One of the highlights of the recent Olympics had nothing to do with winning a gold, silver or bronze medal but rather the accomplishment of Sarah Attar, the first female track athlete to compete for Saudi Arabia in the Olympics.
Sarah ran in a preliminary 800m event and finished last, nearly 45 seconds behind the winner. However, her participation represented an historic moment, as one half of the first ever women's team to represent Saudi Arabia. She was cheered on every step of the way and given a standing ovation at the end of the race.
She summed things up saying:“It is such an honour to be representing Saudi Arabia. Hopefully this can make such a huge difference... to make that first step for women is just the most amazing feeling ever.”
It is important to recall the context. The Saudi Olympic Committee overturned a ban on women athletes in June despite strong opposition from many quarters of society. But officials demanded that all female competitors would be dressed “to preserve their dignity.” Hence, the modest attire. For the race she was dressed in a long-sleeved green training top, long jogging bottoms and a white hijab covering her hair - a bit over the top and quite a contrast to the attire of her peers.
The criteria for acceptable modesty and decency have relaxed continuously in much of the world since the nineteenth century, with shorter, form-fitting, and more revealing clothing and swimsuits. Most people wear clothes that they consider not to be unacceptably immodest for their religion, culture, generation, occasion, and the people present. Furthermore, what is considered appropriate depends on context, e.g. competing in a sporting event or worshipping in a church.
In 1957, Pope Pius XII presented some principles re modesty in dress. Clothing fulfills three necessary requirements: hygiene, decency and adornment. These are “so deeply rooted in nature that they cannot be disregarded or contradicted without provoking hostility and prejudice.”
Hygiene pertain mostly to “the climate, its variations, and other external factors” (e.g. discomfort, illness). Decency involves the “proper consideration for the sensitivity of others to objects that are unsightly, or, above all, as a defence of moral honesty and a shield against disordered sensuality.” Adornment is legitimate and “responds to the innate need... to enhance the beauty and dignity of the person with the same means that are suitable to satisfy the other two purposes.”
Priests and bishops rarely speak about modesty. It’s awkward. You can be accused of legalism. It can seem politically incorrect and it is so easy to turn people off before the point is made.
I admire the way one non-Catholic clergyman addressed the modesty in dress in an email:
This email is to bring you into the conversation, and also to ask for your help. Let me start by first making sure that you know how grateful I am for the ways that you serve. You sing wonderfully, and more importantly, you serve humbly and joyfully with an eye toward magnifying Jesus. It is a pleasure to do it with you!
It seems that what’s in the stores and in the media has become more and more form-fitting over the last few years. I don’t track these things carefully, but it seems like stuff is a little tighter on the body than it used to be. Although one wonders how that trend can infinitely continue! ....
My wife mentioned to me that it seemed like women in general are often conscious of how much skin is showing (neck lines, skirt length, etc.) but may not always be as conscious that things being really tight-fitting can be just as much a temptation for guys as actual skin showing. I thought was a helpful distinction, and as a guy, would agree.
As a whole church, we don’t enforce a dress code or talk about specifics often, because we want to direct ladies primarily toward the heart issues rather than a specific application. As a worship team, though, we do need to get more specific, because what we do is seen by the entire church and serves as a model, whether we intend it to or not.
Our goal in clothing is pretty simple: don’t tempt others, but instead do what is beautiful, simple, and will help us point others toward the beauty and greatness of God. Peter speaks to wives in this way: “Do not let your adorning be external .... but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4). He’s not saying we shouldn’t look nice. If we look bad, that’s not helpful, either! Instead, we want to dress in a way that communicates that it’s not all about how we look, that we care about what helps or hurts others, and that lets people join us wholeheartedly when we sing to them about following Jesus.
So this email is just to stir you up again by way of reminder, to be vigilant and alert about what you choose to wear on Sundays. Sometimes what’s in style is tempting for others, and as trends change from year to year, we just want to continue to be thinking critically about what might not serve others. It’s not an easy job!
I don’t want anyone to feel condemned. I’m not assuming anyone has had wrong motives. But if you’re experiencing any Spirit-induced conviction, confess your wrong, bring it to the cross, and remind yourself of our perfect Savior who was sacrificed for your sin! As we think about the topic of modesty, we want the effect to be repentance (if needed) but then primarily a joy and faith to do what will serve others and help build the church.
