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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Heading to the Beaches & Modesty

We are coming up on the warm months of the year and soon our people will be heading out to the beaches.  It is opportune to discuss again how we dress and what we communicate by our outward appearance.  As one critic rightly remarked, despite what people wear, it is good to get to know the inner person. Yes, but of course, there are many people we will never really know personally. Models in magazines and catalogues would be an example. The image may be all that we will ever encounter. Are they not saying something about their own self-respect (or lack thereof) by how they appear and how they allow themselves to be used? Strangers on a beach would be another such example.  Further, visual markers have a certain staying power.  We can say that dress (or undress) does not matter; but the truth is that it matters a great deal. 

Girl watching on the beach is a particularly volatile issue. People get mad or roll their eyes when I offer criticism.  It would be one thing if the men looked upon the women as one might a Michelangelo masterpiece, giving praise to God for the wonders of his creation and such beauty. However, men are not angels, and not infrequently, the sight of scantily clothed women is an occasion for sin— fantasies that lead to adultery in the heart, self-pollution, casual sex outside of marriage and sometimes crime. The question also arises as to what is or is not pornographic. Women would probably be better covered by ordinary underwear than by many styles of swimwear. Are men generally comfortable with showing off their wives, girlfriends and daughters in skimpy attire?

Of course, the clothing of the body is only one element to modesty. It includes dress, posture, speech, etc. Young women were once taught etiquette in such things. I can still recall a teacher talking to girls in my grammar school class about how to sit, with legs crossed. The religious sisters tell me that they were always at the girls about rolling up their skirts to their school uniforms. Even certain hair styles were regarded as somewhat provocative, although I never really understood this element. It finds some reference in Scripture and is the rationale behind the Catholic mantilla, the nun’s veil and the Islamic head covering. As I understand it, in Church circles, a woman’s hair-covering at Mass was to obscure her beauty sufficiently so that men might not be distracted from Eucharistic worship. It was also done as an ancient custom to honor God. However, I have never been one to find hair overtly sexual and as a serious threat to propriety. Maybe this is different for others?

The criticism might be offered that I have targeted the responsibility of women to be modest and have omitted men. I think there is a different psychology here. Both men and women are sexual beings, but we are not wired the same. While it is often wildly exaggerated, most men do not need much of a catalyst to think about sexual things. One girl told me that she liked to flirt but not to worry because she always stopped before she got the boys’ motors running. I quickly explained, “Sorry, but you need to know the boys’ motors are ALWAYS running!” It is no secret that pornography and the sex industry focus more heavily upon the female form than the male. In any case, presuppositions and possible stereotypes aside, men are also called to be chaste and modest. Tight fitting clothes or baggy pants that seem to be falling off are problematical. Speedo swim-shorts for men strike me also as unsightly and vulgar. Preoccupations with men’s butts can be for women a violation of the custody of the eyes. The groin-grasping dance of the late Michael Jackson would be evidence of an immodest gesture from men. Men and women must work together to preserve modesty and the many wonderful values which flow from it.

I will save the issue of how people dress when going to church for another day, after I take another blood pressure pill.