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Katie van Schaijik

Continuing the TOB discussion (3)

Nov. 9, 2009, at 12:16am

The 3rd part of the comment thread from the previous post can be found under this post.

Lauretta • Nov 10, 2009 - 11:32 am

I found a section in TOB (I’m sorry for its length) that I would like to have explained.  I understand it a certain way but I would like the opinion of those much more educated than I.  The quote follows:

“Returning to the Pauline ‘description’ of the body in 1 Cor12:18-25, we wish to call attention to the fact that according to the author of the letter the particular effort to reach reverence for the human body and especially for its ‘weaker’ or ‘unpresentable’ members corresponds to the Creator’s original plan or to the vision about which Genesis speaks” ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good’ (Gen 1:31).  Paul writes, ‘God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the member that lacked it, that there may be no disunion within the body, but the members may have care for one another’(1Cor 12:24-25).  ‘Disunion within the body,’ the result of which is that some members are considered ‘weaker,’ ‘less honorable,’ and thus ‘unpresentable,’ is a further expression of the vision of man’s—that is, historical man’s—interior state after original sin.  The man of original innocence, male and female, about whom we read, ‘both were naked…but they did not feel shame’ (Gen 2:25), did not feel that ‘disunion within the body’ either.  An analogous harmony in man’s innermost [being], the harmony of the ‘heart,’ correspon ded to the objective harmony that the Creator gave to the human body, which Paul explains as reciprocal care of the various members (1 Cor 12:25).  This harmony, or precisely ‘purity of heart,’ allowed man and woman in the state of original innocence to experience in a simple way (in a way that made both of them originally happy) the unitive power of their bodies that was, so to speak, the ‘unsuspectable’ substratum of their personal union or communio personarum.

As one can see, in 1 Cor 12:18-25 the Apostle ties his description of the human body to the state of ‘historical’ man.  At the threshold of the history of this man stands the experience of shame connected with ‘disunion in the body,’ with the sense of modesty for this body (and especially for those of its members that determine masculinity and femininity in somatic terms).  Nevertheless, in the same ‘description,’ Paul also indicates the way that leads (precisely on the basis of the sense of shame) to the transformation of this state, to the gradual victory over this ‘disunion in the body,’ a victory that can and should be realized in the human heart.  This is precisely the road of purity or of keeping the body ‘with holiness and reverence.’”

I am particularly interested in the last two sentences. Thanks for your help.

Katie van Schaijik • Nov 10, 2009 - 9:10 pm

As I take him, JP II here illumines the meaning of “original innocence” and “original union” to help us better understand both the state we are in now, i.e. a state of disunion and impurity, and to point us to the way of redemption.  He says that the sexual shame that was the result of the fall and the modesty it calls for is, mysteriously, the basis for our “gradual victory” over disunion and impurity.

Lauretta • Nov 13, 2009 - 10:35 am

Somehow I missed commenting on this post, Katie.  Thanks for your response.  So, is the Pope then saying that it is possible to eventually gain victory over the impurity in our hearts? 

I have seen him make comments similar to this in several place in TOB.  Are we to take them literally and seriously?

Katie van Schaijik • Nov 13, 2009 - 11:00 am

I think, yes, the Pope literally and seriously means that we can gain victory over concupiscence.  But I take him to mean it in the same way that we can achieve victory over sin generally.  It is a gradual victory, won across a lifetime, under grace; it will be completed only in heaven.  In this life, we remain vulnerable and imperfect.  But we can begin to experience transformation already in the here and now.  “The Kingdom of God is among you.”  We really CAN, even here, act out of love rather than concupiscence.  We just shouldn’t ever imagine that we’re totally free of concupiscence.  St. Therese (I think it was) once said, “Even my best good acts are infected with impurity.”

To go back to your earlier unanswered question about concupiscence:
The fact that you are not tempted by drugs and alcohol I think does not really mean that you have been liberated from concupiscence in that area.  For instance, is it not all to easy to imagine that if you were to have (God forbid) some kind of accident that left you with severe, chronic pain, you might find yourself suddenly shockingly inclined to addiction to painkillers?  That goes to show that the law (or force perhaps) of concupiscence is still at work within you, as it is in all of us, though it manifests in different ways.  Some of us are further along in our gradual victory than others, while others still are becoming increasingly enslaved to it.