If you have any thoughts or response, please feel free to contact my wife or speak to another woman you respect on the team. Let’s seek to ask questions humbly of others that are close to us (either a spouse, or another female friend who is honest and wise about these things).
I’m grateful to God for you all. May he continue to confirm, strengthen, and establish you as you continue to grow into all that the gospel of Jesus means for us!
☩ Frederick Henry
Our faith takes with joyful seriousness the mystery of the Incarnation: that the Son of God took flesh for our salvation. Jesus' body scourged, crucified and risen for us, tells us that God uses the human body to make his love present in our world. The body is our doorway to salvation, and so how we treat it matters.
Sexuality is a gift from God and a fundamental part of what makes us human. Each of us is called to acknowledge this gift and the One who gave it.
Our sexuality and our spiritual life are intimately linked. The chaste person integrates sexuality within the personality and thus expresses his or her inner unity as a bodily and spiritual being. The chaste person has the capacity to relate to others in a truly human way, reflecting a person's state in life: single, married or consecrated celibacy.
Living the virtue of chastity means placing our desire for sexual pleasure under the guidance of reason and faith. It is one of the cornerstones of the temple of our body, a necessary pillar of right living. It leads to wholeness and unity, for individuals, married couples and society.
The virtue of chastity involves the integration of the powers of love and life placed in us. This integrity ensures the unity of the person and is opposed to any behavior that would distort it.
Living chastity is no easy business in the sex_saturated world of contemporary Western culture. It's impossible to walk through a shopping mall, turn on a computer or television, glance at an advertisement or browse through a bookstore without being bombarded by sexual imagery of every kind. The challenge of living chastely in these circumstances is difficult for everyone.
Pornography has never been more widespread, reaching almost epidemic proportions. It denigrates authentic sexual expression and encourages masturbation, sexual intimacy outside of marriage and the separation of the life giving and love giving meaning of sexual relations.
If we wish to remain faithful to our baptismal promises and resist temptations, we need to develop strategies that will help us live in holiness and freedom. Here are a few suggestions:
- Remove from your home or workplace any pornographic literature, magazines, video, CD, DVD or games that are source of temptation.
- Develop the practice of going online only for legitimate purposes. Don't visit pornographic web sites
- Create accountability measures, e.g. move the computer to an open location, the living room or family room is preferable to the bedroom
- Install accountability software, with the goal of filtering out undesirable material.
- In some cases it might help to join an accountability or support group, e.g. Sexaholics Anonymous.
- Try to identify the weaknesses or shortcomings which give an opening to lustful temptations. When beginning to fantasize ask yourself some important questions: what does this fantasy mean? What am I feeling? Am I sad, lonely, afraid,, hurting, or what?
- Beware of excessive fatigue. Make time for rest. Defenses and coping skills decline with too little sleep/high levels of stress.
- Healthy leisure is critical. Especially physical exercise.
- Take responsibility for problems ; blaming others is a cop-out.
- Get involved in apostolic work.
- Seek out and be honest with a spiritual director, confessor, formator, chaplain or counselor.
- Celebrate the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist frequently. Such celebrations move us into greater union with God, separates us form our sinfulness and strengthens our spirits.
- Develop a daily plan of life which integrates ascetical practices. Grow in self-control and self-discipline and form the will.
- Cultivate simple practices such as custody of the eyes, prudent selection of reading material, attention to the duty of the present moment, indifference to distractions, not dwelling on past injuries, remembering the blessings of God, fasting and abstinence, and spiritual reading.
- Learn how to establish healthy boundaries and relationships. Develop friendships that strive for mutual growth in Christian virtue.
- Exhibit genuine modesty in matters of dress and behaviour.
- Daily reading and reflecting with the Scriptures, the rosary, prayer for forgiveness and protection. Inviting Jesus into our hearts as the Lord of our lives and renouncing evil spirits and commanding them to leave in his name.
- Growth requires persistence and resolve to stop giving into lustful thoughts. Developing spiritual muscles requires repetition. Set realistic goals. Never give up but keep striving!
