After prayers for the world and for our relationships we turn to the first "me-related" prayer; asking for help in our efforts at modesty. Modesty in our culture is so often discussed as either another word for humility (which it is not, entirely) or a tool of oppression aimed at women (which it often is but shouldn't be). We pray:
That the ways we dress and carry ourselves may veil the mystery of our being, and that we may resist the allure of fashion and the glamour of sin.
So, let's start with the 411 on oppression. If this idea of modesty is used as a tool to force women to wear certain clothes whilst men get to wear whatever they want, we're not talking about Modesty but rather controlling of women. I headed this post with a group of Amish in modest attire - men and women - because modesty is for all. If a priest discusses modesty in a sermon as anything other than an issue for both men and women, something has gone markedly amiss.
I am so sick and freaking tired of conversations about modesty that do not talk about men because, to be blunt, a woman could parade naked in front of me and I'd not notice. However, a guy in tight jeans, coming from the gym in a tank top or a priest posting Roman Collared and "flex" pictures in social media (Oy.. yes) can send me running to confession singing the Divine Mercy Chaplet. And I hope my Catholic brothers hear this clearly. If you want to stand with us in our struggle, start working on your modesty. That same guy has a like effect on women as well, and it's equally not ok. We might want to talk about the pagan Gymnasia, both co-ed and single-sex, at a later time. Christians avoided the Gymnasia like their Jewish forefathers.
In the Angelic Warfare confraternity we pray for our own efforts at modesty rather than those of others. Modesty, properly understood, is a thing done in the first person to avoid causing others, in the 2nd person, to stumble. "The whole of the Church's teaching leads ultimately to love," said Pope Benedict XVI. Modesty is an act of love, not of devotion to one's spouse, or obedience to religious rules, or of humiliation, but rather one of love towards neighbor. We are all part of one another. My stumbles hurt you, yours hurt me. Our spiritual victories help all of the Church, both militant and expectant. If I cause you to stumble, I hurt us all.
The first prayer intention is that "the ways we dress and carry ourselves may veil the mystery of our being." This acknowledges that not only our clothing, but also our bearing is party of our modesty. We can be very immodest when even fully clothed - using our movement, our voice, our words to convey offers that are not real - but are extended in order to manipulate others. Modesty acknowledges our own personal power, our own ability to be beautiful, to be alluring, to be tempting. We all have it (no matter what our age). There are those who are exceptionally beautiful, yes, but almost all of us are "of a type" for someone. I may never woo a supermodel, but someone will find my middle-aged "dad bod" (or "Granddad Bod", to be honest) to be their type. My efforts at modesty are for these folks.
In this respect, modesty is about humility: one shouldn't need to flaunt their beauty, to have their ego gratified by the way they are complimented. Posting a new profile pic on Facebook and getting a lot of likes fees very nice - right? It feels nearly flirtatious. One needs to show off: behold how hot I am - even if I'm not trying to trip up others sexually. I do not intend to provide what I pretend to offer: I'm teasing only so that only my ego will be gratified whenever this conversation ends. In fact, it will probably come at a cost to your ego, but that's not important to me. Again, modesty is not all humility: it is all love. It is an act of hospitality to the other, to not arouse them, to not conflict their thoughts with temptations of sexual availability (either real or imagined). It is more than possible by God's grace in us, as human persons, to relate in love on all fronts. But we must always wait in patience for the other.
A veiling of our being is a realization that, in all Christian acts of Love, it is God loving through us that is important. My being steps out of the way, you don't need to see me as I let God love you. My unveiling before those who know me more intimately is an act of communion. It is decidedly not social, or mediated. It is communication, properly understood.
Modesty is also an act of self-love. This action says I do not need to use all this to win an argument or to get a free seat on the airplane, if I'm not, already, otherwise able or qualified to do so. An offering of sexual availability, furthermore, may be accepted. The self may be unwilling or unable to back down at that point. The sin of pride steps in and says, Fulfill your promises. Modesty prevents that. Pride, again, and humility are not the point of this, but rather "the way we dress and carry ourselves."
The second half of the prayer talks about "the allure of fashion and the glamour of sin". Fashion might be easy to understand, but glamour is the real issue in the second phrase. The allure of fashion is all the ways in which our cultural ideas of fashion changes from season to season. Our secular ideas of modesty fit in with this.
Is it ok for a man to go topless? Is it ok for a woman to show her ankles or her knees? How about her cleavage? How about a man wearing spandex shorts to Church? How about a woman wearing yoga pants? This is not really about Church either: the clothing we wear in Church might tempt our sisters and brothers, but wearing the same to the park... is the same thing. These are all fashion questions and they change from season to season. We imagine there might be ways to conflate cultural ideas of modest fashion with Christian ideas about modesty - especially if one imagines oneself to live in a "Christian Country" where people fight about "the war on Christmas". Companies sell skimpy clothing to us - but with Christian slogans on them. Again, this is an issue about the second person, not the first. The culture thinks spandex and yoga pants are good, reasonably modest clothing. People wear them in public all the time. But keeping in fashion is not modesty.
Remember what clothing is for, Son of Adam, Daughter of Eve. We don't all have to dress like the Amish in my header photo. But we need to remember that the folks who sell us clothing are not doing so for our salvation or the salvation of others. Sex sells. I said in an earlier post, "no one is free if others are oppressed". This is equally true of political oppression and the oppression of sin. St Paul counsels us to do nothing that would cause the weaker sister or brother to stumble in sin. If my actions only further your sin, I've done nothing for our salvation. In leading you away from the light of Christ, I've done the same for myself.
So comes that point about the glamour of sin.
Glamour is a magical aura, or, if you will, a halo. It's the magical light from an enchantment that confuses or stuns the viewer. When we dress up like the general public, we're trying to blend in, trying to look like everyone else. We are engaging in the glamour of sin. When we dress in sketchy clothing, trying to look sexy (even though we intend chastity) we are engaging in the glamour of sin. We're tying to cast a spell... something that looks "normal" and worldly. I am, he said. Normal and worldly, I just do it with Jesus. Have no fear.
This prayer is really about our effect on other people. When we look as if we're "in the market", we can lead others into sin (if a woman lusteth in her heart), we can cause our Christian brothers and sisters to stumble, either by way of lust, or gossip, or judgment. Christ says it's better to have a millstone tied around your neck and get tossed into the sea than to cause someone else to stumble.
In that we can cause others to fall, we need to be mindful of others' sins (not just our own). This prayer is the last one for a while that will be about how my actions affect others. The overarching theme of the 15 Intentions is help me to respond to this stimulus in a Christian way. This prayer builds on that pattern, saying, "don't let me be this stimulus to others." Yet notice: no prayer is made to "correct" the actions of others. We can pray that they will adopt the same approach, but no other commitment is made. They are on their own journey as we are on ours.