More on Modesty: What is Permissible vs. What is Best

I received an email from a good friend a couple of weeks after the publication of my essay on three Doctors of the Church and their explanations of modesty. He raised a number of good points, which lead me to desire to explain a little more about my understanding of the virtue of modesty in dress.

First, I will sum up the views of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales and St. Alphonsus Liguori from the previous essay, though I recommend to get the full picture to head over and read it. When considering whether an act is moral one must evaluate the act itself, the circumstances in which it is performed, and the person’s intention in performing the act. Dressing to fit with one’s state in life, the activity one is participating in, the fashions of one’s society, and with a pure intention are all essential aspects of being modest. Simplicity and cleanliness in dress are also important parts of virtuous dress since they are part of humility, temperance and respect for others.

I ended my essay explaining that our society’s fashions made certain forms of dress morally acceptable, which have not always been understood to be so. Modest dress changes according to fashion. For example, St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote about a particular fashion of his time where women “uncovered their breasts.” Since it was an already established fashion, he said that if a woman dressed that way without any impure intention, without forming lust within herself or intending to lead others to lust after her, then it was morally permissible. He also explained that while it was permissible for her to dress revealingly with pure intentions, the person who invented the trend of uncovering breasts was culpable for instituting a fashion that could lead people into sin—though this too changes with the creators intentions.

Similarly, in our society, there are many fashions that might be more revealing than what was once considered morally acceptable. For example, because it has become normative, one cannot look at a woman in a bikini and presume that she is acting immodestly. She may have no lustful intentions whatsoever. She is simply going for a swim or working on her tan wearing what is fashionable.

That being said, there is a difference between what is permissible, and therefore not sinful, and what is best for a person truly desiring to grow in virtue. Dietrich von Hildebrand, a 20th-century Catholic philosopher, talks about the morally conscious person in his essay “Responsibility” in the book The Art of Living. The morally conscious person is aware of his or her responsibility to the world around him or her. This person sees the beauty and value of those he or she encounters and of all of creation. When a person is awakened to this responsibility of responding to all with seriousness and gravity, not in a scrupulous manner, but in confidence certain of one’s call, while always recognizing that there is a higher being.

Read more on the National Catholic Register…

3 Doctors of the Church on the Virtue of Modesty in Dress

Summer is here with its longer, hotter days, and right on cue is the annual discussion of modest dress. In Mass or at the pool, we are all called to dress modestly, in a way appropriate to the circumstances and our state in life.

I have heard about modesty from the time I was able to dress myself. I heard many “chastity” talks throughout my teenage years which emphasized covering my body for the sake of protecting myself and young men who would see me, which always left me feeling alarmed and put out by my unintentional, lust-inducing abilities. Only when I learned about modesty as a virtue did I find a reasonable, satisfactory answer as to what it really means to dress modestly.

To understand modesty in dress as a virtue, as opposed to other forms of modesty, I turned to three Doctors of the Church — St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales and St. Alphonsus Liguori. They helped me see that the moral act of dressing oneself should not be guided by fear of being objectified but by well-formed reason. The way to evaluate the moral act of dressing oneself, as in all moral theology, is to look at the act itself, the person’s intention and the circumstances surrounding the act.

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NCRegister: Praying to Sts. Louis and Zelie Brough Grace into my Marriage

When my husband was discerning his vocation during the semester we spent abroad taking classes in Gaming, Austria and traveling around Europe he prayed to St. Thérèse of Lisieux to be “offered red roses” if he was meant to marry me. And one afternoon in Venice outside St. Mark’s Basilica (my husband’s namesake) a flower vendor offered red roses. Mark did not purchase them, nor did he give up his discernment immediately, but I still credit the Little Flower’s intercession to him feeling what I had felt all along—that we were meant to be married. Three years later our dear St. Thérèse led us to her parents.

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NCRegister: The Desert is Where We Find God

The fertile forests of Yosemite National Park in California, which we had camped in the night before, had given way to the dry, rocky land of Nevada, and our minivan sped on in a land where cities and towns are few and far between. We were on the final week of our three-week western road trip. It had all been so beautiful, but here, in this empty, dry land a sense of dread lay heavy on my chest. The desert went on for miles before us and behind us. Rocks rose occasionally into mountains and cliffs in the distance, but their barrenness only added to the bleakness of the path we had to take. And everything seemed closer on the horizon than it actually was, making each mile seem longer.

