Contrary to popular opinion, dressing modestly can make you happy, both in your earthly life and forever after. When many people think of a very modestly-dressed woman, they might think of an “old maid” in a potato-sack like dress that wraps the body from the chin to the ankles and wrists, complete with black boots (no toes exposed, please!) and a crisp, white wimple. Yet, the reality is that one who dresses modestly illuminates the authentic beauty of the Creator. The graceful swing of feminine dress, worn with eloquence, hums the melody of purity and resounds with the goodness of Our Lady. The strong message that a masculine, modestly-dressed man gives emanates is admirable and powerful in today's society.
It's time we led modesty speak to our hearts. Modesty is not a burden. It is a gift from God. Modesty likens a person to saintly images and friends. It helps them bring others toward the gates of Heaven – not away. A modestly-dressed person draws souls to the benevolence of God. He has created His creatures to walk with dignity and honor, in His awe-inspiring image and likeness. Modesty lifts humanity up a level. It keeps our society sane. Our culture desperately needs a revival in modesty, so that it may be healed from its wounds and become joyful once again. Modesty is a banner of the Culture of Life and a sword in the hand of Christ's warriors.
As Pope Pius XII once said, “As long as modesty will not be put into practice, the society will continue to degrade. Society reveals what it is by the clothes it wears.” Furthermore, in an address to the Latin Union of High Fashion (Nov. 8, 1957) he proclaimed, “It is often said, almost with passive resignation, that fashions reflect the customs of a people. But it would be more exact and much more useful that they express the decision and moral direction that a nation intends to take: either to be shipwrecked in licentiousness or to maintain itself at the level to which it has been raised by religion and civilization.”
Padre Pio had adamant words to share regarding modesty, which he believed that Our Lord had put directly on his heart:
Padre Pio wouldn't tolerate low-necked dresses or short, tight skirts, and he forbade his spiritual daughters to wear transparent stockings. Each year his severity increased. He stubbornly dismissed them from the confessional, even before they set foot inside, if he judged them improperly dressed. On some mornings he drove away one after another, until he ended up hearing very few confessions. His brothers observed these drastic purges with a certain uneasiness and decided to fasten a sign on the church door: 'By Padre Pio's explicit wish, women must enter his confessional wearing skirts at least 8 inches below the knees.'
According to Msgr. Charles M. Mangan, a priest serving in the Office of the Marian Apostolate of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, dressing and acting modestly is a critical aspect of one's spiritual life.
“By observance of modesty in dress,” he says, “our minds are raised to God and His beauty, and our hearts are better able to avoid fixation on the purely sensual,” he comments. “Modesty in dress helps us to understand that unchastity in all its forms pales in comparison with the joy that derives from loving and respecting the human body as God intends for us to do. And those who are modest in dress undoubtedly draw closer to Our Lady.”
The Most Merciful Heart of Jesus is calling women and men to dress modestly. He desires to protect His precious children from the snarls of evil and the wavering weakness of the flesh.
“We should expect modesty and even demand it,” Msgr. Mangan comments. “This is where we fail today. We don't generally accept lying, stealing, etc., but with immodesty in dress, we dismiss it as being insignificant, a person's individual liberty, part of our culture, etc. For many years, I have noted a drastic shift in how people dress. Styles and fashions come and go, but is there a perennial standard in dress that always applies? I believe that there is. My experience is that what once was considered vulgar and indecent even a relatively few years ago is now largely accepted. Today, the prevailing standard is not: Is this becoming? Instead, the current banner is: Why not?”
When asked if he has some practical counsel on what modesty means for people nowadays, he says, “We should not avoid giving norms that follow from our belief that the human body is sacred. Modesty is for men as well as for women. Shoulders covered and, preferably, some of the arms; coverage not too much below the neck; no midriff showing; coverage at least to the knee; nothing so formfitting that the anatomy is unduly highlighted; no fabric that emphasizes the anatomy.”
According to Msgr. Mangan, when we embrace modesty, we embrace the truth that our bodies are sacred temples of the Holy Spirit.
“We desperately need signs of God's presence, esteem for the human body, and acknowledgment of our responsibility to others,” he explains. “The virtue of modesty, especially in dress, is linked to all three. Reverence for the temple known as the human body that God created is a sure sign that His presence is recognized. To cherish the human body means that the 'golden mean' of love and respect will be observed and not that the human body is assaulted by way of excess (for example, the hedonist philosophy that pampers the body and never demands sacrifice from it) and defect (for example, destroying the body through alcohol, drugs, food and promiscuity). We are the sons and daughters of the Living God.”
Embracing modesty is also an important way to express true charity toward others.
“Help me on the path to Heaven,” Msgr. Mangan says. “And please demand the same from me. I am, at least to a certain degree, responsible for your spiritual welfare. And you are for mine. The old saying, 'Clothing is meant to conceal, not reveal,' is apropos here and was embraced by the Faithful for centuries. The human anatomy that is connected to procreation should be covered because experience teaches us that when it isn't, lust runs wild.”
To someone who is striving to become more modest, but is struggling at the same time, Msgr. Mangan has some helpful advice.
“'Vale la pena' as they say, meaning that the effort is worth the good result. Receive the sacraments worthily and often, pray the Most Holy Rosary daily, wear the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Miraculous Medal, consecrate yourself to Our Lady, invoke your Guardian Angel and avoid the 'near occasion' of sin, that is, persons, places, things and events that lead you to sin. To honor God infallibly brings blessings to us. He is our Lord Who wants for us to live with Him forever. Being virtuous now prepares us for everlasting life in Paradise.”