcak-style, to “a toe-curling, eye-popping, mind blowing, deeply spiritual, and profoundly sacramental sexuality.”

“Dr. Ruth,” in case anyone doesn’t know, is Ruth Westheimer, the Jewish TV “sex therapist” whose presentations are so sexually explicit that not even West would dare quote them. Yet West is delighted by a book that (so he claims) somehow combines her obscene approach with the teaching of the Angelic Doctor.

At any rate, the Magisterium has used a number of terms to describe the sexual act, but “holy” has never been one of them. The physical act involved in reproduction (as distinguished from the soul infused at conception) can no more be holy than eating a good meal can be holy. Both are bodily goods, but goodness and holiness are two different things—a distinction that has been lost in the general conflation of grace and nature in post-conciliar thinking.

Further, the sexual act involves a dark mystery to which West is apparently oblivious. As Pope Pius XI observes in Casti Connubii, a classic statement of traditional Catholic teaching on human sexuality: “the very natural process of generating life has become the way of death by which original sin is passed on to posterity…” (Casti Connubii, n. 14).

The sexual act, while of course not evil in itself, is nevertheless by the divine command an instrument for the transmission of death itself and the corruption of human nature on account of Adam’s transgression, even though it also results in the creation of an immortal soul. Then, of course, the sexual act is fraught with our inherited concupiscence. Hence as John Paul II himself admitted in his audience address of October 10, 1980: “Man can commit this adultery in the heart also with regard to his own wife, if he treats her only as an object to satisfy instinct.”  (There is nothing new here, as the Church has always spoken of the right use of the marital privilege, and the avoidance of a lustful abuse of it.) For these reasons alone, any attempt to declare the sex act “holy” is offensive to pious ears at best.

And if “sex is holy” (as opposed to being a mere bodily good) why does the Catholic mind reel in horror at the thought of Our Lord or Our Lady engaging in even legitimate nuptial relations?  Why is the celibate state exemplified by Christ Himself and the very Mother of God higher than the married state according to Sacred Scripture and all of Tradition?  Why will there be no “holy sex” of any kind in heaven, if holy it is?  The answer is that the sexual act is a lowly and passing thing of this world to which a penalty must attach because of original sin, and that in the divine plan it will never be anything but an ephemeral aspect of earthly existence having no part whatsoever in the life eternal of the blessed.

But the answer to the problem of Christopher West is really much more basic than all this. Has our sensus catholicus been so dulled, our standard of decency so abased by forty years of novelty in the Church and depravity in the culture, that we cannot muster enough outrage to declare that someone who says the things that West says is simply a vulgar pig who should be silenced by ecclesiastical authority for the good of souls?

As for the “theology of the body,” I see no duty to pay it any mind in the absence of a binding Magisterial pronouncement on what, if any, binding doctrinal content is to be found in 129 talks filled with such tentative expressions as “It can be said,” “we can think,” “can convince us,” “seems to confirm this,” “it can be affirmed,” “it is admittedly not possible to amplify this implication too much,” and “we are trying to penetrate the specific meaning of these words and these chapters.”

As even TOB enthusiast George Weigel has written: “A small, even microscopic percentage of the world’s Catholics even know that a ‘theology of the body’ exists.  Why? The density of John Paul’s material is one factor; a secondary literature capable of ‘translating’ John Paul’s thought into more accessible categories and vocabulary is badly needed.”  (Witness to Hope, p. 343).

I rather doubt that theological truths of momentous importance for the Church and the world were left unspoken for nearly 2,000 years, only to emerge suddenly in “John Paul’s thought” by way of little-known addresses so “dense” they need to be “translated” by “secondary literature.” Yet the lay “translators” of TOB preposterously “interpret” a series of opaque commentaries as nothing less than the hope of the world in our time, the implication being—and this is classic neo-Catholicism—that the Church’s teaching on marriage and procreation before Vatican II was all pretty much worthless.

The Magisterium does not teach by “secondary literature” written by “translators.” It teaches by unequivocal pronouncements of Popes and Councils concerning what Catholics must believe. No such pronouncements have been forthcoming on this nebulous subject.

Much less does the Magisterium teach through the likes of Christopher West, the self-anointed lay prophet of a novel theology he seems to think is the Church’s only claim to credibility concerning marriage and procreation.  As one tribute to him explains:

Christopher West was not always a spokesperson for the teaching of the Pope and the Catholic Church…. A very passionate but not exactly chaste young man of 21, Christopher nearly left the Catholic Church because what he considered the repressed and antiquated teaching of the Church against contraception. But before checking out of the Church of his youth, West decided to allow the Church a chance to explain herself….  [H]e read Pope John Paul II’s  129 Wednesday audiences on the theology of the body.  “They changed the way I see the whole universe,” said West.  “I knew then that I would spend the rest of my life studying the pope’s theology of the body and making it accessible to others.”

We see here the essence of neo-Catholic arrogance and selective deference to the Church: the sadly deficient Church was given a chance to explain herself and—lo and behold!—the Church restored her claim to allegiance with the novel remarks of John Paul II, which this layman will now “make accessible” to the world.

And this from a man who finds deep meaning in rock music and the movie Spiderman III (which he admits has occupied his thoughts for several  years), publicly brags about his own rock drumming, and pounds his chest to the beat of a U2 song while belting out “DEE-SIIIII-RE!” to illustrate one of his excruciatingly sophomoric “theology” lectures.

In a video available on his website, West expresses sympathy for Katy Perry, the rock star whose lesbian-tinged hit “I Kissed a Girl” represents, according to him, an example of how rock music explores themes “from the depths of the human heart…” whereas “saccharine Christian music” is “afraid to go there.” West contends that because Perry was “raised in a Christian home” in a “repressive Christian atmosphere” in which “her parents forbade her to listen to anything but Christian music,” she just had to turn to rock and roll to express how “deeply wounded” she is. West admits he is “only guessing” about Perry’s “repressive” upbringing, but this does not prevent him from calumniating her parents on the World Wide Web.

To appreciate how “deeply wounded” poor Katy is, West suggests watching her video on YouTube in which she is “in bed with one guy, thinking about this other guy” or another video in which “she is cutting herself with this knife, blood is all over her cleavage.”  We must not condemn this sort of thing mindlessly, he insists, but rather try to understand its meaning concerning the wounding of Perry’s soul by her Puritanical upbringing. “I am sick and tired of this Puritanical BS that passes for Christianity!” he declares to his worldwide audience.

And this is the man who peddles the product called “John Paul II’s Theology of the Body”® to audiences filled with impressionable young Catholics. Have good Catholics completely lost their minds? Even if there were bona fide Catholic doctrine to be found in the “theology of the body,” could the situation in the Church have become so parlous that we would have to learn it from an oversexed man-child with a dirty mouth?

No matter what his intentions, Christopher West’s “mission” is but another sign of the apocalyptic decline of our time in the midst of the worst crisis in Church history. West deserves prayers for his conversion and repentance no less than the public condemnation his scandals require. And may God bless Dr. Schindler for having the courage to speak out against this wildly popular false prophet who was once his student.

A Young Lady Looks at Life – St. Thérèse of Lisieux

This site compiled this information.

Extracts taken from A biography of a Soul

Pride

There was another fault I had when wide awake, which Mama doesn’t mention in her letters, and this was an excessive self-love. I will give only two examples of this in order not to prolong the recital. One day, Mama said: “Little Therese, if you kiss the ground I’ll give you a sou.” A sou was a fortune at the time and to get it I didn’t have to lower my dignity too much, my little frame didn’t put much of a distance between my lips and the ground. And still my pride revolted at the thought of “kissing the ground”; so standing up straight, I said to Mama: “Oh! no, little Mother, I would prefer not to have the sou!”

Vanity

Another time we had to go to Grogny to Mme. Monnier’s home. Mama told Marie to dress me in my Sky-blue frock with the lace trimmings but not to leave my arms bare lest the Sun burn them. I allowed myself to be dressed with the indifference a child of my age should really have, but I thought within myself that I would look much more pretty with my arms bare.

Vigilance of Parents

With a nature such as my own, had I been reared by Parents without virtue or even if I had been spoiled by the maid, Louise, as Celine was, I would have become very bad and perhaps have even been lost.

Flattery

I was six or seven years old when Papa brought us to Trouville. Never will I forget the impression the sea made upon me; I couldn’t take my eyes off it since its majesty, the roaring of its waves, everything spoke to my soul of God’s grandeur and power. I recall during the walk on the seashore a man and a woman were looking at me as I ran ahead of Papa. They came and asked him if I were his little daughter and said I was a very pretty little girl. Papa said, “Yes,” but I noticed the sign he made to them not to pay me any compliments. It was the first time I’d heard it said I was pretty and this pleased me as I didn’t think I was. You always took great care, Mother, to allow me to come in contact with nothing that could destroy my innocence, and you saw it, too, that I heard nothing capable of giving rise to vanity in my heart. As I listened to what you and Marie said, and as you had never directed any compliments to me, I gave no great importance to the words or admiring glances of this woman.

The World and Worldliness

God gave me the grace of knowing the world just enough to despise it and separate myself from it. I can say it was during my stay at Alencon that I made my first entrance into the world. Everything was joy and happiness around me; I was entertained, coddled and admired; in a word, my life during those two weeks was strewn only with flowers. I must admit this type of life had its charms for me. Wisdom is right in saying: “The bewitching of vanity overturns the innocent mind!” At the age of ten the heart allows itself to be easily dazzled, and I consider it a great grace not to have remained at Alencon. The friends we had there were too worldly; they knew too well how to ally the joys of this earth to the service of God. They didn’t think about death enough, and yet death had paid its visit to a great number of those whom I knew, the young, the rich, the happy! I love to return in spirit to the enchanting places where they lived, wondering where these people are, what became of their houses and gardens where I saw them enjoy life’s luxuries? And I see that all is vanity and vexation of spirit under the sun, that the only good is to love God with all one’s heart and to be poor in spirit here on earth.