☩ Frederick Henry
If most of us were asked to fill in the above blank, we'd likely say "love" and would likely echo the Luther Vandross lyrics of "What the world needs now, Is love, sweet love, It's the only thing, That there's just too little of." However, as good as that answer might be, today, I'm inclined to fill in "a good theology of the body."
I was recently introduced to statistical data collected re the Pornography Industry:
- Size of the Industry $57 billion world-wide = $12 billion U.S.Adult Videos $20 billion; Escort Services $11 billion; Magazines $7.5 billion; Sex Clubs $5 billion; Phone Sex $4.5 billion; Cable & Pay Per View $2.5 billion; Internet $2.5 billionCD-Rom $1.5 billion; Novelties $1 billion; Other $1.5 billion
- Porn revenue is larger than all combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises.
- U.S. porn revenue exceeds the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC ($6.2 billion)
- Child pornography generates $3 billion annually
Internet Porn Statistics:
- Pornographic Web sites 4.2 million (12% of total web sites)
- Pornographic pages 372 million
- Daily pornographic search engine requests 68 million (25% of total search engine requests)
- Daily pornographic e-mails 2.5 billion (8% of total e-mails)
- Average daily pornographic e-mails/users 4.5 per Internet user
- Monthly pornographic downloads (peer-to-peer) 1.5 billion (35% of all downloads)
- Web sites offering illegal child pornography 100,000
- Sexual solicitations of youth made in chat rooms 89%
- Youths who receive sexual solicitation 20%
- Worldwide visitors to pornographic Web sites 72 million annually
Children's Exposure to Pornography:
- Average age of first Internet exposure to pornography 8 years old
- Nearly one-third (31%) have a computer in their bedroom, and one in five (20%) have an Internet connection there
- Largest consumer of Internet pornography 12-17 age group
- 15-17 years olds having multiple hard-core exposures 80%
- 8-16 year olds having viewed porn online 90% (most while doing homework)
- 7-17 year olds who would freely give out home address 29%
- 7-17 year olds who would freely give out email address 14%
- Children's characters linked to thousands of porn links 26 (including Pokeman and Action Man)
Pornography offends against the divine plan for the body and for the intimacy of sexual union. It fixates on certain normal bodily functions in an immodest and obsessive way. It offends against chastity generically and in ways that reveal its specific evil. Following the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we can identify several ways in which pornography harms both those who produce it and those who use it.
The Pontifical Council for Social Communications (Pornography and Violence in the Media: A Pastoral Response, nos. 14-17). describes the evils of behavior or character that result from pornography, such as:
It can have a progressively desensitizing effect, gradually rendering individuals morally numb.
It can be addictive, causing some viewers to require progressively more perverse material to achieve the same degree of stimulation.
It can undermine marriage and family life since it demeans their sacred value.
In some cases, it can incite its users to commit more overtly violent crimes such as rape, child abuse, and even murder
We come to know one another through our bodily experiences of seeing, talking, and listening to each other. God intends the affective and aggressive drives to support each other in maturation toward strong, faithful, and self-giving love. When the affective drive turns to lust and the aggressive drive to violence, both the integrity of the person and communion between persons are lost.
Issues involving sexuality, which offers the prospect of the most intimate experience of the drive toward social communion, are not easily addressed. Even within morally deformed acts, there can lurk a hint of the ability to satisfy humanity's powerful longing for intimacy. This is the promise with which pornography often ensnares a person. The pleasure it gives is offered as a substitute for genuine intimacy. The result of this pleasure is not intimacy but a disconnection from oneself and from others. It can even become addictive. The body and its functions, including sex, are reduced to the object of increasingly bizarre fantasies that must be taken in larger doses to reproduce the thrill of the initial involvement with pornography.
In dealing with pornography, it is important not to treat only the symptom. As an illegitimate response to legitimate desires for emotional and physical intimacy, pornography must find its remedy in a conversion to an understanding of the body and sexuality found in their intrinsic meaning as well as in revelation. This conversion culminates in an active witness to the dignity of our embodied existence. It includes sensitivity to each person's need for the bond with others that God has placed in us. Such a witness enables us to overcome the deceptions of pornography that separate us from a true appreciation for our bodies.
Isolating sexuality from a moral context and using it to titillate or degrade others for one's own profit or pleasure is always wrong.
☩ Frederick Henry