Modest dress in women will ONLY be a help to the men who are ALREADY working on keeping their thoughts chaste. It’s a service of love for our brothers who want to see the women around them as sisters and not as objects of their uncontrolled lust.
Men who already walk around with the intent to indulge in looking at women’s figures to titilate their own lustful thoughts, will salivate just as much over the woman who is obviously dressed to attract sexual attention as they will a woman who has taken care to keep covered from about no more than mid-thigh to the top of her cleavage. As long as she is dressed prettily but not dowdy or in a tent that completely hides her form, she is prey to the weak man who doesn’t even try to master himself in this area. There’s not a darn thing she can do to keep him from having the thoughts he’s going to have. It’s his sin, not hers. It’s not on her to hide the femininity God gave her by depersonalizing herself in garb that hides her true form altogether.
Women don’t need to ask men what is modest. If we are in any way honest with ourselves and it’s our intention when we buy clothes and get dressed, to not explicitly try to gain sexual attention, then we will most likely pick out appropriate clothing. It’s ok to want to look pretty and well put together and that’s not immodest at all.
Modest in a way that reflects femininity and will be a help to men who have already decided to gain mastery over lustful thoughts…….
Modest to the point of depersonalization (complete denial of the female form) in an attempt to keep already unchaste men from thinking nasty thoughts. It is not necessary for women to go this far. Men have a responsibility to overcome their own sin and to master their sinful inclinations.
Women can choose to be a help to men in their quest to keep their thoughts chaste and we can choose to recognize and honor our own dignity in how we dress. Men can have a weakness in this area but ultimately it’s up to the man to decide to have dominion and mastery over himself. Until he desires this and attempts it, there’s not much individual women can do to help him without completely hiding the fact that we ARE women with a female form that God has given to us. We are not responsible to keep men from sinning to the point that our very being as women must be denied, covered up and formless. It’s not our job to completely take the responsibility of self-mastery from individual men. Each man is responsible for himself and for his own sin.
Some random thoughts inspired by St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. The thoughts shared are not ones that I’ve fully fleshed out (but have revised somewhat from the original post when published) but are more of a train-of-thought put down in writing so that perhaps I can come back to them later in more depth. If these ideas inspire some of your own, please share them in the comments. We all benefit from hearing and considering different points of view.
Males in a certain way highlight the image of God as One. One who is other to his creation like a father is outside the process of nurturing and growing new life. A father relies on the mother’s willingness to accept him, nurture and develop the life of their child within her, and to make room for him within the mother/child bond. God, too, does not impose on us. He reveals Himself and calls us to accept Him, cooperate with Him in creating new life, whether physically or spiritually, so we can share with Him the fruit of our works. Our working with God reveals to us our dignity as sharers of His image. St. John Paul II wrote “The man—even with his sharing in parenthood—always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth; in many ways he has to learn his own “fatherhood” from the mother… ” “Fathers must insert themselves into the bond between mother and child as a ‘second other’ by an initiative very much like that of adoption.” wrote author John W. Miller in Biblical Faith and Fathering: Why We Call God Father.
Females in a certain way highlight the image of God as Trinity insofar as she features the deep interpersonal intimacy and communion among and between persons. Pregnancy shows this communion in the most obvious way in which the bond between mother and child which is so exclusive and deep that even though they are two distinct persons, they seem as one. God desires to share His intimate life and love of the persons of the Trinity with us. He wants us to be in relationship with Him in which He lives in and through us. He desires this deep and intimate communion with us so much that He uses the humble instruments of bread and wine, “the work of human hands” in which to transform them into His body and blood so that we can have His very life living within us. St. John Paul II wrote “In the light of the “beginning,” the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude toward human beings—not only towards her own child but every human being—which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more.”
To be clear, to highlight a certain aspect of God for the male and female, doesn’t mean one should be limited by it because each of us is called to fully image God as both One and Trinity as an individual. However, man and woman together is also a full image of God in that each person is wholly and completely a human person whose dignity as such should be respected just as each person of the Trinity is a recognized person but they are also called into intimate communion to serve one another in love. Man and woman shouldn’t be thought of as 1/2 + 1/2 = 1 but rather should be seen as 1 + 1 = 3. This is most clearly seen in the creation of a new human life. The child is not a portion of two halves that made a whole in which now there are thirds. This is another whole person from two whole persons.