Flattery again

With my nose in the book, I heard everything that was said around me and even those things it would have been better for me not to hear because vanity slips so easily into the heart. One lady said I had pretty hair; another, when she was leaving, believing she was not overheard, asked who the very beautiful young girl was. These words, all the more flattering since they were not spoken in my presence, left in my soul a pleasurable impression that showed me clearly how much I was filled with self-love. Oh! how I pity souls that are lost! It is so easy to go astray on the flowery paths of the world. Undoubtedly, for a soul a little advanced spiritually, the sweetness which the world offers is mixed with bitterness, and the immense void of the desires cannot be filled by the praises of an instant. However, if my heart had not been raised to God from the dawn of reason, if the world had smiled on me from my entrance into life, what would have become of me? O my dear Mother, with what gratitude I sing the Mercies of the Lord! Did He not, according to the words of Wisdom: “…drawn me from the world before my spirit was corrupted by its malice and before its deceitful appearances had seduced my soul?” The Blessed Virgin, too, watched over her little flower and, not wanting her to be tarnished by contact with worldly things, drew her to her mountain before she blossomed.

Possessions and Worldly Honors

During the course of the whole trip, we were lodged in princely hotels; never had I been surrounded with so much luxury. There’s no mistake about it: riches don’t bring happiness, for I would have been much happier under that thatched roof with the hope of Carmel in the offing, than in the midst of these sumptuous dwellings, these marble staircases, and silk tapestries, and all the while bitterness in my heart! Ah! I really felt it: joy isn’t found in the material objects surrounding us but in the inner recesses of the soul. One can possess joy in a prison cell as well as in a palace. The proof of this: I am happier in Carmel even in the midst of interior and exterior trials than in the world surrounded by the comforts of life, and even the sweetness of the paternal hearth!

Criticizing How Others Dress: Charity is Needed!

We at OfficialCatholicModesty.com could not agree more with this lady who wrote a letter to the Editor objecting to the crude and terrible lack of charity and just plain mean way Marion Horvatt dissected pro lifers and how they dressed, using them as “examples” of vanity and vulgarity.. when truly these are young people laying their lives on the line for the precious unborn. There are few things as nasty and decidedly un-Christian as this.

Photo used as “evidence” of immodesty in women by Ms. Horvatt.
National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002

Below is the Letter to the Editor written by Julia Howell.


Objection to the Article ‘Three Photos Tell the Story:
Good Ideas Fit with Good Customs’

Letter to the Editor of The Remnant

I am writing in protest at Marion Horvatt’s article “3 Photos Tell the Story” (15th Dec 2002) in which she saw fit to criticise the appearance of those taking part in a pro-life rally.

I was appalled by the bitterness and lack of Christian charity shown by Dr Horvatt. How dare she criticise women on a pro-life demonstration! A demonstration is not the time when a woman’s elegance is of any real relevance to the issue. I took part in a Rescue in London in the late eighties when I was a student at London University in which Joan Andrews also took part. As we were being carried away by policemen I was glad that I was wearing trousers.

Horvatt cites a letter Cardinal Siri written in 1960, but the voice of one Cardinal is not the voice of the Church. There is a great danger in traditionalists setting themselves up as arbitrators of Catholic teaching. Some traditionalists carry this argument to an extreme, in saying that women should not go to University because, among many other things, their education would, apparently, make it difficult for them to obey their husbands. (SSPX website for Canada). While asking what it would actually say of Catholic teaching if it were indeed true that the success of a marriage can only be built on the ignorance of women, I also ask wheredoes that leave Ms. Horvatt with her PhD, if this is the type of extreme thinking that she adopts?

In our cold climate I regularly wear trousers as a way of keeping warm. I can assure Ms. Horvatt that my gender has never been called into question. Those who distort the issue into a question of gender identifiction gratuitously insult women. If one morning I suggested to my husband that he wear a pair of my trousershe would give me the most weird look imaginable! If I went into a local men’s store and asked to be measured for a pair of trousers, they would direct me to the women’s store where I would find WOMEN’S trousers.

If women wearing trousers is women cross-dressing, then men shaving is men imitating women. Dr. Horvatt cannot have it both ways. A blanket condemnation of trousers is out of proportion, and is turning young people away from the traditional movement since it does not reflect reality.

However, what alarms me the most about Dr. Horvatt’s article is her distinct lack of charity. One of the women’s crimes in the top photo is that she is “not as pretty” and is shorter and fatter than the woman on her right.

The poor young man who’s spending his free time at a pro life demo is accused of vanity since Dr. Horvatt speculates “his sleeves are rolled under for vanity’s sake (to give an even tan on his arms).” Horvatt does seem possessed of quite a fertile imagination when it comes to the people’s motives for what they are wearing, and she always imparts uncharitable motives to them.

No, that’s not quite true. The women from the 1972 demonstration calling for divorce is Italy is praised for her “well-coiffed hair..pulled back into what would be an elegant twist or roll. Her outfit is distinguished by tasteful jewellery that reflects a desire to appear distinguished and noble.” The poor young pro-lifers and other Catholic demonstrators way of being and walking is later contrasted with the pro-divorce woman’s “Catholic way of being and walking”.

So women who are pro-divorce Horvatt sees fit to praise with the adjective “Catholic” and the pro-lifers of 2002 are described as “vulgar”. What sort of twisted values are these? Perhaps instead of spending so much time analysing photographs Dr. Horvatt should spend some time reading the Bible where Our Lord in his life on earth condemns the Pharisees more than any other single thing and the Our Lord in the Divine Mercy apparitions (which are accepted by the Conciliar Church and traditionalists alike) condemns those who lack mercy.

No one escapes Dr. Horvatt’s arrogant and obsessive censure! She comments on one young lady’s “not so elegant legs”. She also condemns this young woman for drinking “straight from a gallon jug container.” I advise Horvatt never to go on the Chartres Pilgrimage. I can only speak for the one organised by the SSPX , not that organised by the SSPeter so enthusiastically promoted by the Remnant, but I can assure Horvatt that, horror of horrors, women actually drink from wine bottles, and yes, wear trousers…

Horvatt ends her article with a warning that “I hope these photos will serve as a warning to traditionalists…”. Sadly, it is not the photos which serve as the warning but her article, which shows that we are becoming those “ugly traditionalists” which I recall the editor, some issues ago, was

 Yours sincerely

 Julia Howell, London, England

Understanding Modesty: Objective Standards and Practical Insights

Originally posted on this website —> here.

BY STEFANIE NICHOLAS

This article is featured in the current Print Edition (August 2019) of Catholic Family News (subscribe HERE; current subscribers can access the E-Edition HERE).

Editor’s Note: In preparation for tomorrow’s great Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, we offer the following essay by Stefanie Nicholas, who candidly shares about her own journey from worldly to Marian standards of dress and behavior. Once again, her honesty about past faults, as well as her zeal for God and souls, is truly an inspiration and a gift for the Church at this critical time.

Miss Nicholas will be addressing the Fatima Youth Conference next month (Sept. 20-22, 2019) in Cleveland, Ohio. This conference, hosted by The Fatima Center, is designed specifically for young adults (under 30) and features first-class speakers and great Catholic camaraderie. Spread the word and consider either attending or sponsoring a young Catholic in your life to attend!

*****

Conversion to Modesty

By the time I converted to Catholicism in the spring of 2018, I already thought myself to be quite modest in my dress. I never wore shirts that showed my midsection or with super low necklines. I didn’t wear “daisy dukes”, or leggings as pants, or bikinis without a t-shirt and shorts, or skirts that would show my underclothes if I were to bend slightly over. When I first converted and began attending a Novus Ordo parish, I immediately started wearing only dresses or skirts on Sundays, and then over time I gave myself the same rule for daily Mass. At a minimum, I began wearing long shirts or sweaters that covered over the top of my jeans at Mass, and then outside of it, realizing that my favorite comfy skinny jeans showed pretty much everything.

Several months later, I attended a traditional Catholic conference in Ireland and realized that, compared to the majority of the women there, my dresses and skirts were far too short and my necklines were far too revealing. I feel the sting of humiliation when I look back on how I looked when speaking to holy nuns and priests, all of whom who treated me with the utmost kindness and respect despite my attire!

I felt a conviction stirring in my heart after that conference, but it was not a new longing. I remember that even years ago, while I was living an entirely secular life, I would look at photographs and blog posts from women who went “skirts only”. I saw the beauty of it, I wanted to take those steps myself, but I was terrified of what people would think. And, as a functional agnostic, I had no reason to really follow this wild dream! My conversion to Catholicism was a surprise to me. My conversion to modesty? Not so much.

Profound Impact of Veiling at Mass

My whole experience with dress parallels my journey to veiling at Mass, and I believe it was through the practice of veiling that I was able to find the courage to go the rest of the way. Truly, it’s often the little “unimportant” things we do that have the deepest impact!

It took me a few months after wanting to veil while still in the Novus Ordo to actually take the plunge. Often, I was the only woman veiling in the entire building. Divine Providence is often incomprehensible, but I believe firmly that a large part of the reason God permitted me to remain in the Novus Ordo for as long as He did was so that He could teach me something very important: if I provide the will, He will provide the courage. Eventually, I realized I didn’t mind being one of two women wearing the veil anymore. I didn’t mind praying the Rosary in a public street or on an airplane anymore. I didn’t mind praying before eating at a restaurant. I stopped worrying about a whole lot of things that used to send my anxiety through the roof.

When I was blessed to begin attending a diocesan Traditional Latin Mass, I knew that it was time to do what the law written within my heart had been calling me to do for a very long time. It was during Advent, the season of joyous anticipation, and I prepared myself for the coming of my Lord as well as for the beginning of January, when I had decided I would stop wearing pants in public and try my best to adhere to what is commonly called Marian modesty standards (more on this subject later). It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I seek to keep making it for the rest of my life. It’s also a decision I share with joy, posting photos on my social media of this feminine creature God is molding me into, clad in skirts and dresses in snow and summer alike, a woman I hardly recognize when I think of my old self. It’s here where the trouble usually starts.

