Pastor’s Corner

May 5, 2024

My Dear Parishioners:
Every year as the weather warms and winter clothing is retired for the season, I prepare and offer thoughts on “modesty.” This, of course, will be my first foray into the fashions fray here in Owensboro. I offer the following as pastoral teaching. And, as a teacher, I do commit to practice what I teach, but admit that I am not an enforcer or police officer. I ask that parishioners observe these standards for God’s sake and that of their neighbor. The true attractiveness of the human person is not to be found in ‘sexiness’, but in the personal goodness by which he or she manifests the image of God. The beauty of sexual values is very real and its truth is found in the holy service of faithful love and life. “Sex appeal” in our culture, by contrast, refers to the lure of lust. The human person is worthy of more, much more.

The virtue of modesty upholds the personal dignity of the child of God. It practices a positive honoring of one’s human dignity and honors the human dignity of others as persons. It honors the Creator who made us, body and soul, in the divine image. The opposing vices dishonor God, self, or others by way of lust, manipulation, abuse, or some other form of disrespect. It is more and more clear to me that Catholic teaching on modesty has to do with honoring the dignity of the embodied persons that we are. While clothing may in itself be a form of display, disguise, or even environmental protection, it mostly serves as a self-presentation of the wearer and has to do with honor in addition to any utility. Clothing and apparel when modest proclaim “I am a person created by the good God, beautiful in God’s eyes, and am to be respected and valued. I am not to be used or treated as a thing.”

Clothing helps us to look at and to see a person, a fellow human being, rather than merely view a human body as a ‘thing’ or object for our use or pleasure. Problems with modesty stem, it appears to me, from a person’s lack of a sense of inherent, personal goodness and value in themselves or others. To use our own selves, our own bodies, as objects to incite lust is self-dishonoring. It displays a sad hunger for and misunderstanding of love. The human being, body and soul, is made beautiful by God. It is a beauty to be honored and loved. It is not to be sold, bought, displayed, or consumed to state lust. That being said, I assert: The Church’s universal moral norm is – “always be modest.”

The human being is sacred and beautiful before God. This is especially revealed in the Incarnation of the Word. Christian values flow out of reverence for God and Christ. So, always dress and behave modestly, thus in a chaste fashion, for church, school, work, play, etc. In these differing situations the requirements of modesty do vary, but modesty always applies.

Parents are responsible for seeing to the modesty of their children and teens. Please do not surrender this God-given role. Set the example and work with your children. Clothing considered modest for church employs the principles I stated above. For practical application when attending church, I recommend the following and I require it when one has a liturgical ministry or represents the parish. When shorts or skirts are worn, hem lines should just about reach the knees when standing. “Short shorts” are not appropriate for church for anyone – children, teens, or adults. Abdomens, chests, busts, and backs, likewise, should always be covered. The bare or baring midriff is completely unacceptable for church. Boxers and other inner-lower wear, sad that it must be said, should not be exposed to view. Shoulders (both) should be covered. Straps or strings alone will not do. Bare arms appear to be present no problem for most Christians today, if the rest is covered. This excludes a great deal of casual, sports, and ‘evening wear’ in church. Present fashions, however, keep dropping women’s bust lines and exposing cleavage. Exposure is only aggravated, then, when the wearer bows or bends over. Please, have a care and be better covered. Also, clothing should be more loose fitting than tight, thus covering rather than over-accentuating the body’s contours. In other words, outer clothing should not be a pseudo skin. Nor should parents put their little children in cloths of a style that would be immodest on a teen or an adult. It teaches bad habits.

In any circumstance, it is each person’s responsibility; mine too, to keep a modest, chaste, and charitable mind. Parents, help your children. Adults and teens, discretely help each other. The goal is always and primarily charity and honor with respect for one’s own and others’ personal dignity. Certainly the adults and teens who minister at church should give an eye to their modest attire before leaving home. It is Christian kindness to have this modest regard for one another.

Modesty during the summer is a seasonal challenge. Styles from grunge to elegance today seem mostly to challenge virtue. I recognize and respect the complaint that it is nearly impossible to find modest fashions. Even so, we cannot before God surrender to economically driven morality. Modesty of mind and imagination is a continuous moral challenge, given our fallen human nature and facing the lustful content of styles, movies, television, internet, music, print, and all other media today. Charity, chastity, and modesty can nonetheless thrive through sacrifice by the grace of God. I pray that this grace of the Holy Spirit may guide all faithful Christians to bear witness to Christian virtue in our day.
Blessings, Fr. John