In order to be fully integrated as a human being, we need to fully develop ourselves and understand who we are as an individual and to understand the dignity we have as a unique soul who has been endowed with the ability to reason and to have dominion over our place in the world. However, as an individual it is not good for us to be alone as it was not good for Adam to be alone. We are called to communion with others to be able to give and receive love just as the persons of the Trinity have this reciprocity of love among them.
A male-centered world view and radical feminism seems to value individual autonomy and the role of dominion over the earth (the image of God that is One and that is more prominently featured in the male) over and above the more female-centered world view of interpersonal relationships in a communion of love (the image of God that is Three that speaks of a deep sharing of life and that is more prominently featured in the female.)
What needs to be brought to everyone’s attention is that neither is better than the other nor should one way of being be valued over the other because if either feature is missing, then you don’t have an image of the true God, you have a false god. A solitary being (either male or female) who has no “other” (whether a complementary partner or a life concecrated to God) to fulfill the purpose of communion is stunted and sterile, physically and spiritually. They remain a solitude. Beings who look for communion but only to fulfill themselves without recognizing and respecting the “other” as another person with their own dignity, will consume or take all of another so that the “other” no longer exists. This also produces a sterility that fails to multiply.
To be human as an image of God is to recognize your individual dignity as a person and to respect the individual dignity of other persons while sharing in communion with them by the giving and receiving of love. This sharing in communion is not limited, of course, with other human beings but helps us to know and understand our relationship with God.
There must be a deep respect for the individual person and their liberty that comes from their dignity. There must also be deep respect for that which is intimate and relational between individuals in a way that does not seek to dominate but to give and hope to receive in return. Each individual should ask themselves how they can serve the “other” but shouldn’t seek or demand to be served but rather can indeed hope to be served in kind. If that service is not returned by the one to whom it was given it is really no matter because every service rendered to another for God’s sake WILL BE richly rewarded by God at the perfect time and place of His choosing. We can rest in this trust in Him.
“Beauty is not the icing on the cake; it is one of the 3 layers of the cake. It is the child of the marriage of truth and goodness. It is ‘the splendor of truth’ (to quote John Paul the Great’s great title) that attracts us to truth, and it is the ‘beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 29:2) that attracts us to holiness. Beauty is one of the things God is. It is ‘the glory of the Lord’ (to use von Balthasar’s title), the ‘divine Beauty ever ancient yet ever new’ that won Augustine’s restless heart. Beauty is a magnet and our souls are iron filings, and when we sense beauty we speed home.”
~~Peter Kreeft, Jesus Shock
God is beauty.
Feminine beauty is a reflection of this. Beauty causes the perceiver to look more deeply and what they should see is that the outward beauty points to an inner virtue and holiness. IOW, outside beauty is the herald of true goodness. The female should cultivate her outward beauty only as way to attract others to her so she can use her feminine influence to point them to the Divine Beauty of God. This is the only honest use for it. God has given women the privilege of reflecting something of His Divine Beauty. God is inherently beautiful due to His goodness and His truth. When we women use this attribute for any other purpose, it’s essentially worthless. This gift of beauty, given to the female, should be a reflection of her inner goodness and her steadfast committment to the truth of God in Christ Jesus.
If we approach our appearance from this understanding of beauty as a reflection of God, holiness and truth, it will be our guide in helping us avoid excessive garishness on one end of the spectrum and excessive modesty on the other. It will remind us that anything we do to our outward appearance will only have value if it’s a reflection of our inner attitude and holiness.
Men built the cathedrals with great beauty and splendor because they instinctively knew that our houses of worship should point to the awesome beauty of God. They knew that beauty should draw worshipers in and cause their attention to be lifted up to the Source of all beauty. We call the Church our Mother. It’s her beauty, majesty, goodness, and truth that points us in the right direction beyond herself to the One from which all her attributes radiate.
I have often seen comments around the internet of women who lament that because we refer to God as He, that they feel excluded from God and there is nothing of femininity in God. This is not true. God is spirit. God is not male nor female. All the good attributes that we find in God we find in all humanity, male and female. The masculinity of God in relation to humanity has to do with His loving us first and our feminine response to that love which we return to Him. (John 4:19) God’s masculine relation to us should not be confused with His being male in the human sense. Christ, in His humanity, is male as a reflection of God’s masculine relation to humanity. He is the Bridegroom and the Church is His Bride. All that is good in masculine AND feminine attributes come from God who encompasses all goodness. God is One but He is also Three Divine persons who participate in the giving, receiving and the giving of love in return among them. There is nothing about the female person that isn’t also a full reflection of God. Beauty is one of the ways females showcase a particular aspect of God. Our nurturing, protecting, life-bearing, feeding, teaching, loving and responding to love are other ways we reflect God to others.