That’s how I see it.

Katie van Schaijik • Nov 10, 2009 - 9:13 pm

Don’t miss Jules’ new post, which answers (or at least begins to answer) a good question raised by Steve about why JP II chose to focus on the body.

frangelo • Nov 10, 2009 - 11:49 pm

I think the general context of TOB needs to be examined more closely, especially since it is a single corpus of magisterial teaching, which the pope deliberately chose to present in the context of Wednesday audiences, not as an encyclical or some more solemn document.  The habit of the Church is to find correspondence within the ordinary magisterium over its history, not discrepancies.

Furthermore, I believe it is worthy of note that reflections of JP II on the original unity of man and woman in original innocence is, to be exact, the relation of husband and wife.  Eve was created, an individual person to be the helpmate of Adam, an individual person.  The nakedness of the two, without shame, is the nakedness of husband and wife, alone in the garden of paradise. 
Without question, our first parents are the paradigm of all men and women and are typological of the relations of the sexes in general.  However, the conjugal significance of the body as it was experienced before the Fall, though it does have meaning for each and everyone of us, is specifically the significance of the body of husband and wife as they relate to each other within the sanctuary of the garden of paradise.

Again, without question, the habit of mind of each individual who lives will be elevated by the doctrine contained within the Theology of the Body, so that the significance of that person’s body and that of man and woman generally will inform their way of dealing with concupiscence and their ability to gain dominion over it.  However, the conjugal significance of the body is, in fact, dependent on the ordination of the man and woman’s body to become one flesh, and that ordination, by the disposition of God is for monogamous marriage.

So while a positive and elevated Catholic view of marriage and of the body should help us gain dominion over concupiscence, there is no argument in the Theology of the Body for concluding that it is proper to fully redeemed man to look on every other man’s and woman’s body as a specific subject by which one is to plumb the depths of the conjugal significance of the body.

If John is married to Jane, then for him specifically, it is the body of Jane, or better, Jane herself in her body, that appropriately becomes the subject of his contemplation of the conjugal significance of the body.  In John’s regard for Susan, Jill, Elizabeth and every other woman, his respectful awe of their beauty, elevated by the Church’s teaching about the beauty and holiness of the body, will also lead him closer to the truth of the conjugal significance of the Body.  However, it is another matter entirely to suggest that if John were perfectly redeemed it would be a matter of virtue, or even fitting, for him to undress Susan, Jill, Elizabeth or any other woman with his eyes in order to acknowledge the goodness of what God created.  Nor would it be fitting for any woman other than Jane to undress themselves for John.

I am not one to stand on a list of rules concerning what is and is not fitting in terms of external modesty.  Nor am I one to minimize the importance of modesty of the heart.  However, I do find the idea that it is not only fitting, but also the pinnacle virtue for us to look upon the nakedness of everyone else, patently absurd and totally foreign to the teaching of the Church.

In fact, John Paul II makes no such claim.  Assertions to the contrary are nuanced extrapolations of the pope’s writings based on assumptions that have been gathered from other sources, and which are clung to on the authority of certain popular catechists and apologists.

The specific passage from TOB cited above is a case in point.  No such claim is made by the Holy Father. Victory of concupiscence and the “keeping of the body ‘with holiness and reverence,’” could mean any number of things if we did not know the context.  It could possibly mean that it would be appropriate for fully redeemed man to look upon everyone else’s nakedness.  But that would only be the case if that were what the Church teaches.  Unfortunately, it is not what the Church teaches, nor has it ever been what the Church teaches.

I am all for victory over concupiscence, for spontaneity in virtue, for freedom from scrupulosity and prudery.  I am for a high-minded and joyful regard for the beauty of the body and of marriage and sexuality.  But prudery is not going to be solved by trying to baptize sex-obsession.

Lauretta • Nov 11, 2009 - 10:23 am

Father,

Thank you for your very thoughtful comments.  In reflecting on them, I had some thoughts that I would like to share with you.  This is my own understanding of things and I do not express them as the official TOB position but it is how I have come to understand them.

First of all, the concern of many is that there is an over-emphasis on sex in some presentations of TOB.  This can certainly seem to be the case if one does not understand the purpose of the emphasis.

