What is modesty? Why is it important? How is it relevant to me?

Modesty is a virtue necessary for purity. It flows out of the virtues of temperance, chastity, and self-control. A modest person dresses, speaks, and acts in a manner that supports and encourages purity and chastity, and not in as manner that would tempt or encourage sinful sexual behavior. Modesty protects the mystery of the person in order to avoid exploiting the other. This attitude instills in us the patience and reserve we need for avoiding unbecoming behavior. Modest relationships reflect the connection between the marital state and sexual behavior. Modest behavior respects the boundaries of intimacy that are imbedded in our natures by the natural law and the principles of sexual behavior laid out in Divine Revelation. Modesty ensures and supports purity of heart, a gift that enables us to see God’s plan for personal relationships, sexuality, and marriage.

Recovering Modesty

Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships. . . . It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.

—CCC, no. 2522

We need to maintain the concern for chaste living prayerfully in our hearts. Faith is the proper foundation in the quest for a clean heart. Growth in modesty requires loving support from family and friends as well as wise counsel and the practice of virtues.

The attitude of modesty is difficult to maintain in a culture that prizes sexual permissiveness. Countless appeals for erotic satisfaction assail us daily from all the major forms of communication. This environment of indecency challenges all men and women of faith to choose and to witness to modesty as a way of life and as a method for healing a culture that has strayed from God’s plan for sexuality and marriage.

Those who have accepted the approach of the permissive culture have been persuaded that freedom is the right to do what we want to do, not what we should do. At the beginning of Christianity, the Apostles preached and witnessed Christ’s Gospel to the permissive cultures of Greece and Rome, a fact well-illustrated in St. Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians. Difficult as it was, the first preachers prevailed over the allurements of the culture, won numerous converts, and encouraged the virtue of modesty.

The Church calls us to be signs of contradiction in an overly eroticized society. All members of the Church should respond to the immodest aspects of society and culture with a deep and conscious spirituality. The Gospel can renew and purify what is decadent in our culture and gradually can displace the attraction of sin. We must assert Christ’s Gospel by word and witness to transform the moral tone of our culture. This approach fosters virtue in the human heart and its development through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

As we have mentioned, in New Testament times, the Apostles encountered moral challenges every bit as awesome as ours. Faced with his own struggles, St. Paul appeared discouraged when he said, “Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body?” In the same breath he praised God as he gave the answer: “Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24, 25). The gifts of faith and grace enabled Paul to meet the demands of the Gospel of Jesus. They will do the same for us.

You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

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