This family road trip was the first time I had experienced the desert, and what surprised me the most was the amount of life, life adapted to the environment, that struggled on even in this most desolate of climates.

Read more at the National Catholic Register…

NCRegister: John the Baptist and Your Gift of Prophecy

I was born two weeks late during a hot, humid St. Louis summer. My mother, who never complains of physical discomforts, claims that she does not remember being particularly uncomfortable during that time of waiting, but perhaps she just has forgotten. I was stubborn from the beginning. My mother had hoped for a family birth, but I waited to be born until my two older sisters were taken out of the delivery room by my grandmother for a snack.

I took my first breath on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and was given a name that my parents had prayed long and hard about. Because of this I have long been devoted to my “birthday buddy” relating to his call to contemplation and prophecy. When I followed my call into the married life I realized that I while I had not chosen the “better part” of Mary, even my life as a Martha made way for a closeness to and constant companionship with God with a irrepressible desire to bear witness to God.

Rest the rest at the National Catholic Register…

NCRegister Blog: NFP, God’s Faithfulness, and Family Size

“You know, “ I called to my husband in the other room, “If I had lived even a hundred years ago, I would have probably died because of childbearing by now.” We were dealing with yet another health issue of mine related to the wear and tear of pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing. It is not that I am sick very often and pregnancies are mostly comfortable for me, but I have had multiple hemorrhages, many infections, and several miscarriages, which seem to have been caused by a chronic health problem.

When we signed up for our Natural Family Planning courses and planned ahead to when we would use it, this kind of stuff was not on our radar.

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NCRegister Blog: A Letter to My Daughter on her First Communion Day

My dear sweet girl,

When I kneel beside you in Eucharistic Adoration, I always wonder what is going on in that sensitive heart of yours. You always ask to sit right in the front of the chapel and settle down quietly to pray. I notice how you look earnestly toward the host in the monstrance. What do you say to your Savior in the depth of your heart? Do you tell him how much you love him? Do you thank him for all he does for you? Do you ask him to help you? Do you pray for me as well? I have noticed that when you pray, God answers your prayers.

Today, May 12, your First Communion day is the feast day of Blessed Imelda Lambertini who is the patron saint of First Communicants.

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NCRegister Blog: Catholic Women Want Community (Even in a Blizzard)

Two of my friends and I set out one blustery Friday April afternoon from St. Paul, Minnesota for Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We were excited to spend a weekend together at the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls women’s conference despite the forecast a blizzard sweeping through the upper Midwest. We managed to make it to our hotel a couple of hours before snow began to fall, but when we woke up on Saturday morning the blizzard had arrived in full force. It took until the end of my sixth winter living in Minnesota to see my first real blizzard, and I ended up being in South Dakota for it. Perhaps the flatness of the prairie intensified the winds, but I heard that the Twin Cities looked about the same as Sioux Falls.

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NCRegister Blog: Easter Hope is for Those who Sorrow

I meditated on the Joyful mysteries to the thump of my feet on the treadmill in the early silence of Holy Saturday morning. Hail Mary, full of grace… The almost wail-like tone of the chanting of the end of the Passion of St. John echoed in my head from the liturgy of Good Friday. It brought me back to another Saturday morning run on the treadmill when my heart was full of hope after I learned I was newly pregnant last Fall. The hope only lasted a few weeks as our baby passed away too soon. While I prayed the rosary my heart ached for our Blessed Mother as I contemplated how her search for the child Jesus in the Temple was a precursor to the laying of her dead son in the Tomb. With all of her sorrow she had to trust in God’s plan and walk away from the body of her son.

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NCRegister Blog: When We Accompany We Also Need to Speak the Truth

I want to tell you a few stories of accompaniment and discernment about real people. The first is about a man who once made a great sacrifice for the sake of living the Christian faith. When he was 17 years old he had a son with a woman whom he could not or would not marry. They spent 15 years together raising this son. He had been interested in the Catholic Church from his childhood, but it took him many years to come to believe in all of the Church’s truths. His mother who was Catholic prayed and sacrificed for him everyday, and devoted her life to helping him know and accept the truths revealed by God to the Church. During these long years he learned the teachings of the Church, was drawn to the beauty of truth, grew a real love for God in his heart. He learned much from a bishop, whom this young man described as one of those “who speak the truth, and speak it well, judiciously, pointedly, and with beauty and power of expression” (Christian Doctrine IV.21). It was the truth that compelled this young man to desire to be Catholic.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…