“Let Your Light Shine Before Men”

As is common whenever one shares anything about the good that God has done for them and within them, a handful of commenters will be quick to spout some portion of Matthew 6:1-5[1] while neglecting to recall Matthew 5:16[2]! I post these things not to receive praise or because I think I’m holy, but because I remember the impact that seeing real, relatable women in modest dress had on me, even while I was still living as a worldling. If I can be that example for one other woman, without falling into sins of spiritual pride myself (I know I need to pray for humility every single day), it’s worth it, particularly in a world where contemporary examples of modesty are virtually nonexistent.

These sorts of negative comments seem to follow the common idea that the internal disposition of modesty is not only disconnected from the exterior proof of the virtue but is somehow negated by it! Quite the contrary, modesty of heart and behavior are integrally connected to modesty of dress. St. Jerome, the great Scripture scholar and Doctor of the Church, once counseled a young widow in a letter to her that “we must either speak as we are dressed, or else dress as we speak. Why do we profess one thing, and practice another? The tongue talks of chastity, but the rest of the body reveals incontinence” (Letter 54, n. 7).

Recently, I prodded the subject of modesty standards with a ten-foot pole, posting on Facebook that “[…] choosing to wear skirts and dresses exclusively is a decision I wish I’d made sooner. I was so scared of what people would think that I was content to ignore God convicting my heart” and referring to it as a “countercultural choice”. It didn’t take long for a woman from Patheos Catholic to share the post to her page, spawning dozens of negative comments, many of them outright nasty personal attacks on my character. The problem, so far as I can ascertain it from the words of the commenters, was not that I chose only to wear skirts and dresses, or that I took photos of it, or that I personally felt like God called me to it and that it was best for me, but that I dared to even hint at the idea that “my way” was superior to the equally valid paths to modesty that other women have chosen.

Objective Standards of Modesty

We see this same acceptance of relativism-as-dogma in so many areas of Catholic life, and modesty is no exception. The vast majority of Catholics today, whether consciously or not, have accepted the idea that there exists no objective standard of modesty that is a morally binding norm for men and women, at least when it comes to calling them to a higher standard than they currently hold. However, barring the sort of “Catholics” who think that Pride parade attire is acceptable at Mass, even the more progressive among us would acknowledge that there is a line of decency somewhere. In other words, most people hopefully recognize that certain fashion choices are objectively unacceptable (although some do give evidence to the contrary), but very few seem willing to ask the question, “How does God want me to dress?”

I find it all the more disappointing that so many “conservative” Catholics are apparently unwilling to ask this basic question, those who would surely think short shorts and crop tops at Mass are unacceptable. It is here that the debate really comes to a head. These Catholics want people like me to provide authoritative, binding, magisterial documents proving that “my” modesty standards are the correct ones, while providing no such proof for their own claims. By their own standards of what rises to the level of binding Church teaching, how do they know that it’s unacceptable to wear short shorts and crop tops at Mass?

Oh, sure, they’ll cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) published by Pope John Paul II (likely unaware of the non-infallible nature of almost all catechisms as such), which includes the line, “Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden” (CCC, n. 2521). Well, who is to say that short shorts and crop tops, which technically cover the obvious “intimate centers” of a person, aren’t modest? Many “conservative” Catholics have been rightly scandalized to see popular Catholic convert and YouTuber Lizzie Reezay defending the Victoria’s Secret fashion show on the specious grounds that “[m]odesty is completely cultural” (i.e. totally subjective – see here, time stamp 13:56-13:59), but their views of modesty differ from hers only in degree, not kind.

The reality is that popular standards today for what is “modest” – the same standards to which I myself used to subscribe – are based entirely on their relation to more extreme present trends. In other words, they are subjective by definition and are not tied to any fixed norm of modesty. Our Lady of Fatima, on the other hand, made it very clear to little Jacinta Marto, the youngest of the three child seers, that modesty is something objective and unchanging, as evidenced by the following words of Jacinta to one of her caregivers shortly before her death in 1920:

“My dear Mother [Godinho], the sins that bring most souls to Hell are the sins of the flesh. Certain fashions are going to be introduced which will offend Our Lord very much. Those who serve God should not follow these fashions. The Church has no fashions; Our Lord is always the same.”[3]

Authoritative Sources on Modesty Standards

It’s common when engaging a debate about modesty for the other side to demand a universal, infallible, and thus binding list of what is modest and what isn’t. From time to time, I witness fellow traditional Catholic women believing that they are obliging this request by linking to the “Marylike Standards” document released under Pope Pius XI, and far too often doing so from poorly designed personal websites that do not appear credible and in some cases add their own words to those of the Cardinal-Vicar who approved the document. While it is true that truth is truth even if presented poorly, and also true that these guidelines are excellent, we must be careful not to seek to prove too much and lose entirely the spirit of the law, that is, the proper Catholic principles pertaining to discerning modest attire. However, that being said, this document is likely the most specific set of guidelines the Church has ever given on this issue, so it is not something we should dismiss as unworthy of our obedience in conscience.

It’s important to note there are some elements of modest dress that can be relative to other factors, and that those who debate with members of the Marian modesty movement are right in that the Church has not decreed definitively that a dress must always reach the ankles, or that sleeves must always extend to the wrist, or even that women wearing any form of pants is an intrinsic evil in all circumstances. The very documents used to argue in favor of the Marian modesty movement, for example, often “contradict” each other in terms of things like whether sleeves can be quarter length or must go past the elbow. In light of correct principles these differences represent no contradiction at all, but they do speak to the peril of desiring to defend objective standards in a way that lacks nuance.

In the May 2019 edition of Catholic Family News, I wrote about the modern problems surrounding Natural Family Planning (namely, the idea that it is acceptable to use it for any reason whatsoever within marriage), and I dealt with very similar objections. In both debates, we find the same apparent dearth of binding magisterial documents that pertain to specifics. And in both debates, the reason for this is the same: during the time period when the Pope and the Bishops were still bothering themselves with guiding souls, these popular ideas being preached today were so alien to Christian sentiment that they scarcely needed mentioning. To put it bluntly, it doesn’t matter that the Church has never released a document explicitly condemning the common wearing of pants by women. Even setting aside the implicit conclusion of the teaching in the “Marylike Modesty Standards” document (mentioned above), it seems evident to me that in light of unchanging moral principles, common sense, and the natural law that wearing pants (without perhaps some grave reason) would have been unthinkable to our foremothers. To understand this in our confused age, we must look first to the reason that modesty is mandated by Divine decree.

Reasons for Modesty

It is popular today to proclaim that the purpose of modesty is solely to preserve personal dignity before God and within society. While that is of course a very good reason to dress oneself properly, it is not the only reason. We have a moral obligation in charity to dress in such a way that we do not intentionally or carelessly lead others to sin. As Pope Pius XII stated in a pamphlet written for women’s organizations in Italy (quoted here), “The good of our soul is more important than that of our body; and we have to prefer the spiritual welfare of our neighbor to our bodily comforts. If a certain kind of dress constitutes a grave and proximate occasion of sin, and endangers the salvation of your soul and others, it is your duty to give it up.”

St. John Chrysostom, another fourth-century Doctor of the Church (like St. Jerome), preached about the serious need for men to practice custody of the eyes in reference to Our Lord’s prohibition against looking with lust (cf. Matt. 5:27-30). At the same time, though, he did not hesitate to affirm the importance of women dressing modestly, stating that “assuredly, should one deck herself out, and invite towards herself the eyes of such as fall in her way; even though she smite not him that meets with her, she incurs the utmost penalty: for she mixed the poison, she prepared the hemlock, even though she did not offer the cup” (Homily 17 on St. Matthew’s Gospel, n. 2). We could point to many similar quotes by Saints and Popes, and the fact that they were not given as part of a solemn decree is irrelevant. The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Catholic Church has always taught that causing a man to sin by dressing immodestly is in itself sinful, and in many cases mortally sinful.

Though modesty is mandated for both men and women, it is my experience that women in particular find these teachings to be “hard sayings”. Men frequently sin against the virtue of modesty in our day and age, but it is my honest opinion that women do so more commonly and more gravely, particularly because of the biological differences between men and women in how they react to visual stimuli. Most women today, and even devout Catholic women, are operating under very innovative ideas about how God created men and women. This should come as no surprise when we examine the history of feminism in general, and note the ways in which changes in women’s dress was part of the broader ideological subversion of natural gender roles.

The Pants Question

It is here that the “pants question” finds real context. Anyone who has ever dared to state publicly that pants are not fitting attire for women (let alone implied that they can be sinful to wear!) knows that doing so draws more ire than defending the Inquisitions ever could! I agree entirely with this presently controversial position, but as with Marian modesty in general, it’s often too easy to make true arguments which still miss the crux of the issue. In a 1960 document entitled, “Notification Concerning Men’s Dress Worn By Women”, Giuseppe Cardinal Siri rightly noted that some women’s pants cover more and cling to the figure less than certain skirt and dress styles do. However, the Cardinal further stated that “it is a different aspect of women’s wearing of men’s trousers which seems to us the gravest.”

The entire document is well worth reading and rather prophetic, noting the ways in which this egalitarian and utilitarian shift in women’s attire has affected her own psychology, her relationships with men, and her dignity in the eyes of her children. Of particular note is this passage:

“In truth, the motive impelling women to wear men’s dress is always that of imitating, nay, of competing with, the man who is considered stronger, less tied down, more independent. This motivation shows clearly that male dress is the visible aid to bringing about a mental attitude of being ‘like a man.’ Secondly, ever since men have been men, the clothing a person wears, demands, imposes and modifies that person’s gestures, attitudes and behavior, such that from merely being worn outside, clothing comes to impose a particular frame of mind inside.”

In light of the Cardinal’s words, an important question comes to mind: Who was it who began the trend of women wearing pants in Christian societies? It should come as no surprise that it was feminist activists, including such big names as Susan B. Anthony and Cady Elizabeth Stanton, who first began to clothe themselves in trousers. These early advocates of trousers for women were unambiguous in their belief that women were not simply wearing pants for simple stylistic interest or even for comfort, but as part of their broader attempts to craft a more “egalitarian” society. In other words, trousers began as a direct attack on natural gender roles. As much as certain people may wish to twist themselves into knots in order to try and prove that women wearing pants doesn’t really contradict Deuteronomy 22:5,[4] in light of the deep impact this simple shift in clothing has had on modern society it seems these words of Holy Scripture are just as relevant and convicting today as they were at the time they were written.

