Modesty is Mercy


In the Orangeryย by Charles Edward Perugini

During my college backpacking travels around Europe, I at one point found myself on a beach in Barcelona, Spain. Ahem, let me clarify…a nude beach! Or at least topless, but whatever the case, people were definitely not wearing full beach garb, which seems to be pretty hard to violate in the first place…but I assure you, it can be done!

The funny thing is that I didn’t even notice at first. Our party of three girls and two guys waltzed over to a nice spot by the water’s edge and began spreading our blanket and setting up our space. My friend and I then kicked off our shoes and ran into the spray of the crashing Barcelona waves, so excited to be on a beach in Spain!

It took us a little while, but we eventually caught on that we were strangely overdressed. When I realized, I didn’t know whether to laugh or pick my jaw off the sandy ocean floor. I guess I did a little of both. But then, I thought, “What’s the big deal? We’ll just keep to our little corner of the beach and not pay attention to anyone else.”

My friend quickly scolded me on behalf of our two male friends, whom she said we should consider in packing up right away and leaving. Shocked, I looked back at her and said, “Please, they don’t even care. Their not affected at all.”

All she had to do in response was glance back up at our spread, where we saw the two guys still sitting, staring down at the blanket and the small piles of sand they were moving around with their feet. They hadn’t moved an inch since we’d set up shop.

I couldn’t believe it! But suddenly, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Guys are visually motivated. Duh! Of course it didn’t bother me if women were topless. I mean, imagine if a man ran by us with no bathing suit. We would probably run away laughing or screaming. Why? Because women are not visually stimulated like men. It’s just that simple.

These guys realized they couldn’t guard their eyes from every random woman bobbing up and down the coast without a bathing suit, so they took the only precaution they could; not look at anything. God bless them!

We packed up right away and found other fun (non-nude) things to do.

Modesty is Mercy

It’s so easy to consider our own outlook and dismiss all other possibilities as weakness. That day on the Barcelona beach taught me that lesson clearly. I’m sure none of those topless woman wanted to be objectified. In fact, they probably thought if a man couldn’t be there without having impure thoughts, he should just look away or leave. Well, in a world of normal men, the beach would be completely female following that rule.

I find this same attitude pervasive in dress, conduct, crude language, and aggressive flirtation all over our culture. I mean, how many times does a woman wear a low-cut shirt and then take offense if she sees someone staring? Or falls all over a guy at the bar and then has a volatile reaction when he gets the “wrong” idea?

The fact is that modesty is a mercy. No one is saying you have to wear a turtleneck dress that touches the floor (you may get some looks with that one though). It’s not a one-way or the other extremism, it’s just…mercy.

Plain and simple, if you know that others are affected by a provocative outfit or public behavior, which is unnecessarily causing them to fall into temptation, then by all means, have mercy. Why oh why would you do this to your brother? Most likely its ignorance, just as my case was ignorance.

Women are Beautiful

The female body holds a special place among God’s creation, and men are most certainly wired to agree! And with all things good and beautiful, there is a corrupted desire to have too much. Anyone who has gone on a diet knows what I’m talking about here. It’s easier to resist the chocolate cake if it isn’t sitting before you on the table flaunting its luscious layers of sugary goodness.

We are all working on virtue and self-mastery, this coming from the woman who saw Pride and Prejudice three times in the theater the same week. I know about temptation to indulge! Woman can often relate when it comes to emotional temptation.

But the beauty of the body rests in its dignity and source, and preserving that is a spiritual responsibility. Truly boasting of the dignity of the body through adornment that is fitting the event and situation invokes a desire for unity rather than utility.

The rules are fairly simple; wear a bathing suit on the beach, not in church. Go topless in your bedroom, not on the beach. Show skin where you want to draw the eye’s attention (hopefully to your face!)

Fruits of the Spirit

Have you ever considered that by choosing not to wear the low-cut shirt, you were actually having mercy on the men around you? Instead of considering it their problemย and struggle to remain virtuous based on your clothing or behavior, why not consider how you can help them? After all, it can be quite a challenge to avoid many of these temptations in public, unfortunately even in some of the most sacred spaces.

“The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory: ‘charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity.'”

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  1. Deacon Tom says

    Hello Miss Modesty (and all the more lovely for it!! ๐Ÿ™‚ I have preached a bit about this… I’ve told the story of a youngish attractive woman who had on a dress with a modest scoop neckline. She came up to me for Communion and as was her custom, she bowed (pretty profoundly) in front of the Eucharist. But she crossed her arms in front of her to prevent any untoward aspect of her cleavage from distracting me. I was and am still touched by this awareness that even in Church, and in the Real Presence, women have a duty and an obligation (don’t we just hate that word) to act modestly and remember that they are custodians of their beauty and physical attractiveness.

    • says

      Thanks DT! It’s so good to get this from a man’s perspective, and I especially love your eloquence in explaining it. What an excellent point that we are the custodians of our beauty! We may begin calling you the golden tongue.

  2. says

    Really great post! ๐Ÿ™‚ I had a similar situation once and I was also oblivious. God bless those guys you were with and you and your friend for helping to guard them! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • says

      Thanks Lis. It’s good to hear that I’m not the only one who will admit how oblivious we can be toward this type of thing. I really give a lot of credit to my friend (who is the only girl in her family of five brothers) for pointing this out so explicitly to me.

  3. Suzanne Carl says

    Thank you for this. It is a real act of mercy to help others in avoid temptation and sin. I have a Pinterest page that I call Happy Hip and Holy, in opposition to Planned Parenthood’s, Happy Hip and Hot. I try to only pin clothes that are stylish, attractive, and modest. It really can be done!

  4. says

    Well done. The issue D modesty can be a touchy one, even in Christian circles. You’ve addressed this with charity and objectivity. Beautiful.

    • says

      Yes! It’s true that some of these topics are hard to discuss. In fact, there was a time we had a priest over for dinner and our friend (wearing very short shorts) ran home to change. My husband asked her point blank why she felt wrong about wearing them in front of the priest, but not him. She couldn’t really answer.

  5. says

    Love the modesty and mercy connection!! Our two oldest are teen boys and they react in the same way to immodestly dressed women/girls (looking down) as your friends did at the nude beach. How sweet! Thank you for this beautiful post! I agree 100%!

    • says

      You clearly have raised amazing men! Unfortunately, I had never encountered men reacting this way (guarding their eyes) before this incident. Usually it would be quite the opposite, with lots of hooping and hollering.

  6. Kate Campbell says

    I have a problem with framing the modesty issue just in terms of how it relates to men. I don’t want to tell my daughters to dress modestly in order to prevent men from falling into temptation. I want to teach them to dress modestly because they respect themselves and the beauty that God gave them.

    • says

      Great argument Kate! I agree that you are certainly elevating modesty when teaching your daughters how to dress. Hopefully in preserving their own dignity they will also inspire many men and woman alike to question their own intentions and grow in virtue.

      (Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.CCC 2522)

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