Shakespeare may have been right to write that “all that glitters is not gold.” But some young Catholics are out to buck that logic with a little spiritual alchemy.
Working amid the glitz and glamour of the entertainment and communications industries, these young people are, through their faithful witness, successfully transforming elements of the media into spiritual treasure.
Their tool is zeal. Their message is modesty.
Paige Rees of the Cajun band L’Angélus is one of these young Catholics.
“Immodesty is prevalent in our society,” she says. “In his World Youth Day address, Pope Benedict noted that ‘people sometimes treat others as objects to satisfy their own needs rather than as persons to be loved and cherished.’ Modesty in dress is important because it safeguards against the objectification of persons that the Holy Father speaks of.”
Paige, along with her sister Katie and brother Stephen, has been performing with L’Angélus for 12 years. (The band is online at AngelusBand.com.) She doesn’t make presentations on modesty but, instead, lets her music — and her own modesty — do the talking.
“I keep in mind that external appearance is a reflection of an interior attitude,” she says. “St. Peter tells us that our adornment ‘should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in God’s sight’”(1 Peter 3:4). “Many times, mothers have thanked us for dressing in a way that is attractive and modest. They tell us that their daughters want to dress the way we do.”
Actress Jessica Rey agrees that it’s important for girls to have a role model. When it comes to choosing clothing, she says, “Girls often don’t want to listen to their mothers. And that leaves a void that needs to be filled.”
Rey, creator of the Rey Swimwear line and star of the Family Theater Productions film Rosary Stars (FamilyTheater.org), is launching a modesty-formation program in southern California. “If girls are not learning about modesty,” she says, “they’re going to turn to media like Seventeen magazine and MTV for fashion advice.”
The current fashions “are all about being half-naked,” says Rey, who works in television shows and commercials. “In essence, the media is saying that you have to sell your soul in order to be fashionable.”
It is just these trends that inspired Rey to design her own line of swimwear. Its tagline is “Who says it has to be itsy-bitsy?”
“Our collection is named ‘Audrey,’ after Audrey Hepburn,” Rey says. “Audrey lived during an era when women dressed and acted like ladies and didn’t feel they had to ‘bare it all’ to be attractive. Modesty is all about beauty. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s boring, frumpy or dull!”
Dignity by Design
Joseph McClane, founder of The Catholic Hack blog (CatholicHack.blogspot.com), explains modesty from the male point of view.
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that ‘modesty guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons’ (No. 2521). Modesty isn’t another stuffy rule to follow. It’s a beautiful opportunity to seek holiness.”
McClane is a Catholic media producer, podcaster and evangelist. He also identifies himself as a former pornography addict.
“Women cooperate with God by bringing life into this world. To compromise that gift of their femininity for the lie of this world is absolutely evil,” he says. “Modest dress is an outward sign of an inward truth: Our sexuality is sacred and purpose-driven.”
“I think that most women do not understand this point and therefore don’t realize how serious it is to be the stumbling block that causes others to sin,” he says, adding that his years of employment “in the world” fueled his pornography problem.
“No matter where I was working, I was absolutely surrounded by immodesty and immorality,” he recalls. “There were times when I helped to perpetuate this environment and the objectification of women. In my job at a secular radio show, I used sex and scandal to attract listeners. Is this what God had in mind when he gave me my aptitudes?”
McClane believes young Catholics need to employ their own talents in spearheading a return to virtue. “Embrace modern technology and media,” he urges, “and use it for the glory of God.”
Rees agrees. “In the 1936 encyclical Vigilante Cura (On the Cinema), Pope Pius XI wrote that ‘there does not exist today a means of influencing the masses more potent than the cinema.’ The encyclical goes on to affirm that ‘good motion pictures are capable of exercising a profoundly moral influence upon those who see them. ... They are able to present truth and virtue under attractive forms.’”
“Although the Holy Father wrote these words in the days before television and the Internet, I believe that they speak to committed young Catholics today,” she says. “The message is: ‘Go! Be a light in the darkness.’”
Even committed Catholics, however, may find it hard to withstand the temptations that are part and parcel of the popular culture.
“‘Frequent not the company of immodest persons; keep company with the chaste and virtuous,’” says Rey, quoting St. Francis DeSales. “But that can be pretty tough when you’re active in the entertainment industry.”
“A well-meaning Catholic will try to walk the line between good and evil — making an effort to get to daily Mass, but also partying at the hot spots at night, and sometimes trying to evangelize the people he meets there,” she says. “This is dangerous at best and can lead someone into serious sin. I’ve seen it happen.”
“It takes courage,” emphasizes McClane, “the kind of courage that the Holy Spirit uses to change hearts.”
“When God knocked me off my high horse, I made a commitment to stop being influenced by my environment and to rather start influencing it by my faith,” he says. “By the grace of God, I was able to stand firm. But this doesn’t mean that young Catholics should lightly fling themselves into environments that are hostile to the faith. They’ve got to be well fitted with a strong armor of faith before working behind enemy lines.”
It’s a battle that can be won, all three agree.
Says Rees, “God is faithful; he keeps his promises. He will give us the grace to listen to the voice of truth, if we ask him. In a society where the ‘voices that advocate a permissive approach to sexuality’ [Vigilante Cura] are a billion-dollar industry, we must follow the radical call to imitate his purity, his love.”
Concludes McClane: “We need people to be bold for Christ, and to use media for the purpose which God meant for it: to communicate the faith. The victory is ours — if we have the courage to take it.”
Celeste Behe writes from