Conclusion – Imitate Our Lady

In a little-known but excellent 1957 address entitled, “Moral Problems In Fashion Design”, Pope Pius XII concluded his remarks with these poignant words: “It is often said almost with passive resignation that fashions reflect the customs of a people. But it would be more exact and much more useful to say that they express the decision and moral direction that a nation intends to take: either to be shipwrecked in licentiousness or maintain itself at the level to which it has been raised by religion and civilization.”

Perhaps instead of asking how far we can go without overstepping the customs of modesty, we should be asking how we can dress in such a way that strengthens the whole of society by bringing it up to a higher level of Christian virtue. As faithful Catholics, our models of conduct should not be culled from the exalted figures of the ever-changing world, but from the Saints who gloried God in their bodies (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20) and are now with Him eternally in Heaven. What better way is there to bring the world closer to Christ than by placing ourselves as willing servants in the hands of she who brought Christ to the world?

It is the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the standard for modesty, and though the Church in using her as a model has given us trustworthy and necessary guidelines, we must never forget that Our Lady is a person, not a simple list of hem lengths and preferred fabrics. She dressed with perfect modesty, which reflected the perfection of the internal virtue of modesty within her soul. She certainly did not wear pants, nor did she feel the need to “wear the pants” in any way pertaining to her behavior or even her internal dispositions. Despite being the Queen Mother of Christ the King, she submitted in perfect charity and humility to her carpenter husband Saint Joseph.

My main reason for choosing to wear exclusively dresses and skirts is simple: If it’s good enough for the Mother of God, it’s an honor for me to imitate her.

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[1] “Take heed that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by them: otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1).

[2] “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

[3] This is quote is found in The True Story of Fatima: A Complete Account of the Fatima Apparitions (originally published in 1947) by Fr. John de Marchi, I.M.C. (p. 72 of the paperback edition printed by The Fatima Center). As Sister Lucia (in her Memoirs) and Fr. de Marchi both relate, Jacinta continued receiving private apparitions of Our Lady until her death on Feb. 20, 1920. “After each visit of Our Lady,” Fr. Marchi explains, “Jacinta spoke with wisdom far beyond her age, education or experience.” (True Story of Fatima, p. 72). For an excellent resource on modesty from The Fatima Center, see the booklet “Our Lady of Fatima Stressed … Modesty in Dress”.

[4] “A woman shall not be clothed with man’s apparel, neither shall a man use woman’s apparel: for he that doeth these things is abominable before God” (Deut. 22:5).

Holy Mass Etiquette and Attire – What Every Good Catholic Must Know

Reposted from FishEaters

Cover photo: Caramia Caballero | @caramiaelenakatarinakristina

The basic idea of how we should behave in Church is summed up by the Second Council of Lyons, A.D. 1274:

It is fitting that He Whose abode has been established in peace should be worshipped in peace and with due reverence. Churches, then, should be entered humbly and devoutly; behaviour inside should be calm, pleasing to God, bringing peace to the beholders, a source not only of instruction but of mental refreshment. Those who assemble in church should extol with an act of special reverence that Name which is above every Name, than which no other under Heaven has been given to people, in which believers must be saved, the Name, that is, of Jesus Christ, Who will save His people from their sins. Each should fulfil in himself that which is written for all, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow; whenever that glorious Name is recalled, especially during the sacred Mysteries of the Mass, everyone should bow the knees of his heart, which he can do even by a bow of his head. In churches the sacred solemnities should possess the whole heart and mind; the whole attention should be given to prayer.

Attire

People have no problem, it seems, dressing for weddings, funerals, office parties, or dates — but seem to think that dressing to meet Almighty God at the Mass is passé. But dressing for Mass is simply a matter of showing proper respect, not only for God, but for others around you. It’s certainly not a matter of showing off one’s finery — lots of people don’t even have fine clothes. Certainly, too, some people may attend certain Masses — say the 5:30 PM Masses — on their way home from their construction jobs. Fine! There is nothing to worry about in these things! Never let circumstances out of your control make you feel embarrassed or keep you away from the Sacraments! But one should always wear clothes that are modest, and, if possible, all things being equal, clean and the nicest clothes one has.

Below are some guidelines for proper attire (which also apply for other liturgies, such as Eucharistic Adoration or the Divine Office, etc.):

Shorts & Sweats:

Just say no.

Blue Jeans:

Nice blue jeans can be “OK” (but just OK), especially if dressed up, but are not ideal. But if jeans are all you have, then, by golly, wear jeans!

Ties and Jackets:

Typical for men and considered the mark of the “well-dressed” male in the West. If you have no suit or jacket, then come in the best you have, if possible.

Head Coverings:

Laymen never wear hats in churches (except for rare ceremonial reasons on the part of some confraternities and lay associations).

On the other hand, women do cover their heads and have from the very first day of the Church. Headcoverings (mantillas, scarves, hats, etc.) are put on before entering the church — at least before entering the church proper; they aren’t necessary in the narthex) and are removed after leaving the church (or in the narthex). Please read more about veiling here. Some parishes and chapels will have veils available for women who don’t have any.

Special to Women:

Like men, women should wear their “Sunday best,” which in the West is typically considered to be a dress or skirt. If dresses or skirts are worn, hemlines should cover the knees when standing and sitting, shoulders should be covered (i.e., “tank top” dresses and spaghetti straps are not kosher), and necklines should be modest. If you have no dress or skirt, then wear the best outfit you have, if possible.

Just a note on lipstick: if you wear some, be sure to blot really well before kissing icons, statues, the priest’s hands, etc. (“Girlfriend Tip”: get the kind that doesn’t “kiss off” or smudge…)

Cell Phones/Pagers:

Turn them off. Oh, please, turn them off. Or at least set them to vibrate if you truly need to know if you’re getting a call.

Etiquette

This is beyond “etiquette,” but I will note here that you are to fast before receiving the Eucharist, and are to refrain from receiving the Eucharist if you are in a state of mortal sin. If you are a public, unrepentant sinner, the priest has every right and duty to not offer you the Body of Christ.
General deportment in a church and at the Mass should be based on these Truths:
Christ is present in the tabernacle. Therefore, respect the sanctuary as the holiest area of the church; it is the Holy of Holies.
During the Mass, we are at the foot of the Cross, witnessing the re-presentation of the Sacrifice at Calvary. How would you behave if you could see, in a way very apparent to the senses, Christ on the Cross, pouring out His Blood for you? What sort of gratitude and reverence would you exhibit? Look upon the Mass with the eyes of faith, and know that the all too common focus on the Mass only or primarily as “celebratory meal” or a “happy gathering” is in no way Catholic and in no way represents the Truth of what the Mass is.
If you’re not shy, greet newcomers outside or in the Narthex (NOT in the church itself!) as they come in or leave. Make them feel welcome; learn their names. Give them eye contact, a warm handshake, a friendly pat on the back. Introduce them to the priest after Mass if they haven’t already met. Let them know they are welcome, wanted, and entering the House of God. If they are new parishioners, talk to them sometime about events and associations in your parish. If there are coffee and donuts or some such being served after Mass, invite them! Go out of your way to make them feel at home. (Of course, on the other hand, some people are loners or are in very contemplative moods before Mass or just like to go to Mass and be left alone. Use your intuition and respect their wishes — but a smile never hurt a loner, either!)
When you enter the Church,
cross yourself with Holy Water and thank God for the grace given to you at Baptism.

When you reach your pew, genuflect toward the Tabernacle in the Sanctuary before sitting down.
Keep sacred silence in the church. Avoid unecessary conversation and keep necessary conversation to a very low whisper. The Church is a lot holier than a library, eh?
Please try to be on time for Mass! Sometimes things can’t be helped, without doubt — cars break down, babies need changing, alarm clocks fail to go off — but chronic lateness for the Mass is rude and disruptive.
Confession: If you go to
Confession right before Mass, let the priest know how many people are in line behind you for the Confessional. If you have an extremely long confession to make and there are many people behind you and Mass begins soon, mention only mortal sins or make your confession at a later date (and do NOT receive the Eucharist if any of the sins you need to confess are mortal!).

When someone is in the Confessional, keep a very wide berth of it. It’s very, very rude — very rude — to stand anywhere near the Confessional when it is in use by another. (I always put a hand over my ear that faces the Confessional if I have to pass by it and someone is in there with the priest. It’s not that one can overhear what is going on inside the Confessional — I never have, at least — but it helps signal to others that the Confessional is a very safe, private place that all Catholics understand needs to be respected as such).
Children: Children sometimes can’t help making a bit of noise at Mass — but it’s usually the kind of noise we Catholics love to hear (what’s better than new Catholics, especially little tiny ones?). If your child is out of control, though, or disruptive enough to distract people or makes it hard for others to hear or contemplate, take him to the Narthex, the “Cry Room,” or outside. Remember, too, that an acceptable level of noise to you as a parent might be one thing because you are so used to hearing your children that you take their sounds for granted; others might find that same noise very distracting. And, please, don’t let your children kick the backs of the pews or turn around and stare at people behind them.

Note that children under the age of reason (7 years old) aren’t required to assist at Mass, so, while it is extremely laudable to bring children of ALL ages to Mass, it is also OK to leave them at home, too, if it makes things easier on you or if they are particularly cranky or boisterous one day (my prayer, though, is that parents do bring their children to Mass as often as possible!).

It might be best if couples with tiny infants and very young toddlers sat in the back of the church and at the end of the pew, if possible, so that if you must leave to tend to your children, your departure won’t be distracting. Children who are old enough to pay some attention, though, might be better off sitting in front so that they can watch more closely what the priest and altar boys do. This will not only help them learn about the Mass, but will keep their attention occupied so they’ll be less restive. Children who are old enough to read should have children’s missals so they can follow along.