Women, rejoice in the beauty you have been given. Nurture and cultivate it but not to the exclusion that you nuture and cultivate the good and the holy in your soul. Let your beauty draw others to you so you can point them to the Source of Truth, Beauty and Goodness.
My oldest daughter received the Sacrament of Confirmation last week. She chose St. Therese of Lisieux as her Confirmation name so we got her a pink leather bound St. Therese Bible that has a quote by the saint and my daughter’s first and middle name (Rose) engraved on the front. St. Therese said “When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.” My Grandmother introduced me to this saying when she advised that I should pray to The Little Flower, as she is affectionately referred to, and said that she has often received answers to her prayers accompanied by a rose from this saint’s intercession .
When I was pregnant with my oldest, my mother told me she knew I was going to have a girl because that morning she saw 1 pink rose blooming on her rose bush after all the other roses had died and the season was over. I had already picked my girl name with Rose as the middle name since that is a family name on my husband’s side, so she took that late-blooming rose as a sign that surely she would have a granddaughter.
About ten years ago we had to travel out of state for the funeral of my cousin’s 12 year old daughter who passed away in an auto accident. At the time, neither my cousin (Catholic) nor his wife (Christian, from I’m not sure what denomination) were practicing their faith. I spent my time in the car on the way home praying the Rosary for their dear daughter and for them as well. One of the things I requested was that they would find their way to practicing their faith again and that my cousin’s wife would convert to Catholicism so they could have a shared faith together along with their son. I remember as I was praying that I smelled the overwhelming scent of fresh flowers. So much so that I had to ask if anyone else in the car had brought some with them from the funeral. The strong scent lasted about five minutes and then faded away. It was then that I knew that my prayers had indeed been heard. It was only a few years later that we received the news that my cousin’s wife had been received into the Church.
What I experienced was not a new phenomenon. It’s actually pretty common. Here’s a link to an interesting discussion of the topic by ordinary folks. The Catholic Church calls it the odor of sanctity when the scent is associated with living or deceased saints.
I’m bringing all this up simply because I came across this lovely poem today that speaks of how doing our duty well will remain after we are gone like the scent of the rose remains after the flower has died. It’s comforting to know that our works can live on and “scent” the future of those touched by our faithfulness. I think God has allowed us this occassional grace of these heavenly scents to remind us of the real beauty contained in all that is good even when it’s not immediately visible to us.
what a beautiful flower!
The glory of April and May:
But the leaves are beginning to fade in an hour,
And they wither and die in a day.
Above all the flowers of the field!
When its leaves are all dead and fine colours are lost,
Still how sweet a perfume it will yield!
Though they bloom and look gay like the Rose;
But all our fond care to preserve them is vain,
Time kills them as fast as he goes.
Since both of them wither and fade;
But gain a good name by well doing my duty:
This will scent like a Rose when I’m dead.
~ Isaac Watts
“Too much in our modern society encourages us to indulge the illusion of individual autonomy. This illusion is fostered by, among other things, modern “social contract” theories. A man can only assert something as foolish as an original “state of nature” where men come together to form themselves into a community if he forgets his own mother. But with all due respect to Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, we do not enter the world as fully formed, rational, self-interest maximizers.”
“We are dependent rational animals who become who we are because people cared for us. At least one person cared for us enough to carry us in her womb for nine months and go through the painful labor of giving us birth. No one — not even God incarnate — came into this world without a mother. We are beings who draw our existence from others, and so we are called upon to learn to exist for others. Such is the life of a mother. And such should be our life, whether we are mothers or not.”
“We live in a world that values and valorizes strength, capability, and domination. That world, valuing the things it values, has often enough dismissed women as weak and worthless. And yet, the absurdity of this view is obvious: Where would we be without women — and not just women, but women with the strength to allow themselves to be more vulnerable for nine months, and sometimes for years afterward, so that we can be strong? We would not exist without them.”
“A society that resists the temptation to celebrate only strength and achievement, and that recognizes the need we have for those who work selflessly year after year to make possible so many of the things we take for granted — our life, our health, our ability to speak, our virtues, our knowledge of the faith — is helping to spread the leaven of Christ.”
“Societies that preach the “state of nature” and think that we can depend upon some form of social contract often produce what they most fear: a society in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Begin with the wrong view of the human person, and you end up with an inhumane society of irrational self-interest maximizers and a dog-eat-dog world. A society that protects and values mothers, on the other hand, is sowing the seeds of charity. God help us if we forget mothers.”