I am going to assert that the majority of people have a distorted understanding of sexuality, either toward prudery, as you call it, or toward a pornographic, utilitarian view.  If that is truly the case, the first thing that must be done is to get people to recognize that they have a distorted understanding.  CW does this quite well by, in colloquial terms, explaining what goes through a man’s mind when he sees a woman, by talking about songs, by discussing themes in movies, etc.

Then, after one has exposed these distortions, it is necessary to explain what our sexuality is supposed to be about and for, the beauty and sacredness of it.  More emphasis on sex.

After that, one would hope that an individual would desire to have this exalted view of sexuality in their hearts and long to stop having distorted thoughts and desires toward other people.

Now, I am going to say something that will probably be controversial since it seems to disagree with traditional teaching on this subject.  I am going to assert that if we want to bring right order into our thinking and acting in this area, we cannot just try to force certain thoughts out of our minds and avoid looking at people who attract us, etc.  If a person misunderstands something, then it is necessary to spend the time reflecting and studying the subject to understand it rightly.  Of course this must be done prayerfully, begging God for the grace to untwist the distortions.

If one is successful in this untwisting, the result will be that one will CEASE undressing others with their eyes and begin to see others as persons with dignity rather that as merely an object to potentially satisfy their disordered sexual desires.

As far as modesty is concerned, I know for a fact that external modesty in dress means very little as far as others’ perceptions.  I have dressed very modestly most of my life and have had men—even in our parish—relate to me in very inappropriate ways.  I have watched young women who were very modestly dressed be stared at by males—and not just to appreciate their beauty either.  Yes, we should be modest in dress as a reflection of our great dignity but it will do little to stop others’ disordered thoughts and desires.

I have never understood TOB to say that we should all be naked but that, if we see a naked or inappropriately dressed person, we will see beyond the naked body to the person that is present.  We will see the person as an image of God and their sexuality, male or female, will bring to mind either the giving or receiving of love, a beautiful thing.  We will no longer see the body as a potential object to be used but will see the totality of the person which the body reveals.

I see all of this, not as a refutation of mortification and “custody of the eyes”, but just a different way of going about those tasks.

One last thing, many people I know who have tried the method of not looking and trying to not think impure thoughts by stuffing them or distracting oneself, tend to develop guilt and shame because they continue to have difficulties.  This guilt and shame then puts up a barrier between the individual and God—just as Adam experienced in the Garden.  If one is then afraid to go to God in a trusting and intimate way, then how can there be progression in the spiritual life?

frangelo • Nov 12, 2009 - 2:34 am

Lauretta,

I agree with much of what you have to say.  I understand that the various distortions regarding sexuality have to be addressed directly and sometimes explicitly.  And while I might disagree with a certain presenter as to his or her method and content, I am willing to agree to disagree in most cases.  These are prudential judgments and there will never be perfect agreement.

This has never been the focus of my critique, nor have I felt compelled to criticize everything Christopher West writes and says.  He has obviously done some tremendous work.

I will also agree with you that custody of the heart is not all about custody of the eyes and forcing thoughts out of one’s head.  I have even been on board with the idea that a greater spontaneity and freedom in these matters should be the result of progress in the spiritual life and the redemption of the body.  However, as I have indicated before, there is more at work in West’s presentation than all this.  Heaven’s Song is a case is point.  That book is about a holy fascination with the body and with sex.  It is not simply about the beauty of the nuptial mystery.

In my critique of West’s response I point out that his work has two movements, the one which you defend and with which, for the most part, I agree, but the other has to do with the idea that the more one is redeemed the more the necessities of modesty cease to apply, as if it were appropriate that the body unveiled because it is so good.  On the contrary, prescinding from any argument about what standards of modesty ought to be adopted, it is fitting that the body should be veiled because it is so good.

In this context, West does minimize modesty and continually confuses prudery, Manichaeism, shame and holy bashfulness as though they were all the same thing, which they simply are not.  Furthermore, within the framework of this faulty analysis he interprets Church doctrine, the writings of the saints and the liturgy, in addition to making pastoral applications to people on the basis of his false assumptions.

I also agree with you that our presentation of chastity should help deliver souls from morose guilt and shame over being sexual persons and having desires and even temptations.  To reiterate, I believe TOB can be very helpful in this matter.  But there is another way in which people can be made to feel guilty for the wrong reasons.

