Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
As you know, I have been totally confused by this whole issue of modesty that seems to convulse the Catholic blogosphere. Anyway, what do you think of bikini-style swimsuits in that regard? My problem is that almost every woman I know wears one, yet I know for a fact that most of them are not trying to incite lust in anyone. My estranged wife, who is German, for example, always wore a bikini at the beach or pool, or even the top half to work out in the garden. The cut of it was never as such that I would have found it to be over the top, especially before I started worrying about this kind of stuff due to the Catholic blogosphere. And even among bikini suits, there are those that barely hang on the body and those with a little more substance (which admittedly, are similar to the earliest, shocking bikinis).
I actually hate this whole issue, but being a scrupe, I wrestle with it from time to time. At this time in my life, wih no wife and no daughters, it doesn't matter much, but I do NOT want to turn into one of those trad dads who monitors with paranoia everything his wife or daughters wear. And I have heard lots of trads claim that it is never acceptable for a woman to bear as much skin as she would in any bathing suit, much less a bikini. I think that whole Dressing with Dignity book has a section where it more or less says swimsuits in general are sinful attire for women. When context is brought up, they always seem to say "if it's immodest and inciteful of lust in one context, it is in others." I know there is a hole in that logic somewhere, but I connot find it, especially since saints have said or indicated the same thing (St. Pio among them).
The whole issue is stupid, because now I see garments as "sexual" where I never would have thought so before - running shorts, for example, or all shorts in general, not just the butt-hugging kind. And on the other hand, I have seen trad dads online saying they make their daughters wear long skirts to go jogging and to cover their shoulders and upper arms while swimming. I do NOT want to be that kind of guy!
I think the wisest thing is to turn the matter over to God and say, “This is not your voice. It is the voice of internet Pharisees, amplified by the devil”. Then find something to do that pertains to a concrete act of charity and not to this sort of internal motor revving that just induces fruitless guilt or judgments against others. The whole business seems to me to be just Satan pushing your buttons, not with lust, but with guilt, fear, and judgments of accusers in cyberspace that are not of love, mercy, peace, or grace. Memorize the fruits of the spirit
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
The Spirit speaks with peace and mercy, not with accusation. That is the work of the Accuser of the Brethren. He is overcome with the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony (Revelation 12). When these gusts accusation from hell blow on your spirit, “Does this have the spirit of peace or joy on it?” It's not, after all, like you are seeking an excuse for lust. You are scrupulous to avoid it. So it's rubbish that you are giving in to it. What really afflicts you is not lust but this opprssive sense of guilt for a crime you have not committed. Pray the St. Michael prayer
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
and the Come Holy Spirit,
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
Then commend the matter into Jesus' hands and resolutely move on with something useful, happy and good and not useless, fearful, and condemning of you or anyone else.
Are you familiar witht concept of the "earworm"? Earworms are those annoying little tunes that get stuck in your head (like the Kit Kat Bar jingle). The worst way in the world to get rid of an earworm is to try to will yourself to just not think of it. In fact, that just guarantees you will think of it and be more obsessed than ever. The real way to get rid of an earworm is not to try to not think of it, but instead to think of or listen to another song--a good one that you like.
Scruples like yours are little accusing earworms from Hell. They have, as their main goal, not that you be tempted to lust (you are far too well-fortified against that) but that you be tempted to inaction from obeying God in whatever practical corporal or spiritual work of mercy you could be doing if you weren't spinning your wheels with guilt. What the devil fears is that you will drop this time-wasting guilt and get busy doing the next practical thing for the love of God. So instead trying not to think about all this stuff, think about
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9* What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
Then get going on the next practical work of love your hand finds to do and do it in the Name of Jesus and to the glory of God the Father. That's what this attack of scruples is really designed to stop. The business about lust is, in the strategy of Hell, just a diversion. The main attack is on your obedience to Jesus. So obey him. The Holy Spirit and the angels will fight for you as you do.
Oh, and take all this to confession and, perhaps, anointing for healing (as well as to Eucharist, of course). God means to bless you with grace and peace. He'll show you. He made you for joy and means to give it to you. Your aversion to this accusing voice is a sign of health. His sheep know his voice and run from a stranger. The Accuser is a stranger. You are made for the Shepherd. Do the next practical thing for love and you will find his Voice guiding you.
That’s what I’d do, anyway. Indeed, that's what I have done. I grapple with scruples too. :)