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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Modesty

Present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life
and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness.

—Romans 6:13

 

Reverence for the Mass  |  Spiritual Counsels  |  Books  |  About CSF

 
Sexual Morality and the Body | Purity of Soul and Body | The Body as a Temple | The Body’s Role in Our Salvation | Lust of the Eyes | The Body Serves Love and Holiness | Modesty | The Roots of Immodesty | Summary

 
IN HIS first letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul responds to reports of sexual immorality in the church at Corinth. He specifically uses the example of prostitution, which, in Corinth at the time, would have been both heterosexual and homosexual. Saint Paul’s preaching about sexual morality (see 1 Corinthians 6:12–20) points to the fact that, whereas most sins are “outside the body”—that is, they are offenses against charity to other persons—sexual sins not only defile love, they are also sins against one’s own body. Sexual sins are sins of lust, and lust strips the body of dignity and turns it into an object. Thus Saint Paul reminded the Corinthians that they were “members of Christ” and told them the following:

  

You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within—the Spirit you have received from God. You are not your own. You have been purchased, and at a price. So glorify God in your body.

  

— 1 Corinthians 6:19–20

Sadly, most individuals today do not consider their bodies to be temples of the Holy Spirit; instead, they make their bodies into temples of lust. Our modern culture has glamorized the sin of lust, and even Christians have been duped into rejecting their baptismal promises to seek the empty approval of a world sinking ever deeper into self-deception. They watch movies and TV filled with lust. They look at magazines filled with lust. They listen to music filled with lust. And they say to the world, “I am a devout Catholic.”

   
Purity of Soul and Body

The theology of the body tells us that Christianity is not a matter of abstract spiritual knowledge or esoteric enlightenment; instead, Christian life fully involves purity of both soul and body. And it explains why genuine Christian mysticism is not about out-of-the-body experiences. After all, Christ was born in a body, He suffered and died in His body, and He was resurrected in His body. And He left us His Body and Blood—really, truly, and physically—to nourish us during the hard work of our salvation

Read a discourse by Saint Athanasius
about the body

 
The Body as a Temple

But where, you might wonder, does the idea that the body is a “temple” come from?

It comes from Christ himself. All four Gospels recount the same story of The Cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12–13; Mark 11:15–17; Luke 19:45–46; John 2:13–17) when Christ overturned the tables of the money changers and merchants, proclaiming, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” When asked for a “sign” He could offer for doing this, Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). He was speaking of His own body.

 
The Body’s Role in Our Salvation

Thus, in demanding both spiritual and physical cleanliness in the temple, and in promising the resurrection of the body as justification for demanding that cleanliness, Christ shows us that our physical bodies play a key role in our salvation. Joined to Christ in the saving grace of Baptism we become part of Him, “members of Christ,” the true Temple itself. At Confirmation, when we receive the Holy Spirit, who dwells in our bodies to teach us prayer, we become “temples” of the Holy Spirit. And in the Eucharist we receive Christ’s real Body and Blood to feed our real bodies and strengthen our spirits. 

Read a commentary by Saint Cyril of Alexandria about
transformation by the Holy Spirit

  

In the 1960s the hippie movement seemingly brought a sense of spirituality into the world. But, grounded in its protest of social hypocrisy, it really did no more than incite us to an adoration of pure physiology cut adrift from all moral guidance. It began with the naive promise that the emptiness of life could be filled with psychedelic drugs, mind-numbing music, and free sex, and it led to rampant divorce and abortion on demand. In the end, the hippie movement shows, through its lingering effects in our culture today, that spirituality, when divorced from religion, is mere psychobabble. And it leaves the body in a moral wasteland.

  

 
Why Modesty? It’s All in the Lust of the Eyes

Eye movement analysis studies have shown that when the average man looks at a woman from the front, he focuses his gaze on her crotch and on her breasts; when he looks at a woman from behind, he focuses his gaze on her buttocks.

The studies don’t tell us what he is thinking, but my own clinical work with male fantasy does tell us. 

Psychologically, the man is assessing the woman to fit her into one of two categories: (a) a woman with whom it would be possible to have sexual relations, or (b) a woman with whom it would be not possible to have sexual relations.[1] Ultimately, he makes his assessment by noticing how the woman dresses. If, by the way she dresses and moves she reveals the critical parts of her body, his gaze will focus on those parts, he will see her as “possible,” and his lusts will be lit like a skyrocket; otherwise, his gaze will dismiss the idea of her being a sexual object.[2]

  

When the average (that is, non-sociopathic) man looks at a nun who wears a habit, he sees her immediately as sexually impossible. This in itself should be sufficient reason for nuns who refuse to wear habits to think twice about their bodily responsibility to others.

  

 
The Body Serves Love and Holiness

This all means that we were not created to serve our own worldly desires—or the “lusts of the flesh,” as Saint Paul calls them. We were not created to seek social approval by using our bodies to incite lust in others. We were created to share in God’s love. And so, in Christ, we are all called to serve God’s will in holiness, and, once accepting that call, we must have our lives overturned and our temples cleansed in baptism.

And we must keep ourselves clean and chaste, morally and physically. So, too, our hearts, the center of our body, must be pure.

  

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.

  

— Matthew 5:8

 
Modesty

Why do we wear clothing?

The most commonly given answer is, “To cover our nakedness.”

But that’s the wrong answer. The correct answer—the Judeo-Christian answer—is that we wear clothing to give our bodies dignity. Modest clothing covers our bodies with dignity. Immodest clothing, in contrast, reveals the body by making a pretense of covering it.