If you tell people that when they move forward in the spiritual life they will experience, as a rule, less temptations and find themselves more at ease in the presence of exposed flesh, to the point that eventually modesty should become passé, then if, as a rule, that does not happen, the conclusion must be that there is something wrong with them.  Now if that rule is true, then they have reason to feel guilty, but if it is not true, then the promotion of that rule is irresponsible.  In such a case, the ones promoting the rule, if they refuse to correct themselves, make themselves snake oil salesmen, no matter what other good work they may do.

As I say, I agree that progress in the spiritual life will generally also manifest itself with respect to the way one experiences their own sexuality, but human experiences are psychologically and spiritually complex.  (We have not even touched on a major factor in this matter, which is much more difficult to deal with theoretically, viz., diabolic influence.)  Certainly, progress should eliminate prudery and Manichaeism, but one must be careful not to minimize the wholesomeness of holy bashfulness and shame.  There is no calculus by which you can say to someone: “You think that a short skirt is inappropriate?  Really?  You need to look into your heart and ask yourself why you are troubled by it.”  This is snake oil spiritual direction.  And it is even worse, if in the process the promoter actually recommends the lowering of all veils for those who have achieved the more perfect way, as though nothing is fittingly veiled.

Now if as you say:

[when] one is successful in this untwisting, the result will be that one will CEASE undressing others with their eyes and begin to see others as persons with dignity rather that as merely an object to potentially satisfy their disordered sexual desires,

then it seems to me that you must admit that it is not fitting for a man to look upon the nakedness of a woman who is not his wife, regardless of his spiritual progress.  If you do not admit that, then I cannot see why you would object to a perfectly redeemed man undressing women with his eyes.  After all, all things are pure to the pure and the human body is God’s masterpiece.  Or would it only be acceptable if the woman were also perfectly redeemed and only exposed herself to men that were also so redeemed?  If one follows the logic, one finds that the minimization of modesty is inherently problematic.  And that is so because it is false.  It is snake oil.

Finally, in regard to the relative effect of women’s dress on men, and whether provocative fashions have more effect on men than modest ones, I will be respectfully frank.  It is certainly true that men can be tempted by women wearing any kind of clothing, and that pigs will make mud wherever they find water.  But that fashions have little effect on men’s perceptions is naïve.

I do not mean this personally.  No matter how many times men talk to women about this they still underestimate it.  And this time, I am sure, will be no exception.

There may be rare cases in which a man is more or less immune, but those are anomalies.  There are also times when men have few temptations for whatever reason, and for a period easily guard their heart.  But that women’s provocative dress has little effect on red-blooded males as compared to modest dress is ludicrous.  I know this to be false, patently false and most dangerously false.

Lauretta • Nov 13, 2009 - 10:30 am

Father,

Again, many great thoughts and I have a lot to respond to.  I want to begin with modesty and proceed from there.  One of the reasons I don’t like undue emphasis on the issue of modesty is because modesty in and of itself is not the core of the problem and many people treat it as though it were.  Why do I say this?  For one thing women have been sexually misused throughout history even when they were quite modestly dressed.  The Old Testament speaks of it, men were aroused by the exposure of an ankle or an elbow in Victorian times and today, Muslim women are raped and mistreated.  It is what is in man’s heart that is the core of the problem, and the need for redemption.  Not to mention that even if all women were very modestly dressed in public, there is still the issue of what goes on within the homes of married couples.  A man who has not mastered himself in the area of sexuality is going to misuse his spouse and JPII was quite emphatic about the wrongness of that.  Most married women that I know suffer from this.  In addition, it seems to me that if we see someone inappropriately dressed our first thought should be one of sorrow for the person for not understanding his or her great dignity, not anger or blame.

Also, my husband is fond of saying that it doesn’t matter what “the other person” is doing, what matters is my personal response.  I have no control over what other people do or say, I only have control over my own reaction.  He mentions this often to people who are in difficult marriages, or work situations, etc.  Why would it be any different in the case of modesty?  We have no control over how others dress, but we should have control over how we react to them.  He says we need to focus much less on trying to change others and work on changing ourselves.  I believe this applies in all areas of life.

