Thursday, September 16, 2010

Searching our hearts

Well, it's Day Four of the Endless Modesty Debate Week here at And Sometimes Tea. Amazing, considering I hadn't planned to host an Endless Modesty Debate Week when all of this started.

Today I want to talk about something related to this debate, which is actually rather serious. As I was planning this post, I realized that I was going to have to balance my desire to share a particular story with the Church's teaching that the faults of another should not be unjustly revealed. Accordingly, I'm going to be very circumspect about some of the details as well as the identities of the people involved in the following situation. I assure you, though, that it is a real situation, that I am very slightly acquainted with some of the family involved (who live far from here), and that I promised to pray for this family--which I now ask you to consider doing, as well.

"Grace" (not her real name) is a Catholic mother and grandmother. She raised her children in the faith, and they all remained practicing Catholics, married in the Church, and are raising their own children in the Church as well.

Grace has always had some rather extreme ideas about some aspects of Catholicism. One of these is modesty in dress. Some of the modern clothing items Grace objects to are, indeed, not modest in that they are revealing. Others, however, are normal items of clothing or accessories which Grace insists are not acceptable, either for any woman, or for any woman below adulthood.

Some of Grace's granddaughters sometimes fail to meet Grace's ideas of modest clothing. Sometimes they may choose garments which ordinary Catholics would also find a little too revealing (though like many teens, Grace's granddaughters are most likely motivated by trends in these choices). Other times, though, they are only failing to abide by Grace's particular rules--again, rules which modesty-minded Catholics would likely find odd.

The situation for which I am praying is this: Grace has decided that her duty as a good Catholic is to cut off contact with her grandchildren over what she perceives as their immodest way of dressing. Her practicing Catholic grandchildren.

In order to protect Grace's anonymity and privacy, I won't give any more details, and anything specific to Grace or her family has not been mentioned here. But I wanted to share this example of what can happen when a Catholic goes much farther than the Church does on matters where the Church's teaching permits honest discernment and good judgment from her people. In particular, I find it absolutely heartbreaking that a grandparent would decide, even temporarily if that turns out to be the case, to stay away from her own grandchildren out of disapproval of their fashion choices. I can't imagine my daughters' grandmothers doing anything like this, and I can't imagine how much pain this unfortunately misguided grandmother may be causing her grandchildren.

The sad thing is that if Grace were merely objecting to the actually immodest items, and backing up her reasons for objecting with sound teaching about modesty and about the duty of a young woman (or a young man, for that matter) not to reveal the areas of her body that should be private, the children might be receptive to her gentle words. Would they change immediately? No, probably not, and Grace might have to be prepared to repeat the message without nagging, and be patient, and set a good example herself, and otherwise lead them closer to a good Christian understanding of modesty.

But by first insisting on arbitrary rules about what modest Catholic women do and don't wear in addition to legitimate concerns about revealing garments, and then by deciding that if her grandchildren won't do as she demands she simply won't see them, Grace is making sure that her grandchildren will equate "modesty" with "crazy passive-aggressive behavior" and is damaging her relationship with her grandchildren (and likely, with her children as well)--perhaps forever. And this is so unbelievably sad.

Modesty is not the chief of virtues. At the end, the three things that last will not be faith, hope, and modesty. If love is not the crown of all of our virtues, then nothing else we do matters much at all. If humility is not sought, courted, and embraced as the antidote to the deadly pride that murders love, then all will be lost.

The woman who dons what she sincerely thinks of as modest apparel in order to be decently and appropriately dressed, out of love for herself and charity to her neighbor, has nothing to worry about--and certainly doesn't need to worry about whether she is wearing pants or a skirt. The woman who dons what she sincerely thinks of as modest apparel in order to make holiness into an emotion and her clothing into a stage costume, or to lord it over the less-enlightened women in their mannish trousers, or to feed her vanity and pride, is not doing herself any good at all, and might as well wear a jogging suit instead.

And the woman, or the man, or the group willing to foster familial strife and turmoil over questions of clothing, in the tragically mistaken belief that our Lord will bless their efforts to destroy peace, rend families, and hurt people in the name of insisting on their idea of the One True Holy Dress Code had better search his, her, or their hearts in the light of the Gospel--as should we all, every day that we are privileged to draw breath on this Earth.


Melanie B said...

That is heartbreaking. I can't imagine letting clothing come between family members like that. Especially when her stance is likely to exacerbate the very behavior she is trying to curb.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that clothing is the issue here, maybe it's a mental control problem. Some people with control problems hoard, are depressed, become obsessively compulsive with certain behaviors, gamble excessively or become addicted to things, etc., to the point of losing access to valuable things they've loved in the past. I would question if she has the beginning of a brain disease. As with any mental disease, too, there's often an inability for the impaired to look at their behavior from outside themselves and objectively note the effects of illness.

JMB said...

Right on sister! It reminds me of yesterday's gospel about the fallen woman & the pharisee. The pharisee follows the rules to a tee, yet won't kiss Jesus or wash his feet. We can get so wrapped up in our own version of "holiness" that we fail to love. What's the point then?

Beth said...

Yes that is a sad situation.

Erin, I think you should rethink your "generally speaking" homeschooling is best for everyone stance. I believe your thought process heads in the same direction as the grandmothers--declaring something that the church oes not even declare. Did you take a look at Simcha's recent post on homeschooling?

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

You must not have read the beginning of Erin's recent musings on homeschooling.

Angela C. said...

"The woman who dons what she sincerely thinks of as modest apparel in order to make holiness into an emotion and her clothing into a stage costume, or to lord it over the less-enlightened women in their mannish trousers, or to feed her vanity and pride, is not doing herself any good at all, and might as well wear a jogging suit instead."

Erin, that is an excellent summation of the entire argument against pants. When a woman starts going beyond "I like wearing skirts, they're nice" into the realms of "ALL women feel like a pretty, pretty princess (or Our Lady) in skirts" she can't reason beyond her emotions. Thank you again for another great post on this.

GABY said...

Emotional blackmail- that's what the grandma is doing, and it's wicked for its selfishness.

priest's wife said...

so sad....these grandchildren may leave the Church over immodest dress- grandma needs to realize that they (even though they don't admit it) think of her as an authority of the Church. If grandma doesn't instruct with love and mercy- then the Church does not- in the eyes of the grandkids....not knowing the entire situation- it is so sad that this grandmom just can't be joyful in having raised a family of practicing Catholics!