Pure for God
A Theological Approach to Modesty
Today we see people, like in the times past, following the current trends and fashion. It is the modern generation’s loss of all sense of sin that has led to the numbing sense of self-being. Nothing matters and life is yours to live with no consequences or value. Sacrificing themselves daily on the altar of convenience, self-gratification, and pride. This is where the true argument for modesty begins. It is not about women dressing to help their brother in Christ get to heaven. Though that is true, modesty is for both men and women and is a reflection of one's sense of value they hold for themselves.
One should be modest in their thoughts, actions, and outer appearance, not only in a Church but always. In the 21st Century, modesty is falsely accused of being restrictive or a way to gain control. Although it does mean being prudent with one's behavior or clothes, it is required for a pure heart. This obstinate behavior is a part of man's fallen nature. Man is a fallen creature in a constant spiritual battle to purify their heart. However, it was not God's design for man to be stripped of pure intention and everlasting peace. It was by man's choice to openly disobey God and deny the protection bestowed upon them. Therefore, man's war with carnal covetousness began and continues. Scripture is God’s call to man to return to Him. They are accounts of fallen men who have strived for a pure heart for God under great temptation and even mortal sin.
“Pure in heart" refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God's holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity; love of truth, and orthodoxy of faith.
Modesty is often perceived as exclusively the way someone dresses. However, modesty also applies to one’s inner appearance. The heart is the root of our personhood. It is out of the heart that comes, “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man” (Revised Standard Version, Matthew 15:19-20). The struggle between our carnal covetousness and our pure heart needs to be practiced with temperance (CCC 2517). Purity requires modesty therefore; modesty is required to testify to the divinity of God. Scripture tells us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (RSV Mt 5:8). This verse gives mankind hope for the reward of being modest. Holding one’s self to a higher standard allows one to always aim to achieve God’s grace.
Modesty is truly a matter of the heart. We must listen and read God’s words with our whole heart. Pouring over for God with pure love. For purity is most pleasing to God. Therefore, it is God’s will for His people to remain modest. Not only modest but Christ goes as far as to call us to perfection, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (RSV, Mt 5:48). However, It is man’s imperfection that keeps him from accepting God’s perfect design. God loves purity; therefore, he has designed man in a way that is beautiful and pure. Christians must see God’s love for them as well as the value they hold. Respecting one’s self, humility, and modesty all create a restraint on our passions, actions, and desires.
God is our standard. In order “to become perfect,” says Jean Pierre de Caussade, “we need not understand the designs of God, but obey them… put all speculation aside and, with a childlike willingness, accept... what God arranges” (Abandonment to Divine Providence, 26-27).
Modesty is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, to be pure in thought, looks, words, and actions. It is a gift that inspires us to see the value and dignity of ourselves and others. Modesty protects the intimate center of a person. There is an invisible veil that at times should remain hidden. Though many target women more often than men in terms of modesty both are just as responsible as the other. Because it is not only a women’s dignity that needs to be vailed but also the minds of both sexes that are vulnerable. Modesty is a gift that inspires the worth and dignity of the human body created by God. Seeing others as God’s beautiful creation.“Modesty is decency. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet” (CCC 2522).
Pope John Paul II in his book Theology of the Body reminds his readers that in order to achieve purity one must oppose impurity and also to fornication and licentiousness. 1
One must assert God’s word and witness to transform within the world. Foster virtue within the human heart to cultivate purity and accept the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The human person holds so much value in God’s eyes. Simply enough, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Revised Standard Version, John 3:16). Therefore, we are created with equal dignity and hold value. Protect yourself from the scrutiny and lies of the world and act, speak, and dress with modesty.
Fashions of the time are temporary. As the times change, we reflect on how far immodesty had gone. In Scripture, Isaiah writes, “Your nakedness will be uncovered and your shame shall be seen” (RSV, 47:3). Today we see people openly proclaiming their immodesty with pride. It is to this that Our Lady of Fatima tells us, “Those who serve God should not follow the fashions.”2 When we reduce modesty to being only a matter of how a woman dresses, we shift the blame and responsibility for another person’s sin of lust onto women, opening the door to the possibility of enslaving women to the lust of men. St. Edith Stein wrote that “according to the original order, woman was entrusted to man as companion and helpmate . . . But the relationship of the sexes since the Fall has become a brutal relationship of master and slave . . . man uses her as a means to achieve his own ends in the exercise of his work or in pacifying his own lust.”3 Focusing on one sex over the other creates a level of inequality that God did not create. Both men and women are called to dress modestly. To assume otherwise is to deny him or her their dignity and personhood.
Cara Anthony beautifully points out that, “Modesty should foster mutual regard and care to and lead to shared enjoyment.”4
This mutual regard between men and women not only respects themselves but brings joy to God because it cultivates a pure heart. Modesty is an act of love and respect for one's being. One must live out their life modestly, by how they present themselves and the behavior they exhibit. Women need to notice they are feminine creatures created in the beauty of God. Rather than seeing this as a weakness see it as a guardian of Chasity and strength. While men, just the same, must acknowledge they are masculine, are called to not be afraid in the face of Christ's call to follow him and lead. Rather than men thinking they have to be tough or weak is false. Christ was the perfect balance of authentic masculinity and loving, He could weep and build (or flip) tables.
Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori once said, “We must practice modesty, not only in our looks, but also in our whole deportment, and particularly in out dress, our walk, our conversation, and all similar actions.”
Modesty is beautiful and a diamond among all the virtues. It requires the gift of faith and grace so that we can meet the demands of God.
“In the renewal of Catholic Culture, the battle begins at home, on bended knee,” says Topping. 5
The Catechism supports toppings faith in prayer when it reads, “Purification of the heart demands prayer, the practice of chastity, purity of intention, and of vision” (CCC 2532).
You hold so much value to God. Life is a path to eternal salvation or eternal damnation. Life is not yours to live with no consequences. Modest actions show one’s love for another without drawing inappropriate attention to oneself.
“You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve him, and swear by his name. You shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the peoples who are round about you; for the Lordyour God in the midst of you is a jealous God; lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth” (RSV Deut 6:13-15).
Pope John Paul II, Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, (Pauline Books & Media. 1997), 199.
Robert T. Hart, Those Who Serve God Should Not Follow the Fashions, (Little Flowers Family Press, 2017), 1.
Lucy Gelber, Essays on Woman, (ICS Publications, 2012), 72.
Cara Anthony, Modesty is the Service of Justice: Retrieving Tradition and Reversing the Gaze, (Horizons, 2009), 273.
Ryan Topping, Rebuilding Catholic Culture: How the Catechism Can Shape Our Common Life, (Sophia Institute Press. 2012), 190.