I spoke with my husband about the change that takes place within oneself when mastery in this area has occurred.  He stated several things.  One was that, for him, it was very helpful to realize that noticing and being attracted to someone’s beauty was not, in and of itself, a negative thing.  God designed us to be attracted to the other.

Another thing he said was that it was important for him to come to understand that it was possible to make a choice.  He felt for most of his life that his body was in control of his reactions and he had to respond to his body’s urges.  It was not until he was given very sound spiritual direction in confession that he became aware that he could and must choose at times.  A very pivotal time for him was when he made a firm purpose of amendment to not give in to his body’s reactions any more. 

Also, he said that temptations do not cease.  They may even increase.  The difference is that when the temptation presents itself, first he is aware that he can choose to either recognize the dignity of the person and respond to that or he can choose another path and see her as an object to use.  He then is able, without undue difficulty, to choose to see her dignity and appreciate her personhood and not just her body as an object.  He said that he is able to do this even if the woman is inappropriately dressed.  He mentioned the freedom that comes from having this ability—to not be bound by and ashamed of sinful reactions.  He now has the freedom to choose—he is definitely pro-choice :)

Concerning the issue of undressing another with your eyes, I don’t believe that a person who has mastery of himself would even think about or desire to do that.  How would it help him in any way to relate to that person?  I can only see that happening when one person makes the other an object of use.

As far as the body being veiled because of its dignity, yes, I see the appropriateness of that now.  However, I am not going to say that in the fullness of Redemption that that will be the case.  I do not know if we will be clothed in heaven.  I have confidence that there are those who can experience on earth, to a great degree, that heavenly reality, whatever it is.  The lives of some of the saints show us the degree human person is able to experience the supernatural in this world.  It seems that St. Francis didn’t have much of an issue with being seen naked in public since he chose to appear that way on more than one occasion!  And, yes, I understand that it was not total nakedness but, from the reactions of the people, it must have been considered immodest.

I was going to conclude by commenting on the book, Heaven’s Song, after reading both it and JPII’s thoughts on the same subject.  However, I got as far as the foreward to the book (after reading a substantial part of JPII’s thought) and decided that the bishop writing the foreward would probably have a much better understanding of the subject than I.  Here is what Bishop Carlson of Saginaw has to say about the book:

“Because a substantial part of the book is taken up with John Paul’s reflections on the Song of Songs, anyone who reads it will find themselves at the intersection of the sacred and the sexual.  This is especially true of the book’s second half, which shows how the conjugal union of spouses can both illuminate and be purified by the celebration of the liturgy.  The combination may seem odd, perhaps even offensive, to some sensibilities.  But the point of this book is to teach us to see the body as the revelation of a ‘great mystery,’ to experience the desire for intimate union as an echo of God’s desire to unite himself with us forever, and to let the one flesh union of man and woman point us toward the mystery of Christ and the Church.  If that seems strange, I would suggest that the strangeness is not so much with the book as it is with our sensibilities.  It is diagnostic.  It shows how far we have drifted from the biblical worldview that includes the Song of Songs.”

Katie van Schaijik • Nov 13, 2009 - 11:48 am

Anticipating my own overdue post here:

I agree with Fr. Angelo that it is all too easy and too common for women to underrate the importance of modesty in dress.  We find it hard to realize what a (male) friend of mine called the “incendiary nature” of male sexuality.  And, in light of this “incendiary nature” of male sexuality, I think the statement “we should have control over how we react” needs to be somewhat qualified. 
In perfectly normal, virtuous men, the encounter with female “sexual values” not infrequently gives rise to a sexual response that is entirely unwilled, and with which they then have to cope.  Hence, it is unkind; it is inconsiderate, uncharitable, and unwise (considering how many men fail to chastely and courageously with sexual temptation) for girls and women to dress immodestly, viz., in a way that inescapably draws male attention to our “sex values” to the neglect of our “personal value” (to use JP II’s terminology.)  Charity towards and respect for others involves, basically, doing what we can to make it easier, not harder, for them to live well, to avoid stumbling, to be their best selves, to find God.

On the other hand, I agree to a certain extent with Lauretta and CW in their shift away from emphasis on modesty.  It is an I think indisputable fact that much of the emphasis on modesty in the decades preceding Vatican II (and among traditionalists since) has participated in and contributed to an excessively legalistic and externalistic approach to Catholic life that has done enormous harm. 

