Come, Holy Spirit, Give Us Modesty

This is the tenth of a 12-part, once-a-month series on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. This month’s fruit is MODESTY. Be sure to see previous posts beginning with CHARITY and check back next month as another contributor explores the fruit of CONTINENCE or SELF-CONTROL.

Modesty is one of the twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit, along with charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, continency, and chastity (Galatians 5: 22-23).  When preparing for this article, I had a really difficult time deciding which route to go mainly because it is a topic that ruffles many feathers and also one that has a vast amount to write about. The Venerable Pope Pius XII states it perfectly, this topic is both, “delicate and complex.”  For the purpose of space and time, I will focus on the general aspect of this beautiful fruit of the Spirit. If we take a moment and look at the dictionary definition of modesty we find this:

modesty def

So if modesty is the quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s abilities, then each person’s estimation of modesty is different.  Bearing in mind that when we speak of modesty as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, we are referring to Christian Modesty.

modestyFor the purpose of this article, let us examine modesty as a general umbrella term referring to the quality or state of being within one’s ability to dress, speak, act, and behave.  Modesty has to do with all those things and is not simply the way we dress.   So let’s look at modesty as moderation in how we dress, speak, act, and behave. We shall examine what the Lord tells us in Scripture, through the greatest Saints of all times, Church documents, and even most recently through the guidance of one of our popes.  As we address this topic of Modesty as a gift of the Holy Spirit.

 Saint Thomas Aquinas defines modesty as the virtue in which exterior actions, either in deed or in words, are observe.  Modesty is the virtue which refrains our exterior gestures and in this sense it is a broader virtue than the term modesty referring to the Sixth and Ninth Commandments.  But the way we dress does affect all of our exterior actions and motions.  This is why random and irrational and foolish behavior goes against the virtue of modesty.  Modesty also requires humility, as in being content in what you have, what you are able to attend and to moderate our exterior goods.  So Modesty has to do with not too much or too little.  You can be immodest not just in what you wear but also in what you say and the way you behave, and even what you buy and how much of it.  So, in short, moderation is the key to modesty.

Modesty is a moral virtue, so it is one that affects all those relationships around us including ourselves.   Excess (too much) or defect (too little) is what matters in all areas of our lives when it comes to modesty.  Our dress should suit our state in life.  We do not have to dress above our station in life or below it.  The person with the gift of modesty knows and acts in ways in which his actions suit the place and time, in order.  Our actions are proportionate and directed to a truly good end.  A person who is modest in speech will not say something in which they should not, nor when they should not.  Moderation is key in modesty.  We should never say anything or do anything that out of place or is against our station in life.  The end of modesty is fear of the Lord, Saint Thomas observed and said that we should turn away from earthly things an turn towards God.  We want to have enough fear of God in which we would never want to offend Him by our disordered passions, appetites and emotions.  Modesty, Saint Thomas says, will help us in having due maturity, not just in physical growth but in the certain stage of the interior life.  This stage is set aside by self-denial and striving for excellence in life, not just exteriors but also interior aspects.  Modesty is one of the first virtues lost when we lack in the interior life, it is also one of the last perfected.

So what does the Church say about Modesty?
 Well, in 1957, in a letter entitled “Moral Problems in Fashion Design,” the Venerable Pope Pius XII tells us, “…the very word “modesty” (which) comes from modus, a measure or limit – probably better expresses the function of governing and dominating the passions, especially sensual passions. It is the natural bulwark of chastity. It is its effective rampart, because it moderates acts closely connected with the very object of chastity…”  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it states that, “Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.” (CCC 2521).    One of the most amazing saints the Church has had, Saint Anselm (Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church) said this:  “If you want to be certain of being in the number of the Elect, strive to be one of the few, not one of the many.  And if you would be quite sure of your salvation, strive to be among the fewest of the few; that is to say:  do not follow the great majority of mankind, but follow those who enter upon the narrow way, who renounce the world, who give themselves to prayer, and who never relax their efforts by day or night, so that they may attain everlasting blessedness.”
From all of these, the “refusal to unveil that which should remain hidden” is the one line that really stuck with me.  All that is sacred is hidden, all that is beautiful, the most beautiful of all things on this Earth created by our Lord, is hard to get to, hidden.  A couple weeks ago, this quote was floating around on the internet and I found it appropriate for this article:

What particularly stuck with me were the first and last lines, “Everything that God made valuable in the world is covered and hard to get to.  Your body is sacred, You are far more precious than diamonds and pearls and you should be covered too.”  So the next question in my mind was, “why?  Why is my body sacred?”  Two passages from Sacred Scripture came to mind answering my question.  The first was when the Lord tells us in Genesis 1:27 that we are made in His image and likeness, “And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.”  The second verse comes from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or know you not, that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God; and you are not your own? For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body.”  Not only are we taught that we are Temples of the Holy Ghost but also that He is in us but most importantly, that we are “bought with a great price.”  THAT, dear sisters gave me chills!  Our Lord Jesus Christ paid a great price for us to have eternal life with Him in Heaven.  Now the question is what are we doing with the body He has given us?

I end with a poem and a challenge.
 This beautiful poem is written by the Lord Byron but perfectly and poetically describes what a woman of Faith should be or look like; her exterior should be a representation of her interior life.  Lastly, I leave you with a challenge…the modesty challenge, one which I promise I too will take on.  Look at your interior life, the way you dress, speak, act, etc., and ask yourself, if you were to stand before our Lord would you be ashamed or proud of what you have done with the temple He has given you?  The challenge is, if your answer is a resonant, “no” or like me, a doubtful, “I am not so sure” take the next six months to examine some of the documents provided below in the Resources and analyze and examine your interior as well as your exterior life.  Just like our homes, our domestic church, should display that a Catholic Christian family lives there…so should your own body display what a Catholic woman looks like.

She Walks in beauty

Resources for Further Reading on Modesty:
Dressing with Dignity by Colleen Hammond (Tan Books)
The Catholic Girl’s Guide by Father Lasance
The Young Man’s Guide by Father Lasance
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 9, The Ninth Commandment
“Moral Problems in Fashion Design” by Venerable Pope Pius XII
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