I came across this article today titled Autonomy and Interconnectedness at Catholic Education.org on the scientific field of the study of microchimerism in which mothers were found to have cells of their children running through their blood, their brains and other organs. Children may also carry cells of their mothers and even older siblings that have crossed the placenta or through breast milk. This discovery brought to my mind the fact that this seems to give deeper meaning to the virgin birth. The Catholic Church has long taught that the Blessed Mother was born sinless, having been saved from original sin since her conception in her own mother’s womb. The saving power of the cross was able to be applied to Mary because God, being outside time and seeing all from beginning to end, could foresee the accomplishment of our salvation in time, while being able to apply that merit to the Mother of Jesus at the time of her conception and saving her from the stain of original sin. Jesus, being the perfect unity of fully human and fully divine, would have had his own cells cross the placenta to circulate in the body of his Mother and hers in His. The question has to be asked, “Would these cells of the fully human/fully divine Savior been able to be tolerated in the normal human body, stained by original sin?” Further, ” Would the human cells of the Blessed Mother been able to be received within the body of Christ if they were carrying the stain of original sin? Could that which contains sin be a part of that which was divine?” It’s quite the food for thought for those who might doubt the Catholic doctrine on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We also believe that Mary was taken body and soul into heaven. She is already in her resurrected body, as is Christ, and as we all will be at the end of time. Could the presence of fetal cells, fetal cells that were the perfect fusion of the humanity and divinity of the Son of Man, been a factor along with her sinlessness in Mary’s assumption? Of course, this is all speculation but the questions do have merit in that the Catholic Church rather than shying away from science has always pioneered, supported and even participated in research and study. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states
“Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”
This interconnectedness of cells among mothers, children and siblings (and possibly grandmothers) does seem to leave one person out of the equation, the father. It seems that while a husband can carry his own mother’s cells, he doesn’t carry any cells within him of his children or his wife. He is biochemically “other” than the other members of his nuclear family. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about God’s transcendence and immanence and how human fatherhood emphasizes God’s transcendence while motherhood emphasizes His immanence.
By calling God “Father”, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood,62 which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard:63 no one is father as God is Father.
The science of microchimerism seems to support this view in which the body itself speaks of these spiritual realities. St. Pope John Paul II also speaks of this “otherness” of fatherhood.
In the light of the “beginning,” the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude toward human beings—not only towards her own child but every human being—which profoundly marks the woman’s personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man—even with his sharing in parenthood—always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth; in many ways he has to learn his own “fatherhood” from the mother…
The wonderful thing is that husbands/fathers as head deeply desire to share and connect with their wife and children despite this characteristic of being “other.” They share that sacramental one-flesh union with their wives which results in his children receiving his DNA. I often wonder if the generally stronger sex drive of the male is a driver that serves to foster his interest in connecting to his wife (and his children in and through her), due to this “otherness” that is not shared biochemically.
Wives/mothers, for their part, seek to make room for and foster the diverse familial relationships as the heart of the family. They openly and actively welcome and receive the husband/father in cooperation with the sacramental union they share to truly unite the family as one-flesh. They also often are the keepers and drivers of cultural traditions that serve as vehicles that bind families and communities together.
This, of course, is the ideal we are called to but the effects of original sin run deep and we often fall short. It takes forgiveness and cooperation with grace to overcome these effects by striving always to attain holiness.
While much is not conclusive yet, this field of microchimerism is certainly one to watch in coming years as the implications, not only from a theological viewpoint but also from a physical viewpoint, comes more into focus. In the meantime, we can continue to wonder in awe at the thoughts and actions of God that are already so far above our own.
I came across a blog post at Zippy Catholic the other day that was a response to an ongoing debate in the comments section of another blog post at OnePeterFive about whether Saint Maria Goretti died to preserve her virginal purity when her attacker attempted to rape her or whether she died trying to prevent her attacker from committing mortal sin if he were to be successful in his attempt.
There were some commenters who were offended at the idea that she died preserving her purity or virginity. They claim that it insinuates that rape victims who were not successful at warding off their rapist or who did not put up much of a fight due to being threatened with severe bodily harm or death, were damaged goods, rendered sexually impure or somehow sinful in not fighting to the death in preventing their rape. There were other commenters defending that she did indeed die to preserve her purity. There were some good points on both sides but sometimes that was lost in the lack of charity extended among the debaters due to speculation and assumptions about each other’s motives behind each of their arguments. I think the offense comes in because it is assumed that by holding St. Maria Goretti up as an example of the value of purity, that it means victims of rape are obligated to fight to the death against their attacker lest they sin and ruin themselves.