Encourage your child’s attention at the Mass by teaching him and by asking him questions beforehand, giving him things to watch for. As an example, you could ask him: how many times the priest makes the Sign of the Cross during the Mass, and let him try to count them; what side of the Altar the priest chants the Epistle from; at what times the bells ring; how often the exchange “Dominus vobiscum” and “Et cum spiritu tuo” is made; to discover what his favorite chanted melody is and what the words mean, etc. Ask him to look and listen for things that help us to know what liturgical season it is, for example the presence or absence of the alleluia or gloria, the liturgical colors used, etc.

Have him listen to the priest’s sermon and to the Gospel readings, and then have him repeat it back to you at the after-Mass breakfast or during dinner. Ask him questions about what he heard during the sermon and Gospel readings, what it means, what he thinks about what he heard, what questions he might have, to draw pictures that depict today’s Gospel, etc. Make these exchanges fun and interesting, though; we don’t want “Church” to be seen as a chore or a bore, and the child shouldn’t feel as if he’s being put through an inquisition.
Do not chew gum or bring food or drinks into the church. The only exceptions are discreetly breastfeeding or giving a bottle to an infant (or, of course, rare medical emergencies such as giving water to a person reviving from having fainted, etc. True charity trumps all law, and law exists to serve charity.).
Never applaud in church for any reason.
Do not pray in the orans position (with arms extended upwards or outwards) during the liturgy. Though it is an ancient, natural, and beautiful prayer posture — rather like a child reaching up to his Father — and though it is commonly seen among the laity in the Novus Ordo Mass, it is a posture reserved for priests during the properly-offered Mass. Pray in the orans position all you want at home.

Hand-holding during the Our Father: This is not a traditional Catholic practice. It’s fine if you want to hold hands with family or friends you’ve come with, but don’t grab strangers’ hands or engage in the pew-jumping and running down the aisles to find someones’ hand that goes on during the Novus Ordo rite.
During the Offertory (the very first part of the Mass of the Faithful) is when the collection is taken. Have your offering prepared before you get to church and ready to pull out at this time. The ushers will move from the front of the church to the back, away from the Altar. How much to give is left to your discretion, as we are not bound by the Old Testament laws of tithing but are bound, as a
precept of the Church, to support the Church as a general command.
If you’re not
receiving the Eucharist, be sure to raise the kneeler, if necessary, and make room for people to cross in front of you so they can go stand in line.
When you receive the Host, don’t chew on it like it’s a piece of steak; let it soften in your mouth, then swallow. One does not respond “Amen” or with any gesture but the
Sign of the Cross after receiving the Host, unlike in the Novus Ordo.
After receiving Communion, keep a “custody of the eyes.” Walk back to your seat with eyes in front of you, toward the floor. The most traditional posture after receving Communion is to walk with your hands in the “prayer position” — palms together, fingers pointing upward, held at chest level. When you reach your pew, it is customary to kneel after Communion.

Both before and after you’ve received, maintain this “custody of the eyes” and don’t watch people as they return to their seats. Though the Eucharist unites us into one Body, it is, paradoxically, a very intimate time that calls for intense gratitude and individual contemplation (you may see people cover their faces with their hands or veils for a sense of privacy).
The Mass is not truly over until the priest has left the Altar. Don’t sneak out after Communion.
When it is time to leave (i.e., after the priest has descended from the Altar and left the building), those sitting in the front pews generally leave first (“first in, first out”). This order should be maintained because we genuflect again upon leaving our pew — and we shouldn’t be genuflecting toward some guy walking toward us down the aisle or blocking his exit.

When you do exit your pew to leave the church, genuflect once again toward the Tabernacle. Some Catholics also again sign themselves with Holy Water when leaving the Church (a perfectly fine, pious custom, but one which isn’t related to the historically-rooted purposes of blessing oneself upon entering the church).
Non-Catholic Guests: If you bring a non-Catholic guest to Mass, explain to him the meaning of the Mass, its parts, what to expect, etc, beforehand. And definitely explain to him lovingly, before you arrive at church, why he is not allowed to receive the Eucharist. Assure him that he is most welcome, and that we are glad he is with us, but that we Catholics know that the apparent “mere bread and wine” are truly the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Tell him that if that is not how he sees it, we believe he would be eating and drinking judgment on himself — 1 Corinthians 11:29 — and that we would be absolutely remiss in allowing him to receive the Eucharist without discerning the Body of Christ. Explain that even if he does believe it, Catholics who are not in a state of grace and young Latin Catholics who haven’t yet been properly prepared for their “
First Communion” don’t receive the Eucharist, so it’s nothing personal.

…and if he does believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, teach him about the rest of Catholic teaching and get him to convert!
Refraining from judgementalism: Do not sit in judgement of those who come to Mass not knowing the proper attire and etiquette (I speak here of the good-willed who are simply ignorant, not of public, persistent, unrepentant sinners who use the Mass for political purposes, who flaunt Divine Law intentionally, etc. Even with that latter group of people, we are to refrain from personal judgements and are to love them in Truth, even as we judge their actions and protect our Church).

Instruct those who are new to the Church gently and lovingly — and mostly by good example. Ideally, churches and chapels will have the basic expectations written somewhere in the Narthex, in parish bulletins, in pamphlets in the pews, etc, but in any case, dirty looks and an accusing tone hurled at a newcomer are uncalled for; much more Christian — and effective — is a simple, “Ah! You’re new here! Welcome! It’s great that you’re here! Here is some information that will help you feel comfortable at this parish; please, if you have any questions, just ask!” — all wrapped up in a warm, genuine smile.

Instead of thrusting a veil at an unveiled woman and looking at her as though she’s the devil incarnate, give her a big smile and a “Oh, sister, you don’t have a veil? Here’s one that would look pretty on you!” or some other such thing (assuming you can speak genuinely). If she isn’t receptive, just mind your own danged business and let Father deal with it his way.

Finally, don’t assume the ill-dressed even have better clothes or were in the circumstance of being able to access better clothes (maybe they’d been in an hospital waiting room all night, who knows? None of your business!). While we do owe our Lord our best, the Mass isn’t a fashion show, and we’ve lost the Christian message entirely if we are are “like to whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful but within are full of dead men’s bones and of all filthiness” — which sitting in judgement of other people without knowing their situation and acting like holier-than-thou Pharisees would make us.

US Judge Arthur Tuttle: “Immodesty the Most Sinister Influence”

Published in a Catholic Magazine: Page 16, Our Young People, Volumes 29-30, Copyrighted by St. John’s Institute, April 1919. Published with the approbation of Most Rev. S. G. Messmer, D. D., Archbishop of Milwaukee.

“Judge Arthur Tuttle, of the United States district court, said in Detroit: “American morals, the future of our race, are speeding towards destruction because of a growing delinquency among the country’s girl hood, tolerated yes, fostered by unsympathetic and careless mothers and fathers. Modern clothes spell ruination for the young women of today; fashionable immodesty is the greatest menace to our national life; a disappearing institution—the family fireside—must be revived to save the American girl in her ideal form. “As a nation we are losing our home life. The family fireside is a thing of the past, banished by a diversity of interests. It is easily accounted for why the divorce courts are working overtime and white slavery flourishes. I consider our fashionable immodesty the most sinister influence in all our national life and believe it is pulling many girls from the path of righteousness. “For how is it possible for a woman, child though she may be, not to grow calloused to shame when she endures, day after day, open and suggestive stares at her gossamer clad legs, bare knees, bare breasts and face painted so that even Jezebel would not have dared? And for these things I say mothers are responsible.”

Chief of Police Called For “Placing Responsibility” on Immodest Dress

PLACING A RESPONSIBILITY. An observation recently made by Mr. Joseph M. Quigley, Chief of Police of Rochester and brother of Thomas L. Quigley of this city and the late Archbishop Quigley, is so timely and pertinent that we reproduce it here: “The modern woman’s dress and manner are more to be blamed than the forwardness of man for the sup posed fact that ‘mashers’ have be come a nuisance to womankind. If women are bothered by male flirts who ogle them in public places, or accost them when they are alone, the woman who is the victim must share the blame if she invites advances by the sparseness of her costume and moral carelessness of her demeanor. “So long as women continue to appear in public in such low-necked, short-skirted and generally abbreviated costumes as you may see almost anywhere today, it will be no wonder that men continue to flirt with them. I do not believe that a woman, who is modestly dressed, has anything to fear. “The woman who is troubled by ‘mashers’ usually would do well to consider whether she herself is not at fault. It certainly is not remark able that men try to pick up an acquaintance With women who are dressed as so many of them are, in the height of immodesty. Such women provoke the masher into doing what he does by the display which their improper costumes afford. “If a half-dressed woman walks down a main street every man will turn around and look after her. That is not the man’s fault, but the woman’s. If the woman was properly dressed she would not attract unusual attention. “There is not a single place in Rochester where we would hesitate to send our police-women and they all know that. Let a woman who is dressed modestly go into any place, even where men who have the reputation of bothering women may be congregated, and I’ll wager that every man in that place will rise and take off his hat when she enters. A man instinctively admires and respects a modest woman. “You will find dirt wherever you pile it up, if you make no attempt to clean a place where dirt gathers, it is bound to become filthy. Licentiousness and immorality are to be found wherever they are encouraged Where they are discouraged, you will not find so much of them. “If there were more modest women, fewer women would be bothered by mashers. “I do not believe in spasmodic campaigns to curb the masher and correct other evils. I think it better to go to the root of the matter and by a constant and continued educational effort try to remove the cause.”

Page 23, Our Young People, Volumes 29-30, Copyrighted by St. John’s Institute, April 1919. Published with the approbation of Most Rev. S. G. Messmer, D. D., Archbishop of Milwaukee.

The Best Catholic Modesty Article – A Must Read!

The Catholic website “FishEaters” has a terrific article on MODESTY. We repost it here.

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 19:26-27: “A man is known by his look, and a wise man, when thou meetest him, is known by his countenance. The attire of the body, and the laughter of the teeth, and the gait of the man, shew what he is.”

I Timothy 2:9-10: “In like manner women also in decent apparel: adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety, not with plaited hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly attire, But as it becometh women professing godliness, with good works.”

