Modesty. A word that often makes women cringe. However, what if modesty was a word that evoked notions of virtue, respect, strength and individuality? What if modesty was seen as a key that unlocked the mystery of woman? The good news, it can, and it does!
During my high-school years I used to think that modesty was just about what I wore. I used to resent the idea of ‘being modest’ because I misunderstood the purpose. I thought modesty was a rulebook that I had to follow and would force me to cover up my exterior because it wasn’t good to show ‘too much’ skin. I felt that modesty restricted me and forced me to look ‘different’ to other girls. Now, I love modesty because it helps me reveal who I am.
Modesty involves what women wear but it is so much more than just that. Modesty is an internal disposition that aligns the heart towards purity in thought, word and action. Modesty is a beautiful virtue that is linked to Temperance; having right order and self-control, in order to become more fully alive – to reveal to the world who we truly are. Modesty, in the physical sense is about veiling our bodies in order to remind those that we encounter, of our profound dignity and mystery as a daughter of God. By wearing modest clothing it honors not only our dignity but also the dignity of our Vocation. Modesty, in relation to clothing means being pure and fashionable at the same time, and is different for every woman, according to her personal taste and body shape.
Modesty also includes being emotionally pure and ensuring that the way we speak to and about others always upholds their dignity. Modesty in our actions, encourages women to live out their authentic femininity and reminds others of their dignity. It is a truly liberating virtue that inspires women to discover and reveal their worth and dignity. It also inspires men to treat a woman with reverence and respect. Saint John Paul II said ‘Men must be taught to love, and to love in a noble way; they must be educated in depth in this truth, that is, in the fact that a woman is a person and not simply an object.’ Every woman desires to be treated with respect, but few women realize the power they have to invite men to treat them this way, by the way they dress and present themselves.
I absolutely love the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s explanation on Modesty:
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
Modesty protects the intimate center of the person! Now, that is a profound insight. Sign me up for this virtue, please! We can see from this unpacking of the virtue of Modesty that, understood in its truest sense, it goes so much deeper than the exterior. The Catechism also reminds us that this virtue, like all the virtues, is intended for both men and women to help them on their journey to sanctity.
Saint Paul reminds us of the dignity of our bodies;
‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own, you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.’ 1 Cor 6:19-20
Your body is the place on earth where Jesus dwells. We must communicate this to the world by the way we present and treat our body.
Saint Peter beautifully highlights the profound mystery of femininity;
‘Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God.’ 1 Peter 3:3-4
Now, Saint Peter isn’t telling women to forget about their physical appearance and just focus on their character. Rather, he is encouraging women to realize that their internal disposition, and ‘hidden character of the heart’ is most important and where the true revelation of their beauty lies.
I would like to leave you with this thought…
‘The beauty on the outside never gets into the soul. But the beauty of the soul reflects itself in the face.’ – Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Written by Madeleine Carrington