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.