Modesty, like continence, humility, and meekness, is annexed to the cardinal virtue Temperance (Wisdom 8:7) and has the reining in of human passions as its goal. Modesty aims to conform the exterior of man — his clothing, way of talking, his bearing — to the interior sense of humility that all Christians should have.

Now, because he lives in a fallen state, man is to be clothed. It is more than a matter of our need of protection from the elements as the very first book of the Bible reveals:

Genesis 3:6-7, 13-21
And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband, who did eat… And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons… And the Lord God said to the woman: Why hast thou done this? And she answered: The serpent deceived me, and I did eat. And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. To the woman also He said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee. And to Adam He said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee, that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work: with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return. And Adam called the name of his wife Eve: because she was the mother of all the living. And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.

God made Adam and Eve perfect and perfectly harmonious — with Himself and with each other. Then they sinned and saw themselves as they then were — fallen, separated from God and from each other. Having lost the grace with which they were created, they began to retreat into their own egos and blame each other, even God, for their sins: “the serpent deceived me,” “the woman you sent deceived me,” etc. The original harmony of the Garden broken, Adam and Eve no longer completed the other perfectly per God’s design, but were now in felt need of each other, a need they tried to fill by grasping the other through their concupiscence and brokenness. Their relationship was now tainted, and shame filled them as their nakedness came to be a sign of their incompleteness and vulnerability, and an inducement to lust. Sensing their isolation from each other and from God, they covered themselves with quickly-fashioned aprons. Then God Himself clothed them, replacing those fig leaf aprons with tunics (tunicas in the Vulgate, ktnvt in the Hebrew).

Our bodies are holy gifts to be revealed and given to another person only in marriage

Given all the talk about the shame of immodesty, one might get the impression that the Church sees the body as a “bad” thing, and that we cover ourselves because we are ugly. But this is not the case! Adam and Eve didn’t cover themselves because they were created “bad” or “ugly”; they covered themselves because, through the Fall, they no longer reflected what God made them to be: perfect complements of one another and the perfect image of their Creator. In covering themselves, they attempted to recover the dignity that they’d lost.

Pope Pius XII wrote in an address to those in the fashion industry:

The Church, on the contrary, does not censure or condemn styles when they are meant for the proper decorum and ornamentation of the body, but She never fails to warn the faithful against being easily led astray by them.

This positive attitude of the Church derives from reasons far higher than the mere aesthetic or hedonistic considerations which have been assumed by a renewed paganism. The Church knows and teaches that the human body, which is God’s masterpiece in the visible world, and which has been placed at the service of the soul, was elevated by the Divine Redeemer to the rank of a temple and an instrument of the Holy Spirit, and as such must be respected. The body’s beauty must therefore not be exalted as an end in itself, much less in such guise as will defile the dignity it has been endowed with.

No, the body is not an evil thing (though it is quite prone to evil and must be ruled by the head); it is “God’s masterpiece in the visible world,” elevated by the Christ — Who Himself took on human flesh — and made a temple at Baptism. Further, Jesus raised marriage to the level of a Sacrament, restoring it to what it was “in the beginning” (Matthew 19:8). In marriage, the man and woman can stand before each other naked, with no shame at all, just as Adam and Eve did “in the beginning.” Outside of that marriage covenant and the “Eden” of holy matrimony, however, revealing the body immodestly is shameful and leads to a lust that doesn’t honor the other in all ways as a person, but degrades him or her as an object. Only in marriage, where the spouse is a total gift — body and soul — to the other, is there no shame in revealing the vulnerability of our incompleteness.

An analogy: the very word “modesty” comes from the Latin modus, which means limit; clothing limits accessibility to that should only be given in marriage. Now, think of fire: is fire “bad”? No, fire warms us, cooks our food, enchants us with its beauty, and so on; but an uncontrolled fire, a fire without limit, destroys. It is the same with the body (and sex): modesty sets limits on the unveiling of what is goodso that it does not destroy. To be immodest is to eradicate those limits and to give to the world that to which it has no right but belongs to one’s spouse alone. It is to profane what should be treated as holy and to cheapen the gift of oneself.

The soul and body are one

In the article on veiling, I note that the things that are considered holy are veiled, e.g., the ciborium, the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, etc. We must regain the Christian view that our bodies are worthy of such veiling. Resist what our post-“Enlightenment” culture tries to tell us, and don’t believe that our bodies are commodities to be displayed and bought and sold. That view rests on the lie of dualism which sees our bodies as something apart from who “we” are. But we are not “souls with bodies” or “bodies with souls”; we are a unity of soul and body, a unity that must be treated as a unity.

The soul is created at the moment of our conception, and even after death this profound link between body and soul remains (which is why Christians value relics of the Saints). At the Last Judgement, our bodies will be resurrected and, if we die in a state of grace, glorified. We cannot treat our bodies as “things” that we “own”; they are a fundamental part of who we are. Accordingly, our exterior should reflect the soul, and a Christian’s soul calls for his to be body adorned in a Christian manner, with modesty, dignity, and holiness in mind.

For a woman, reflecting her human dignity entails understanding how her humanity is uniquely feminine. Dr. Alice von Hildebrand speaks well of this and recalls the fourth chapter of Solomon’s Canticle of Canticles when she wrote:

…there is something extraordinarily great and mysterious about femininity. And why do I say it is so great and so mysterious? Because you all know that every little girl that is born, is born with a seal, so to speak, protecting the mystery of her femininity, which is the womb. There is a seal and if you understand, a seal always indicates something which is sacred. The seal, which doesn’t exist in the male body, is profoundly symbolic and says this belongs to God in a special way. This is a sphere which is so beautiful and so profound that it cannot be touched upon, except with God’s permission, in a Catholic marriage.

When a girl or young woman is permitted to give the keys of this mysterious domain, this closed garden, to her husband-to-be, she says: “Up until now I have kept this garden virginal, now God has given me the keys and is allowing me to give them to you and I know that you will penetrate into it, with trembling reverence and gratitude”. The moment that a woman is embraced by her husband and a few hours afterwards she conceives, in this very moment, something absolutely amazing happens which once again illuminates the greatness of femininity. Neither husband nor wife can create a human soul. God alone can.

Of course there is the male seed and there is the female egg. These are material realities that God has put into the bodies and when they are united, an amazing thing happens. God creates a new human soul, totally new, which never existed before. Where? In the mystery of the female body. This is where the soul is conceived. It has nothing to do with the husband. The husband is out of the game at this point and the very moment that God creates a soul he implies that there is a special contact between God and the female body, so to speak, touching it in creating it. Once again, what an extraordinary privilege.

We are not radically isolated individuals, but a part of a community — a community with which we communicate

We’ve all heard people who, when confronted with calls for modesty, love to go on about their “rights.” “I have a right to dress any way I want, and only have to please myself! Don’t judge! You think I dress like a slut, but that doesn’t make me one!”

Well, the exercising of one’s political “rights” has consequences. People have political “rights” to do a lot of things that are unwise. One has a “right” never to bathe, too, but has no “right” to expect others to think one smells like roses. It would obviously be a logical fallacy to state as a proof that one who dresses like a slut necessarily sells her body for profit; but a woman who dresses that way is just as obviously dressing as someone who does.

The fact is, we are judged by our appearances — sometimes too harshly (“her skirt is 1/2 inch too short!”), sometimes for evil reasons (“look at her clothes; she obviously has no money!”), and sometimes for ridiculous standards that a person has no control over (“her nose is too big!”), sometimes by people who haven’t removed the beam from their own eye. Appearance is often held to be the only thing of value, in a woman especially — an attitude that causes great suffering to women who don’t look like the models in magazines (no one looks like that, by the way; airbrushing, soft lights, surgery, and make-up lie). And some women can be completely catty, turning “looking good” into a huge competition, and dishing dirt on other women’s looks in order to put them down.

Nonetheless, the things we do have control over can rightfully be deemed to be expressive of who we are. The Jerry Springer people who admonish the audience with an upturned palm and a “don’t judge!” when the latter laughs at their circus freak attire really need to ask themselves what they are trying to tell the world by dressing like circus freaks in the first place. If you don’t want the world to think of you and treat you like a circus freak, or a slut, or what have you, then don’t dress in a way that invites it.

The way we dress is simply a part of how we communicate to the world. Of all the people in the world, the Catholic should know this intuitively. We worship using gesture and posture and a million things that are not based on word alone, such as bells and incense and art. This strange “disconnect” between the verbal and non-verbal on which our modern culture expects us to base our ways of being and seeing is simply not human and not rooted in the Truth of the body-soul unity mentioned above.

What many modern fashions tend to communicate

Fashions today often tend to be about putting out the message, “I am sexy! Look at me! Want me! Look how ‘hot’ I am!” Now, a person can look as “hot” as she wants for her spouse (here’s what St. Thomas Aquinas says about that), but for a person to want to induce lust in strangers is — well, it’s evil. Our Lord said that “whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28) — and adultery is a mortal sin. Why would a person want to tempt a another to mortal sin?

James 1:14-15
But every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured. Then, when concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin. But sin, when it is completed, begetteth death.

Think about it. Imagine, say, that you have a profound weakness for chocolate but are giving it up for Lent. Then imagine that almost every person of the opposite sex you see is carrying boxes of chocolate just to tease you with, that every time you turn on the television you see luscious chocolate presented in the most sensous way. On every other billboard you pass and every magazine you see, there is that chocolate in full-color glossy print, photographed precisely to tempt you. This is life for many, especially men, in our sex-saturated culture. Don’t add to the problem; keep the words of St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 347 – 407) in mind:

You carry your snare everywhere and spread your net in all places. You allege that you never invite others to sin. You did not indeed, by your words, but you have done so by your dress and deportment and much more effectively than you could by your voice. When you have made another sin in his heart, how can you be innocent? Tell me whom does this world condemn? Whom do judges in court punish? Those who drink poison or those who prepare it and administer the fatal portion? You have prepared the abominable cup, you have given the death-dealing drink and you are more criminal than those who poison the body; you murder not the body but the soul. And it is not to enemies you do this, nor are you urged on by any imaginary necessity, nor provoked by injury, but out of foolish vanity and pride.