Our bodies are meant to be chaste and modest temples of the Holy Spirit so that we can relate to others through our hearts with true love. Our bodies are not meant to be covered with the graffiti of tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), or made into works of “art” with piercings, hair dye, gaudy make up, shaved heads, or hostile punk hair styles. Our bodies are not meant to be defiled by making our reproductive organs into the equipment of a recreational sport. Nor are our bodies meant to be made into instruments of social acceptance, expressions of vanity and pride, and provocations to lust.

  

The Blessed Virgin herself is the model for all feminine modesty and humility. Because of her purity and humility, Mary was chosen to bear Our Lord, and, because of her love for the divinity she carried within her, she maintained a demeanor of modesty for the rest of her life. 

In a similar way, every Christian woman is called to see herself as a vessel of grace, treating with respectful humility the vessel of her reproductive functioning—which, being given by God the Father, is not something she possesses—and protecting the vessel of her entire body with the cloak of modesty.[3] 

  

Modest clothing, for both women and men, should take the precaution of doing everything possible to avoid inciting lust. It should cover the body with dignity rather than reveal the body. In this context, clothing can be immodest either because it is tight-fitting or because it exposes bare flesh. For women especially, tight-fitting clothing (including jeans, slacks, leggings, T-shirts, and tank tops, along with athletic wear and swim “suits”), shorts, short skirts, low necklines (especially with a cross dangling in the cleavage),[4] and bare shoulders serve one unspoken purpose: to incite lust.

  

This whole issue is about desire—or, more specifically, the desire of the Other.

As a very simple example of how this desire of the Other plays out in everyday life, consider how a boy might see a girl eating ice cream and then declare to his parent, “I want ice cream!” Psychologically, seeing the girl’s desire for her ice cream arouses the boy’s desire for ice cream. She sure looks like she feels real good about herself! Give me some of that ice cream so I can feel good about myself too!

Similarly, when a man sees a woman dressed immodestly, he thinks to himself, She sure looks like she really enjoys her body! Well, I’d like to enjoy her body too!—and that is what lust is all about.

  

Even though contemporary culture has been indoctrinated with the idea that lust—and social nudity—is truthful, liberating, and natural, lust is deception, not truth; it makes the body in itself seem to have meaning while it mocks the divine truth of the chaste soul.

Therefore, just because certain styles of clothing (or lack of clothing) may be socially accepted does not prevent them from being weapons for wickedness; that is, sins of pride and lust, and grave offenses to the holiness we pledged in our baptismal vows.

  

Sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. And do not present the parts of your bodies to sin as weapons for wickedness, but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness.

  

— Romans 6:12–13

Endeavor, then, to develop a “modesty of the eye” that does not seek to be “seen” as a sexual object or to “see” others as sexual objects.

 
The Roots of Immodesty

All children need a comforting sense of absolute belonging and acceptance. Some children receive this comfort as babies, under their parent’s protection, but many children suffer a deep lack: some parents are emotionally or physically distant and rarely provide any comfort and acceptance to their children; and some parents are outright abusive, leaving their children to languish in an environment of criticism and neglect.

Thus it’s rare in today’s world to find any families who teach children to love God with all their hearts and minds and strength and who don’t indoctrinate their children right after baptism with all the impiety of the anti-Christian world around them. Because most parents do not live out in their actions whatever religious faith they profess with their lips, normal family life is more often than not characterized by self-indulgence, resentment, manipulation, hidden alliances, and a general lack of honest communication.

As a result, many children tend to emerge from their families with a profound craving for approval and acceptance from others. And one sure way to satisfy this craving is to use their bodies to manipulate others with lust.

 
Summary

We are constantly being brainwashed by social media, movies, television, magazines, and popular music to hold lust as our greatest desire in life. Nevertheless, even though lust has become a cultural religion, Christian bodies are meant for holiness in Christ, and in Christ we are not our own; we belong to Christ, soul and body. Our salvation depends on the Body and Blood of Christ, not on our own bodies or the body of another person.

  

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the Kingdom of God.

  

— Galatians 5:19–21

 

Who wrote this web page?

 

Notes.

1. Note that “possible” here does not necessarily mean likely. The woman could be married or single, older or younger, shorter or taller, of a different race, or even in the company of another man. These thoughts exist primarily in the realm of fantasy, which, by definition, is not limited by reality.
    Note also that every Christian man has the obligation to train himself to recognize and resist these fantasies.

2. Male clients of homosexual persuasion have told me that they see other men the same way.

3. Women are often told that if they are not deliberately dressing to provoke lust then they are doing nothing wrong. But this is a lie. Everyone today knows that contemporary fashion has one purpose: to be sexy. And sexy means inciting lust. Sexy dress broadcasts one message, intentional or not: that the wearer has rejected moral responsibility to the body and enjoys sexual pleasure as a form of entertainment. Any woman who dresses as “everyone else” does and pretends that she is morally innocent is deceiving herself.

4. “Crucifix Cleavage” is sacrilege.

Read an opinion of dissent . . .

 

Recommended Reading
 
A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites (including this webpage) is now available at your fingertips in book form.

 

Falling Families, Fallen Children by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. Do our children see a mother and a father both living in contemplative love for God with a constant awareness of His presence and engaged in an all-out battle with the evil of the world? More often than not our children donít see living faith. They donít see protection from evil. They donít see genuine, fruitful devotion. They donít see genuine love for God. Instead, they see our external acts of devotion as meaningless because they see all the other things we do that contradict the true faith. Thus we lose credibilityóand when parents lose credibility, children become cynical and angry and turn to the social world around them for identity and acceptance. They are children who have more concern for social approval than for loving God. They are fallen children. Letís bring them back.

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