This article on the well-worn classic, Catholic modesty,* has made a cycle through my facebook feed. While I am rather surprised (based on some other comments from the author) by her highly reasonable take, I don’t think the author adds anything earth-shaking ** (or offensive) to the continual modesty-in-dress discussion in the Catho-sphere.
I read this here response to the original article, and I must say I’m not entirely clear how the responder manages to interpret “In terms of modesty, that might mean dressing in a way that is appropriate to one’s culture and circumstances, not drawing undue attention to oneself either in one’s dress or undress, remaining circumspect about one’s own choices, and not denouncing the reasonable choices of others” as “true modesty is following the crowd, because you can’t be modest if you stand out.”
It seems to me that the choice the responding blogger presents – that one can either choose to “stand out” in appearances (both of the person and of the home) or one can hang with the hoi polloi (who are made “uncomfortable” by your Church-art-y home and whatever it is you wear) – is a false one. And I wonder if what gives this endless debate about women’s clothes such pervasive life (kind of like the awful wild violets in my backyard; occasionally tolerable and definitely harmless-looking, but hugely insidious and practically impossible to remove) isn’t these sorts of false dichotomies. (This is certainly not the only false dichotomy or uncharitable premise I’ve come across in this debate.)
I get the sense (and this may partly be because I’m still trying to be all Carmelite-y with Fire Within***) that if one is truly following Christ, one will stand out whether one wants to or not. (Which is part of the reason I feel so unprepared for the coming persecution in this country; afraid I won’t be brave enough for the times.) One could try in every outward way to blend in with the world (even cover one’s wall with movie posters and take down all the crucifixes, I bet!), but one’s words, actions, and beliefs would shine out anyway.
It’s hard for me to accept that the “standing out” that comes of being a real follower of Christ, is something that hinges so much on clothing. Clothes are just clothes; everyone’s got to wear them. They shouldn’t be used to advertize one’s “bits,” but beyond that I really can’t see how they are relevant. (With the caveat that if wearing certain clothes matters to a person, then it matters to that person and they should act accordingly. I certainly don’t care. How someone else dresses is equally irrelevant.)
I really like Simcha Fisher’s wise application of “keep your eyes on your own work” to the spiritual life. That those who really follow Christ will be misfits in the world is probably the only point at which I can agree with the responding blogger. To truly follow Christ, I am sure, is harder than obtaining a PhD in neuroscience (insert hardest degree of choice here) or than qualifying for the Olympics. I’m certainly a remedial student in being a Christian and heaven knows my attention and effort waxes and wanes enough already – I am wary of expending extra thought or effort on what I consider to be silly externals****.
*Decoder ring for non-Catholics: on the Catholic internets “modesty” means “what kind of clothes women should wear” or, if a proud “Traditionalist” and/or a man who wants in on this fight, “what kind of clothes (right down to individual garments and fabrics) should women be allowed to wear/can they wear without risking HELL.”
**This is not meant as a criticism; merely an assessment.
*** Totally unrelated: apparently Fr. Dubay lived to the end of his life (he died just a few years ago) at the home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor which is quite close to me. I wish I had known at the time, but I am sure I would not have been brave enough to send a note.
****Responding blogger mentions visual arts and literature as well. I do not consider art or literature to be “silly externals.” (Clothing I do; fun, but silly.) I consider art and literature to be in a different category (in the Aristotelian sense.)