But all this too needs more explaining and substantiating than I can muster the time to give it now.  (Where does all my time go?!)  I DO hope to get to it eventually.

Lauretta • Nov 13, 2009 - 5:05 pm

OK, here I go again.  I’m starting to feel like Steve with his poor dead horse!  However, this is something that I believe very strongly and my husband is in agreement with me on this.

First, you don’t need to worry, I am VERY aware of men’s sexual nature.  I have watched my husband struggle for many years, listened to many wives whose husbands struggle, as well as being the recipient of men’s inappropriate advances since I was about twelve years old.  My husband and I talked about it so much for awhile that I actually began to see, in a sense, through a man’s eyes.  I saw many of the things in women that could draw a man’s attention and began to feel great sympathy for them, wishing that women would not tempt men in that way. 

Yes, I did dress inappropriately for a period of time but haven’t for many, many years—since before I was thirty.  Interestingly, the improper advances did not stop with my more modest dress.  They may have even escalated.  I tend to be a “target” because of my build, my hair color and my personality so I have much experience in this area unfortunately.  And, as I stated before, mistreatment of women went on during times when dress was very discreet.

I would like to present the position that most men do not have any idea what it feels like to be objectified in this way, either, and to be used in such a depersonalizing way by another.  It is very painful and distressing, especially when it is the person you love the most.  Modest dress will not cure that in a marriage. 

It really doesn’t make any difference, anyhow, what any of us think is modest dress.  Our culture is what it is and the predominant clothing styles have been mostly immodest since the 1920’s.  Men can’t hide themselves away in a cave somewhere waiting until women dress differently.  They need to learn how to survive and thrive in our culture just as it is.

I am so disheartened by the brusque way many people discount what Christopher West and other men have to say about this issue.  Christopher talks about the fact that he became aware of sexual things at a very young age—six to eight years old, I believe.  My husband did as well, in a different way but still at an age that is not normal—for that period in history anyhow.  They, Christopher and my husband, struggled with unchastity, etc. for many years—Christopher until he was in his 20’s, my husband into his 40’s.  Both of these men, through God’s grace, have experienced major transformations in their lives in these areas and KNOW the freedom and peace that is possible. 

My husband said just this morning that one of the things that kept him from making progress in this area was that he had the impression that it was not possible to change.  The Catechism even talks about how one’s deeply ingrained habits can lessen one’s culpability for one’s actions.  And that is how most confessors tended to treat this issue with my husband as well.  It was not until we began learning TOB from Christopher and my husband finally getting some strong guidance in confession that he began to see that change may be possible.  He was amazed at how quickly things changed once he made a decision that he would NEVER allow his body to control his actions in the same way again.  He truly wondered if there was a demonic element since things changed so quickly.  He was so overjoyed to be able to function in society without having to deal with disordered desires every time he turned around.  It was very healing for our relationship as well.

All right, I need to give this a rest and cease pummeling all of you with my thoughts and opinions!  It is very enjoyable having these conversations, and I do wish that we lived closer so that we could participate in your group activities.  We miss having a group that we can come together with and learn and share about our beautiful faith.  God bless all of you!

Katie van Schaijik • Nov 13, 2009 - 7:22 pm

Can you say more exactly what you disagree with in my post, Lauretta?  I guess I’m not quite seeing your point.
I am with you entirely on what you say about transformation.  It is possible for a man (or a woman) to experience a transformation from a disordered sexuality to a sexuality that is ordered to love and life, such that he no longer responds to women the way he once did.  He no longer views them as sex objects, but persons worthy of love and respect, no matter how they are dressed. 
And I agree with you that this transformation can be very sudden and dramatic, just as a person’s liberation from slavery to alcohol can be very sudden and dramatic.  It can also be a long-term struggle, or as the Pope put it, “a gradual victory.”
I likewise agree that modesty in dress is no cure for another person’s sexual disorder or tendency to objectify women.  A man can do that no matter how modestly dressed a woman is.  And a man is responsible for the way he treats women. (This is a crucial difference between Christian and Islamic sexual morality.)
I see modesty first as a question of self-respect and reverence for the sexual sphere and secondly as a question of considerateness and respect for others.
You are right that the culture is what it is, but I do not see that that means we shouldn’t make efforts to help change the culture, beginning with ourselves.
A number of years ago Jules and I were living in Steubenville.  A couple of nice, young typical FUS guys were at our house the day after a formal dance.  They couldn’t help mentioning how shocked and off-put they’d been by the dresses their girl friends were wearing.  They didn’t want to see their friends looking like prostitutes.  (These were devoutly religious Catholic students.)  The guys were so embarrassed and repelled, they felt uncomfortable having their pictures taken with them.