And, though she writes humorously, consider the reality behind the words of Caitlin Moran, who wrote in the U.K.’s Times:

On top of that, being sexy is often counterproductive. As soon as a woman makes herself sexy, she instantly makes all the men in the room more stupid and all the women more tetchy. That sounds like the kind of curse a bad fairy bestows on birth, rather than a task that makes upper-leg waxing worthwhile.

The Sexual Marketplace

Yes, the woman who’s dressed to be sexy makes men stupid and women more tetchy. But that’s not all she does. She also imposes pressure on the women around her to also dress that way in order to compete for male attention. You can see the downard spiraling of this phenomenon by looking at how women dress in general these days as opposed to how they dressed seventy years ago. When some women start dressing like whores, other women feel pressured to not only do the same, but to “top” them, to be even “sexier,” and we’ve reached the point where there is not much lower we can go. Women walk around with bellies hanging out, decolletage revealed, and skirts “up to there.” And no one but the players are “better off” (by wordly standards) because of it.

Women who dress like whores are traitors to their sex in that they create a social climate that does not benefit other women. The young, “hot” chick reading this might think, “well, that’s their problem! I look good, and men want me!” Well, sister, what do they want you for? To marry you — or something else? You might be able to get away with this sort of deportment for now, but when you start to age,  put on a few pounds, and get a wrinkle or two, it’s all over – and that day comes a lot more quickly that you realize. What will you have built for yourself when your sexiness is gone? And if you ever do get married, do you want other women to be visually treating your husband by being dressed around him the way you are dressed now? Is this the sort of world you want to live in — a world in which growing older is terrifying, in which you’re always pressured to be “hot” no matter your age lest your husband be vamped away by some chick in a mini skirt?

We women are the gatekeepers (see The Garbage Generation on this site), and we have a very serious interest in keeping the price of sex high — if not for ourselves, which is reason enough, then for our daughters who will come after us. Do you want your daughters to be pressured into dressing like sluts? Then stop dressing like one yourself. Cultural change has to start somewhere; let it start with you. It is the right thing to do, and even a non-Christian can think in terms of Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” In other words, if God’s desires for us aren’t enough for you to think seriously about morality, such as modesty, then, before deciding to do something (or not), ask yourself what the world would be like if everyone were to do (or refrain from doing) that act. Would you rather live in a world where everyone, including your future daughters, dressed like sluts or a world in which people dressed modestly? Dress accordingly.

Catholics appreciate beauty (or should anyway)

Just because a Catholic shouldn’t dress “sexy” for strangers doesn’t mean that we should look ugly and boring! Clothing with brilliant color and texture, wonderfully cut, accessorized and worn by a nicely groomed person — this is a good thing!

How modesty and beauty are reflected in our clothing is a matter of personal taste and ethnic identity. With regard to female fashions, you can find perfectly modest women dressed in clothes with a modern Western cut, all in the latest colors and with the latest accessories. You can find others in beautiful historical styles — e.g., drop-waist and cloche hat 1920s styles; sumptuously-colored fabrics shaped into long skirts; or clothes that are considered fashionably “retro,” such as what Jacqueline Kennedy might have worn. Others prefer a more “Bohemian,” peasant, “Gypsy,” “Goth,” or ethnic look (think of some of the beautiful outfits Stevie Nicks used to wear). And what is more beautiful than those gorgeous saris worn by Indian women? Some modest Christian women in the Middle East might look more like Muslims than typical Western Christians. Still other modest women like a “preppy,” “tweedy” look such as what the Princess of Wales would have worn when she was still Lady Diana, an upper-crust English schoolteacher. Some look really hard to find clothes from the latest designers that fit all the right criteria for modesty, and talented women might make their own patterns, with their own styles.

The point is that there is no need to believe that we all have to look like cookie-cutter, calico-laden “Little House on the Prairie refugees” with “Peter Pan collars” and tent-like skirts (Christ, spare us!). No! It is good to dress attractively! Proverbs 31:22 speaks of the “valiant woman” as being attired in “tapestry, fine linen, and purple.” Psalm 45 speaks of the “the Queen” in “gilded clothing.” Apocalypse 21:2 speaks of the Church as a bride “adorned for her husband.” Queen Esther, a type of Our Lady, is described as an “exceeding fair” woman whose “incredible beauty made her appear agreeable and amiable in the eyes of all” (Esther 2:15). Pope Pius XII wrote in an address to the Latin Union of High Fashion that the “penchant for the adornment of one’s own person clearly derives from nature, and is therefore legitimate.”

No, there is nothing wrong with adorning oneself and being attractive! As we Italians would say, it is good to “fare una bella figura!” — to “make a good showing” by making things beautiful! Why allow something to be unattractive when it could just as easily or with little effort be lovely? (this Italian attitude goes to everything — one’s home, clothes, dinner table, etc.)

For women: reclaim the feminine if that reflects who you are

Indeed, clothing should not only be comfortable, suitable to the task, and modest, but there is also nothing wrong with a girly-type woman wanting to look feminine relative to the culture in which she finds herself (assuming the culture in question has reasonable views of feminity). Know, though, that this is not a call to unreasonably exaggerate the differences between the sexes, to do the fashion equivalent of bringing back fainting couches, or for women to feign stupidity and an unnatural fragility; rather, it’s a call for girly-type women to be more genuine and to dress in a manner more consistent with their inner beings — and more likely to help them fulfill their deepest desires, which aren’t one-night-stands, but respect and a beautiful family life. When women go about consciously acting “like men,” dressing “like men,” training their emotions to be more “cool like a man’s,” quashing their fertility so they can be promiscuous “like men,” and so on, they are being male impersonators and untrue to themselves.

The “masculine” has for too long been seen as the standard of desired behavior; in the name of radical “feminism,” all that is feminine has been treated as unimportant. The typical natural, womanly desires — to be respected, and, for most, to be mothers, to stay home and raise our children, to care for a home and a husband — have been scoffed at as evidence of “Cinderella complexes” or simple weakness. Catholic women and the naturally virtuous, traditional women of false religions (may they come to Jesus) must not accept such a state of affairs!

We are not all the same, of course, and there are great overlaps in masculine and feminine behaviors. Some women are called to marriage, others to the religious life, and others to virginity, with or without a secular career, like the brilliant Maria Gaetana Agnesi (A.D. 1718-1799), whom Pope Benedict XIV appointed as the Chairwoman of higher mathematics at the University of Bologna in A.D. 1750. Some women are natural so-called “tomboys” and others are the frilly sort. We have role models as diverse as the perfectly maternal Blessed Virgin; the fiery St. Joan of Arc; the lyrical St. Hildegaard von Bingen; the philosophical St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross; the artistic St. Catherine of Bologna; the mystical St. Teresa of Avila; the feisty St. Catherine of Siena; the industrious St. Frances Cabrini; the bookish St. Catherine of Alexandria; the domestic St. Martha; the been-around, penitent St. Mary Magdalen; and the child-like St. Thérèse of Lisieux — among many others! We can model ourselves after any or all of these types of women, but we are, thank God, not men and never will be. The denigration of the feminine must end.

Which brings us to the controversy of controversies: women and pants

Because pants had been, historically, in the West, a male article of clothing, you will find that sometraditional Catholic women in the West never wear pants, or only wear them when working in the yard, riding horses, skiing, or some such. Given the History of Western dress and the desire on the part of some traditionalists for a more apparent distinction in the sexes’ visual styles, some tradition-minded men tend to treat women with more appreciation when those women dress in a way considered by them to be feminine.

On the other hand with regard to pants, it is a fact that pants-wearing for women has been an accepted practice for some decades in the West, and pants are now made and sold for women and are, therefore “women’s clothing” (to those men who disagree, I challenge them to go buy a pair of pants for themselves from the women’s department of the nearest store). In the end, it is to each woman to prayerfully discern how to dress, and when and where, considering and respecting the feelings of her husband, if she has one. And it is to others to refrain from harsh judgments against those who might have come to different conclusions (or who simply can’t find or afford a wardrobe they themselves think would be more fitting); it’s very unwise to make the shunning of pants the sine qua non of orthodoxy. In fact, Pope St. Nicholas I, way back in A.D. 866, wrote to the newly Christianized Bulgarians, the females of whom wore pants, and said, “For whether you or your women wear or do not wear pants (femoralia) neither impedes your salvation nor leads to any increase of your virtue.” 1

The temporal benefits of dressing modestly

There are everyday benefits to dressing modestly, too, especially for women. Consider this: who is free and who is in bondage — the woman who sees herself as part of a “chosen generation, a kingly priesthood” (I Peter 2:9) and dresses modestly to reflect that fact, or a woman who:

starves herself to a size 4 so she can fit into those midriff-bearing Britney Spears-style tops;

stuffs her breasts into Wonder bras so they’ll look good in those plunging necklines;

has to worry about what’s “hanging out” every time she bends over or sits down or stands up or reaches for something;

is totally uncomfortable, a-l-l d-a-y l-o-n-g, who feels stuffed after eating a cup of yogurt, because her clothes are just too tight;

feels compelled to work out 2 hours a day so she can wear bikinis;

has liposuction because she feels “too fat” to wear what Beyonce is wearing;

has a “butt-lift” or implants so her backside can better fill a pair of “low-rider” jeans;

has to buy a new wardrobe every new “fashion season”;

gets breast implants so the boys will look at her;

has surgery on her toes so she can fit into those “Sex and the City” pointy-toed stilletos — and then suffers with every step she takes when wearing them?

For all the supposed “liberation” and sense of “empowerment” dressing like hookers is supposed to give us, in truth it turns us into a nation of obsessive, shallow, suffering anorexics who attract men who like hookers!

Will dressing sexy get you attention? Sure it will. And walking around an A.A. meeting with a case of beer will get you attention, too; there’s no great trick in appealing to the weakness of others. But the attention gotten is that of those who are either not Christian at all, or who are weak and prone to sins of the flesh. Is that the kind of attention you truly want? Is someone who wants you because you look “hot” the kind of person you want to marry? Is he the kind of person you’d trust in a marriage — to not commit adultery, to not leave you when you get a wrinkle or gain a few pounds? Is he the kind of person you want to even be the parent of your children? Is he the kind of person you want to grow oldwith?

