Special Report on Modesty

by admin on December 16, 2010

I just received this photo from a series of photo’s about humorous beach scenes.  I suppose that this photo was included to show how ridiculous some cultures are as far as modesty goes.  OK, by today’s standards this is completely ridiculous and “oppressive.”  However, I would like to recall that at the beginning of my conversion, I started questioning everything I and the world was about.  One of the graces that began my questioning phase was when I saw a photograph of some of my relatives from the 1800’s (maybe it was the early 1900’s).  They were all standing in the water at the beach in their beachwear.   What was so “upsetting” to me and continued to fuel my questioning of everything was that the bathing suits the women were wearing looked like wedding gowns; big poofy “dresses” down to their ankles and with arm length sleeves, etc.  And the men, too, were very modestly dressed, however, I don’t remember what they were wearing anymore.  In order to help us all along in our ever continuing conversion I would like to end my commentary with this thought.  On October 13, 1884 Pope Leo XIII had a vision of Jesus and Satan.  Satan asked Jesus for 100 years of power and even more power over those who would give themselves over to his influence.  Jesus said that he could have the time and the power.  Then, 33 years later, to the date, Our Lady of Fatima appeared with Jesus and St. Joseph and we had the miracle of the sun.  My own personal opinion (which is to be taken lightly) is that this is when that 100 years of power began.  All this being said, I would like any of the new readers on this site to consider whether or not the articles on this site are truly antiquated, or have they just been brushed aside for more “clearer modern thinking.”  And now for our featured article.

Of the Mistake of Those Who Make Small Account of These Exterior Things of Modesty, Saying that Perfection Does Not Consist in Them

HENCE it is easily gathered how mistaken they are who make small account of these exterior things of mod­esty and silence, saying that perfection does not lie in that, but in the interior of the heart and in true and solid virtues. Lipoman quotes a very good example to this purpose, drawn from the “Spiritual Meadow.” He relates there that one of those ancient Fathers who dwelt in the Desert of Sythia went one day into Alexandria to sell the baskets that he had made, and saw there another monk, a very young man, who had just entered a public house. The old man felt this keenly, and resolved to wait for his coming out to give him his mind. When he did come out, he called him apart and said to him: “My brother, don’t you see that you are still very young, and that many are the snares of our enemy? Do you not know the harm that a monk takes in going through cities by the figures and images that come in upon him through his eyes and ears? How dare you, then, go into public houses, where there is so much bad company of men and women and where you are forced to see evil things and hear what you would not? No, for the love of God, my son, do not so, but fly to the desert, where, by God’s grace and help, you will be safe and secure.” The youth answered: “All right, old man. Perfection lies not in that, but in purity of heart. I keep my heart pure, and that is what God wants.” At this the old man lifted up his eyes to heaven, and cried: “Blessed and praised be Thou, O Lord! For fifty-five years I have been in the Desert of Sythia, keeping all the recollection I could, and I have not attained to purity of heart; but this frequenter of taverns and public houses has got it already.” Let this, then, be your answer. I own to you that perfection essentially consists in purity of heart, in charity and the love of God, and not in these exte­rior things; but you will never attain to that perfection unless you make much account of the custody of your senses and the observance of exterior modesty.

One Must Maintain Custody of the Eyes and Mind

St. Bonaventure notes this very well, and says that the reason of it is that the interior is acquired and preserved through the exterior, and these exterior things are the sup­ports and defenses of the heart. We see that nature never produces a tree without its leaves and bark, nor fruit with­out its rind or husk, but all things have their supports and defenses to preserve and adorn them. So also grace, which operates according to nature and more perfectly than nature, never produces the interior of virtue except through the exterior; that is the bark and husk whereby virtue is preserved, and interior recollection, and purity and clean­ness of heart; and when that fails, the other fails too. As bodily health or sickness does not lie in the exterior, nor in having a good or bad color, but in the good or ill blending of the humors that there are there within, yet nevertheless when we see anyone with a bad color we at once say: “John is in a poor way; he is anything but well. Don’t you see what a color he has got, what a jaundiced look, what eyes?” Now it is just the same with regard to spiritual health.

St. Basil illustrates this by a comparison, and as he makes it, so we may make it also. He presupposes that common doctrine and allegory of the saints, that the exte­rior senses are the windows by which the soul peeps out to see what is going on there outside. He says that there is the same difference between a recollected and a distracted soul that there is between a virtuous woman and a woman of light character. In the case of the virtuous woman, it is a wonder to see her at the window; but as for the light­headed and ill-living woman, she is all day at the window and at the door, seeing all who go by, calling out to one, talking and entertaining herself with another. This, says St. Basil, is the difference between the recollected and the distracted religious, that it is a wonder to see the recol­lected one peeping through the windows of her senses, hear­ing what is said, talking and losing time now with this party, now with that. The virtue or lewdness of a woman does not consist in her peeping at the window or not; but the woman often at the window, the woman loitering about the streets, she who loves to talk and converse now with one party, now with another, gives great indications and signs of her levity; and that alone would be enough to make her wicked, even if she were not so before. In the same way it is true that perfection does not consist in custody of the tongue and senses; but the soul that haunts the windows and loiters about in the streets, the soul that loves to see, hear, and say things, will never gain perfection or purity of heart.

We should observe here another main point, that, as the exterior helps to compose and preserve the interior, so also the interior at once stamps composure on the exterior. “Where there is Christ, there is modesty”—Ubi Christus est, modestia quoque est, says St. Gregory Nazianzen. Where there is within a solid and stable virtue, at once there is gravity and seriousness in the eyes and in the tongue, much maturity of gait and in all our movements. Inward gravity and steadiness makes gravity arid steadiness without. This is the modesty that our Father asks of us, a modesty springing from peace and true humility of soul; not a modesty put on and cunningly made up, for that will not last, but fails just when it is wanted—an artificial mod­esty in fact; but a modesty naturally overflowing from the interior, springing as effect from cause from a heart com­posed, mortified, and humble.

Hence we may gather one very good sign whereby to know whether a man is a spiritual man or not and whether he is progressing and growing in spirit or not. St. Augus­tine declares it by this comparison. We see that we who are now grown to manhood willingly go without many pleasures and amusements that we had as children—which it would have cost us much pain to have given up then, and now we do not feel the loss of them, for they are amuse­ments and sports of children, whereas we are now men. In like manner, on the soul’s journey, when we begin to taste God and the things of virtue, and one is becoming a spir­itual man and a perfect man, one feels no pain in foregoing those sensible pleasures and satisfactions which one enjoyed as a child and as one imperfect in virtue. Those are the delights and pastimes of children, and you are now a man. When I was a child, I felt as a child, and thought as a child, and acted as a child, but now that I am a man I have given over the things of a child (I Cor. xiii. 11). If, then, you wish to see whether you are a man, progressing and grow­ing in perfection, or whether you are still a child, see whether you have given over and forgotten the things of a child; for if you still have a taste for the sports and amuse­ments of children, a child you are. If you have a relish for pieces of childishness, for giving free vent to your senses, for feasting your eyes, going about and looking at curious and vain things, and your ears in hearing all that goes on, and your tongue in idle and useless talks and conversations, you are but a child and imperfect, since you have a taste for the pastimes and amusements of children and imper­fect people. He who is a spiritual person and goes on growing and becoming a perfect man, has no taste for these things, but rather ridicules and scorns them, as a grown man scorns the sports and amusements of children, and would blush to take part in them.

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