It made me want to give modesty talks on campus.  (I did give a few to women’s groups.)  NOT the kind of talk that is condemnatory and legalistic, but that kind that helps young women see the link between their sense of self-worth, their being fully free to realize their vocation as persons to give themselves in love, and their habits of dress and demeanor.  “My-bod-in-your-face” fashions do, as a matter of psychological fact, invite men to mistreat women.  I used to tell the girls I’d speak to: “It invites the wrong kind of attention from the wrong kind of men.”  They make it harder (not impossible) for ordinary men to recognize and respond virtuously to the person in front of them.  Men who want to remain chaste, will tend to stay away from them. 

That’s why, as I understand him, CW doesn’t say modesty doesn’t matter, but rather that once the heart is in the right place, modesty will take care of itself.  I think he means that once (under grace) I have a deep and true conversion to the awareness that each and every person is an Image of God; that each person is made for love; that I am called to love and serve (not use and abuse) those around me, I begin naturally and from within (as you have done) to dress with more care and in ways that are more consonant with our high-calling as persons.
Do you not agree with this?

Lauretta • Nov 13, 2009 - 11:16 pm

I do agree with all that you said, Katie, in this last post.  My concern with the earlier post was with the comment about the “incendiary nature” of male sexuality.  I do understand that very well.  However, if men want to be the spouses that God calls them to be—or priests, as well—they must learn mastery over that nature.  They must learn to defuse it, in a sense, if they don’t want to fall into the trap of using their spouses.

I’ll give a very sad example.  We had friends who had a full term stillborn baby.  They were heart-broken, of course, and our friend shared with my husband that he was so remorseful because, while they were grieving over this loss and comforting one another, he found himself becoming aroused physically.  In other words, he could not touch his wife without a physical reaction.  He hated it but he had no control over it whatsoever.  How sad that he could not even show physical affection and comfort to his wife. 

It was wonderful to hear that the college students you spoke about were concerned about the girls’ lack of modesty for the girls’ sake.  That is truly, I believe, the main thing that we should be concerned about with the issue of modesty of women, is the fact that they don’t know their own dignity.

I look forward very much to your post on modesty—you have such beautiful insights.

frangelo • Nov 14, 2009 - 1:38 am

I agree with much of what both of your, Katie and Lauretta, are saying. Even so, I would have to disagree, to a certain extent, with your characterization of West’s work.  It is not only about cultivating custody of the heart it is about fascination with sex and the body to the point of a radical minimization of external modesty.  I think the charges of pansexualism stick.

My argument, IMO, is a rather modest one.  It is not a blanket condemnation.  It is specific.  But the mistaken teaching is contains a very serious error.

Katie van Schaijik • Nov 14, 2009 - 9:46 am

I won’t be able to engage that aspect of your critique as it deserves,  Father, since I am too unfamiliar with CW’s work.

Lauretta • Nov 14, 2009 - 10:57 am

I agree, Father, that those who do not understand their faith fairly well could fall into the trap of pansexualism.  In my opinion, which is only that, my opinion, some of the discussion about the deeper aspects of TOB thought should be kept for those who have a familiarity with the basics and probably in a group discussion so that any misconceptions can be corrected.

That being said, I believe that if, as Christopher says, our history, from beginning to end, is about marriage(ultimately the marriage of Christ and the Church), then I believe God and the Church are going to be giving us signs of that reality all around us.  Just as we can see signs of God’s creative, life-giving love, we should also be able to discern signs of this marital union toward which we are all journeying.

I do not trust myself to see every error that may come up in this teaching, but in the case of CW, since he has openly put himself under the authority of his bishops, I will leave that judgment to them.  They are good bishops and, because of this controversy, I am sure they are watching things closely.  That was why I started listening to CW in the first place—he was working for Arbp. Chaput and I trusted his judgment.

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