On all levels — the theological, the sociological, the psychological, even in terms of simple comfort — dressing modestly is the smart thing to do. If you are called to the religious life or virginal singlehood, your path is easy to see. If you are called to marriage, dress now for the kind of person you want to marry; dress as the kind of person your ideal spouse would want for a mate, and keep the gift of yourself holy for that person alone. If you are already married, dress as you and your spouse want behind closed doors, but keep that gift for him or her alone.

A mental checklist for girls and women
to consider when trying on clothes

Men have it easy when trying to find modest clothes, but here is a general rule of thumb for women:

Stand straight and ask yourself: Does the outfit cover my upper legs? Is the neckline decent? Are there any gaps or puckers over the breast area to indicate the top is too tight? If the top has buttons, is there any puckering so that my breasts might be visible from the side? Is the outfit too sheer so that one can see too much through the fabric?

Walk a few steps and ask yourself: If there is any kind of slit, does walking reveal too much? Is the outfit loose enough to walk comfortably in?

Sit down and ask yourself: Are my legs still covered? Am I still decent when I cross and uncross my legs? Am I able to sit comfortably?

Bend over at the waist as if you’re picking a flower. Ask yourself: does the neckline of the outfit droop to expose too much of my chest? If I wear such an outfit anyway, would I remember to hold the fabric close to my chest when I bend over? Am I decent from behind? Am I able to bend over comfortably?

Stretch your hands up over your head as if you’re reaching for something on a tall shelf. Ask yourself: Are my belly or legs exposed? Can I reach comfortably?

Look at the overall picture in the mirror. Ask yourself: If I saw a woman walking toward me dressed as I am, what would I say her clothes are saying about her? Is she immodest? Unappreciative of beauty?

For Men

Men, no matter what a woman around you wears, you are ultimately responsible for your own lust. Attraction and simply recognizing the beauty or even the “sexiness” of a woman are one thing, but lust is something you consent to, indulge in. It is an act of the will. While the women around you can make purity more or less difficult for you, and while provocation is one of the nine ways we are responsible for others’s sins, it is still your responsibility to, first, not think of women as mere visual objects or stumblingblocks put in your way. Women are human beings who deserve human respect and need to be brought to Jesus if they don’t already know Him; they are your sisters or potential sisters in Lord Christ. Do not blame them for your failures, for your lack of purity of mind and heart. Don’t think that wrapping women in burqas will save you, for it is “not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man: but what cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” Don’t put the onus of your chastity on them. I implore you to read “The Story of Two Monks” and ponder what I am saying.

Secondly, reassess the kind of women you give your attention to and whom you allow to shape — even if pre-consciously but powerfully — your idea of “the feminine ideal.” For the love of all that’s holy, put away the porn.

And don’t think that the idea of dressing modestly doesn’t apply to you, too. Women are attracted to and lust after men just as men are attracted to and lust after women. If you think women aren’t noticing your strong arms and gorgeous thighs, you’re wrong and have an idea of women as “visually sexless” which isn’t true in the least. This section has mostly been devoted to women because of crazy state of women’s fashions, the incredible social pressure on women to look “hot,” and the fact that men, as a group, tend to be more visual and more sexually “immediate”; it isn’t aimed at female modesty because only men are capable of lust.

Finally, it is hoped that you try to have some pity for women and an understanding of the tightrope they walk while simultaneously wanting to attract and please you, wanting to be modest and Godly, feeling intensely pressured to compete with women who don’t dress modestly and who seem to get all the male attention — and enduring all this while struggling to find non-frumpy, modest clothing in the first place, something that is hard to do these days and which is much more difficult for women who are large-busted and need special sizes. And speaking of women who are just naturally curvy, don’t talk about their very bodies as something they should be ashamed of. Women have breasts and hips, some more than others; that’s how God made them. Women shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed of being women just because you find them attractive. There’s not much one can do to hide the fact that one has large breasts.

In the end, women need to play their part in all this by loving and respecting men, being accepting of the natural general differences between the sexes, reminding themselves that we are our brother’s keeper, and then dressing accordingly, within reason and while considering comfort, beauty, and the demands of their duties; men need to play their part by owning their own sins, mastering their own temptations, eliminating any “porn mentality” they might have, minding their own modesty, and developing a basic respect for women that cuts through much of the problem of lust. 

Footnotes:
1 Excerpt from “The Responses of Pope St. Nicholas I to the Questions of the Bulgars” (Letter 99), Chapter LVIIII, A.D. 866:

“We consider what you asked about pants (femoralia) to be irrelevant; for we do not wish the exterior style of your clothing to be changed, but rather the behavior of the inner man within you, nor do we desire to know what you are wearing except Christ — for however many of you have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ [Gal. 3:27] — but rather how you are progressing in faith and good works. But since you ask concerning these matters in your simplicity, namely because you were afraid lest it be held against you as a sin, if you diverge in the slightest way from the custom of other Christians, and lest we seem to take anything away from your desire, we declare that in our books, pants (femoralia) are ordered to be made, not in order that women may use them, but that men may. But act now so that, just as you passed from the old to the new man, [cf. Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:9-10] you pass from your prior custom to ours in all things; but really do what you please. For whether you or your women wear or do not wear pants (femoralia) neither impedes your salvation nor leads to any increase of your virtue.

“Of course, because we have said that pants are ordered to be made, it should be noted that we put on pants spiritually, when we restrain the lust of the flesh through abstinence; for those places are constrained by pants in which the seats of luxury are known to be. This is why the first humans, when they felt illicit motions in their members after sin, ran into the leaves of a fig tree and wove loin cloths for themselves.[cf. Gen. 3:7] But these are spiritual pants, which you still could not bear, and, if I may speak with the Apostle, you are not yet able; for you are still carnal.[I Cor. 3:2] And thus we have said a few things on this matter, although, with God’s gift, we could say many more.”

On May 5th, 1995 something extraordinary happened to Dr. Gloria Polo Ortiz

On May 5th, 1995 something extraordinary happened to Dr. Gloria Polo Ortiz;

She was taking shelter from a storm with her nephew, when both of them were struck by lightning. What happened to her afterwards was a miracle which led to her conversion and a life of abandonment to the will of God.

She now tells her story in many different countries around the world, and has the approval of her diocese in Bogota, Colombia, and her spiritual director.

Her testimony is an inspiration for all of us, and will increase our faith in Christ Jesus and His Holy Catholic Church.

About the Author

Dr. Gloria Polo, a dentist from Bogota, Columbia was raised in the Catholic faith, but later fell away and became involved in many things that were contrary to the faith and God’s commandments. She would often lie to her mother saying, “If I am lying to you, let me be struck by lightning.”

On May 5th, 1995 Dr. Polo was indeed struck by lightning. After being struck by lightning, her soul left her body. Finding herself on the precipice of hell she experienced God’s judgment, His mercy, and her conversion.

Approval of Her bishop:
http://reco.gpo.cc/

her spiritual director:
http://www.gloriapolo.com/testimonio/direspiritual.pdf

God gives me the mission telling me: “You will repeat your testimony not only 1.000 times, but also you will repeat it thousand times thousand of times! And woe of those who don’t change their ways despite having heard you, because they will be judged much more severely, just like you will when you come back here again, even their anointed or their priests, or any of them, because the worst deafness is that of a man who refuses to hear.”

       Dr. Gloria Constanza Polo

While suspended above Hell, God questions Gloria about the 10 Commandments, asking her if she knew them and if she broke any of them.

The Sixth Commandment: Adultery

On this commandment I thought, still full of pride: here they will not catch me in fault, because I never had a lover, I was always faithful! As a matter of fact, after matrimony, I never even gave a kiss to others, only to my husband. But the Lord showed me that I exhibited too much of my body, when I went around with my breasts exposed, with the skintight stockings, with the cloths that I used… I thought that men looked at me, simply to admire me… But the Lord showed me how they sinned with me: because we are not dealing with admiration, as I believed, but with provocation, and they were provoked due to me. I committed adultery, for having exhibited my body. I did not understand the male sensibility. I believed that they thought like me, that looking at me they would say: “What a nice body!” Instead they sinned due to my fault. Never was I unfaithful for having thrown myself into the arms of a man, but it was as if I was a prostitute in spirit. More than everything, I thought to vindicate myself, if my husband might had been unfaithful to me, and I counseled other women to do so, when they discovered that the husband had betrayed them. “Do not be a fool! Vindicate yourself, do not forgive. Show your worth! It is for this that we women are so put down by men, so trampled on!” You know, with these counsels, I and my girlfriends succeeded in separating one of our girlfriends. She had surprised the husband in the office while he was kissing the secretary. We, with our counsels, did not let her reconcile, even though he asked her for pardon, truly repentant. She even wanted to forgive, because she loved him: but we did not permit forgiveness to him. In the end they got divorced, and two years later she got married civilly, with an argentine. Do you understand? When I counseled in this way, I was inside an adulterer. Jesus showed me, and I saw well, how sins of the flesh are abominable, because the person condemns himself, even if the world affirms that all is well. In all my life I had only one man, my husband; but the sins are also in the thoughts, in the words, in the actions: it was very sad to see how the sin and the adultery of my father did so much harm to us. In my case, it transformed me into a resentful person; I sunk into rancor against men, while my brothers became faithful copies of my father. Do they think to be happy in feeling themselves very masculine? They are womanizers, they drink, and they do not realize the evil that they do to their own children. For this my father was crying with great suffering, in Purgatory, seeing the consequences of his sin and of his example that he gave them. We condemn ourselves, with promiscuity, because it is to live as if we were animals: mice, dogs… here and there…

You can read her full testimony here:
https://www.truechristianity.info/books/the_testimony_of_gloria_polo_en.pdf

Her website:

http://english.gloriapolo.net/

Buy the book here:

https://divinemercyforamerica.org/product/store/books/struck-lightning-testimony-gloria-polo/