When You Were Naked: the Mercy in Modesty
The reading from 1st Thessalonians last Friday called us to a specific mission:
This reading brought to mind the trend I’ve noticed in the past year: speakers at Catholic conferences and retreats have been increasingly addressing the temptation of lust. “Run away!” a priest said at a family conference in July, speaking of the desire to show intimate affections outside of marriage. “Run away, as if from a fire… It may not seem fun, young people, but you will appreciate it later.”
This priest was concerned. He felt moved to promote the beautiful gift of selves spouses experience in marriage, and to protect youth from later regret for having already experienced that gift of self with countless others. He also encouraged young men and women to honor one another’s bodies in their actions. For the body is part of the self; the two cannot be divided. To respect the body is, ultimately, to protect a person’s inmost being.
We respect one another’s inmost beings by leading a chaste life. All baptized Christians are called to live a chaste life and model it for others in accordance with their state in life (CCC 2348). To live chastely and modestly is to oppose anything immoral, such as lust or anything disrespecting a person’s body. This way of life is key to maintaining the integrity of the Christian and everyone he encounters. It is an ‘eminently personal task’ (CCC 2344), and this priest took it on to preserve the beautiful mystery of love, to warn against the falling into lustful thoughts
St. John Paul II challenged us to live in such a way. In his lengthy series of homilies that became the Theology of the Body, he spoke to the importance of treating our bodies as temples of the Lord. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘bears the divine image imprinted on his body “from the beginning.”’ From the first moment of creation our bodies have reflected God’s beauty and strength, His fortitude and grace. Not only that, but we have the Spirit of God dwelling within us (Corinthians 6:19). Man’s body is the dwelling place of our Creator. Man’s body is holy. Man’s body, in whatever form it takes, is made good.
Man’s body is a gift.
Yet the enemy cheapens gifts.
The enemy cheapens gifts, and he makes gifts feel degraded.
The King of Lies has been on the prowl, preying on man’s ignorance and twisting what is beautiful. His hand is evident in our self-doubt at praise, our questioning the goodness of unexpected blessings, and in the way we clothe ourselves. His lies have taken root in our cultures, seeping into our words, our actions, our friendships, and the goods we produce.
Of all of creation, the body is especially under attack—and nowhere is this attack more evident than in the pornography industry. As Matt Fradd cites, about 63% of men and 21% of women aged 18-30 report they view pornography several times a week—not counting those viewing it less frequently. Viewership and participation is on the rise, and producers are targeting boys and girls at alarmingly younger and younger ages.
Yet there is also a disguised danger at play in the world, one accompanying the pornography industry. Doug Barry of the Catholic apostolate RADIX calls it ‘the demon of immodesty.’ Just like porn, immodesty teaches us to look at each other as objects rather than as souls, temples of God, and gifts of God. Immodesty takes many forms: it can be in our words, in the music we listen to, in the activities we expose ourselves to, and in the way we dress.
All of these can lead to lust, on our part or another’s.
Every person is in danger of falling to it.
While to love means to make ourselves a gift to others, lust involves taking what have been made as gifts for ourselves. In Theology of the Body, concupiscence is spoken of as being born of the lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Lust is something rooted in the world. It is evidence of the Fall, for lust involves a battle between the spirit and the flesh—whether it is born of disrespectful talk of another’s body, lewd scene in a book, or pornography.
Chastity, on the other hand, is the ‘successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man’ bodily and spiritually is the(as defined in CCC 2337). Chastity and modesty preserve the gift of the person in this world and are free of the battle involved when lust arises. These gifts of virtue protect the intimate center of a person, which is so besieged by lust. Therefore we must fight anything that threatens modesty. We must protect the gift of the person.
If Catholics and speakers have made fighting porn their mission, and youth conferences are addressing the topic more and more in order to bring teens healing, it is not enough for us to offer help to those struggling with the temptation of lust only after the fact. If the pornography industry is growing and grows in its threat to our younger siblings, our friends, our seminarians, our children, and family life as God establish it, it is not enough for us to merely counter lust after it has been cause for sin. If we truly want to eliminate porn and its wounds, we must live modestly and promote it at every moment.
We must help one another in this. Men, defend the women and kindly correct them (when appropriate). Women, speak well of men and treat them as persons rather than objects. Men, wear shirts despite 100+ degree weather. Women, dress with longer skirts and higher necklines to preserve men from temptation.
Fathers, be models to your sons of what is respectful conduct towards women; mothers, do likewise for your daughters. Discuss what is good and holy with one another. Use what is not as an opportunity to promote chastity. Avert your eyes when in situations of immodesty—leave, if able—and pray. Pray for mercy for yourself and the persons involved.
‘For I was naked and you clothed me,’ Jesus says to the apostles in Matthew 25.
‘Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Clothing the naked is one of the corporal acts of mercy. It protects a person’s dignity and keeps our brothers and sisters from lustful thoughts. It is the verses of 1st Thessalonians put into action. Clothing the naked is, therefore, an act that is crucial for our entrance into Heaven.
So, in the spirit of this and Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy last year, FIGHT! Fight to help people heal from the desire for porn. Fight to protect all men and women from lust. Fight to veil what is holy! FIGHT to maintain respect for the body as a gift.
Fight, so that at the end of your days Christ and you ask “When did I see you naked?” He will look at you and say: “When you clothed the least of your brothers, it was then that you clothed me. When you protected the innocent from temptation, it was then that you protected their souls. It was then that showed me your greatest love.”