When a woman is raped her sexual integrity is violated. She does not will the rape to happen. The bodily violation harms her physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Some of these wounds can be healed if she is made to understand that despite the harm done to her, it ultimately didn’t take away her worth or somehow make her dirty. She has been sinned against and has had damage done to her but it doesn’t render her damaged goods. She is not made impure or unchaste by what has been done to her.
St. Augustine taught this very clearly in The City of God, Chapter 18. He wrote, “…purity is a virtue of the soul…what sane man can suppose that, if his body be seized and forcibly made use of to satisfy the lust of another, he thereby loses his purity? For if purity can be thus destroyed, then assuredly purity is no virtue of the soul; nor can it be numbered among those good things by which the life is made good.” He goes on “I suppose no one is so foolish as to believe that, by this destruction of the integrity of one organ, the virgin has lost anything even of her bodily sanctity. And thus, so long as the soul keeps this firmness of purpose which sanctifies even the body, the violence done by another’s lust makes no impression on this bodily sanctity, which is preserved intact by one’s own persistent continence. ”
The commenters who are offended that she died to preserve her purity are right in that purity is not destroyed if a woman is raped. Because it’s a virtue of the soul rather than the body, if a woman in her God-given freedom does not will to consent to intercourse but it is forced upon her, then she is still pure.
Another question comes to mind as well, “Is a virgin still a virgin, if she is raped against her will?” Yes, she is, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Virginity. The entry explains in the very first two sentences, “Morally, virginity signifies the reverence for bodily integrity which is suggested by a virtuous motive. Thus understood, it is common to both sexes, and may exist in a women even after bodily violation committed upon her against her will. ”
So what of Maria Goretti? Because her virginity and purity would have remained, was it in vain that she chose to fight off her attacker to the death? Absolutely not. Although her resistance to the death was not an obligation, it was an heroic act of love for God. St. Maria Goretti exemplified heroic virtue, which goes beyond ordinary virtue, in her love for God above all things, even that of her very life.
Heroic virtue is a degree of perfection which, according to St. Thomas Aquinas,” belongs to the blessed in heaven or to a few of the most perfect in this life.” Pope Benedict XIV wrote “In order to be heroic a Christian virtue must enable its owner to perform virtuous actions with uncommon promptitude, ease, and pleasure, from supernatural motives and without human reasoning, with self-abnegation and full control over his natural inclinations.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that ” An heroic virtue, then, is a habit of good conduct that has become a second nature, a new motive power stronger than all corresponding inborn inclinations, capable of rendering easy a series of acts each of which, for the ordinary man, would be beset with very great, if not insurmountable, diffulties.”
We know from St. Maria Goretti’s story that the incident in which she was murdered was not her first encounter with Alessandro. The defense of virtue that was considered in her canonization was not just the incident that lead to her death but her ongoing defense of it over a period of time. He had been hounding her and sexually harassing her for months and she had vehemently refused and did what she could to run away from him. This “habit of good conduct” combined with her great love of God taught to her by her parents and strengthened by the power of the Rosary said by her family each evening, all gave her an unshakable foundation on which her will was able to cooperate with the gift of supernatural grace given to her in order that she be a witness to the value of sexual purity before God.
For those who were raped and unable to fend off their attacker or who were rendered helpless under fear of the threat of death, St. Maria’s story should not make them feel as though they have sinned, are impure or have even lost their virginity if they were virgins when it happened. If anything, St. Maria’s story should bring to light the horrible violation that is the sin of rape that was committed against them and against God. Her story acknowledges the great value of the victim’s sexual integrity and the freedom they should have had to refuse and have that refusal be respected.
For most of us, we will not be called to martyrdom nor will we reach the highest degree of perfection attainable while we are still in this life. However, by these stories of the heroic virtues of the saints, we should find inspiration to every day be striving after holiness and working towards that perfection we hope to have in the future as one of the blessed in heaven.
Here is a link to one of the better in-depth accounts of the story of St. Maria Goretti
“Being physically at the marches, it is easy to recognize differences between the two. In fact, some of the differences were downright stunning. Take a look for yourself, perhaps you will agree.” Antonia Okafor
Then the LORD God said to the snake:
Because you have done this,
cursed are you
among all the animals, tame or wild;
On your belly you shall crawl,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
They will strike at your head,
while you strike at their heel.
Behold, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you shall give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end!”…
“I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered. “May it happen to me according to your word.”