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“Ask a Priest: What If a Homily on Modesty Was Upsetting?”
Q: What would be a respectful way to discuss the contents of a homily with a priest? I am struggling with the message from a recent homily, and having a hard time explaining it to my daughter. The priest discussed vanity and being humble in dress, purchases such as cars, etc. I wholeheartedly agree that dressing modestly, etc., is important. But he also only addressed how woman dress and specifically said that how they dress can lead a man into sin. Last I checked, we had free will, and men can be vain and dress inappropriately as well. In addition I have always told my daughter that God made her so she should be proud of herself and how she looks, thinks, etc. (but still dress appropriately). This line of thinking (what you were wearing is leading to someone else’s actions) is dangerous to me. This is not the first time he has made less than complimentary remarks about women, and it is becoming incredibly frustrating to me. I am the one ensuring my daughter is raised in the Church and makes her sacraments. I don’t know how to express to my priest how hurtful this is. – E.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It’s good to hear how dedicated you are to raising your daughter in the faith.
As to your specific points: It’s hard for me to evaluate the situation since I’m unfamiliar with the parish (perhaps there is a noticeable problem in the locality).
Also, it’s hard to gauge the homily. A homily might have lots of valid points. But the way it’s delivered can leave a positive or negative impact (sometimes both) on the faithful in the pews. Here, ideally, a priest will choose the right words and the right tone – and know when to omit certain details.
As you mention, modesty in dress is important. Unfortunately the wider culture, especially the media, doesn’t encourage it very much. This affects the way people dress, including at Mass.
The fact that your priest is speaking about the topic shows a bit of courage, since it’s not an easy theme to bring up at Mass. Again, I can’t say whether he hit the right tone or used all the right words.
My guess, though, is that his heart is in the right place and that he isn’t trying to denigrate women in the least. On the contrary, he probably wants to help protect the dignity of women.
While men aren’t immune from dressing inappropriately, they are much more commonly tempted by immodestly dressed women than vice versa. Men react to visual stimuli differently from the way women do. It’s the way the male brain works.
The upshot is that an immodesty dressed woman would have far more impact on men than an immodestly dressed man would have on women. And the notion that what someone wears can have an impact on what others do isn’t a “dangerous” idea but rather something grounded in real-life experience. Yes, we all have free will, but the actions of others do influence us. The idea behind appropriate attire is to learn how to be a positive influence on others even in the way we dress.
The beauty that Our Lord bestows on women gives them the potential to inspire men toward great sacrifice and nobility. But if beauty isn’t protected with modesty, it can bring out an unsavory side in men. Jesus himself understood the potential for problems: “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
To put all this in a positive light, women by their modesty are performing an act of charity because it helps the men around them to live chastely.
While it’s great that you are encouraging your daughter to dress appropriately, it’s possible that other parents in the parish aren’t as diligent. Hence the homily.
It might help to get various perspectives on modesty, not because there is a problem in your household, but rather to understand the viewpoint of other folks who do grapple with challenges.
After looking over some of these items, you might want to pray about the issue and see where the Holy Spirit is leading you.
Perhaps you might approach the priest at an opportune moment and share your concerns with him. Maybe an e-mail ahead of time could help. It might benefit him greatly to get a woman’s perspective. Your input could help him hone his message in the future.
This could be an opportunity to cultivate a healthy appreciation for modesty in your parish — among men and women.
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