When we think of modesty, most of us picture ugly clothes, dreary hair, and no exposed skin. Or we assume it entails having the personality of a doormat, never taking credit for yourself, and allowing others to step on you as they work their way up. The Holy Spirit, though, has no desire for us to be anything less than incredible. God made us and it was good. After all, we were made in God’s own image, and that isn’t anything to cover up.
The ninth fruit of the Spirit we explore today is modesty. What exactly is modesty? Being modest means being humble. It is believing that any of our successes, blessings, and talents are gifts from God. It also means being content with what we have and not harboring any selfish ambitions. In addition to being a gift of the Holy Spirit, modesty is a moral virtue. It is one that affects all of the relationships around us, including the relationship with ourselves. Excess (too much) or defect (too little) is what matters in all areas of our lives when it comes to modesty.
The final three fruits of the Spirit we will discuss today (modesty) and the following two Sundays (self-control and chastity) have to do with the virtue of temperance. The simplest definition of temperance is “the virtue which moderates in us the inordinate desire for sensible pleasure, keeping it within the limits assigned by reason and faith.” (Divine Intimacy).
These are not topics we like to talk about much these days, but it is important because this is how our bodies are ordered to God. Before the Fall, all the physical senses were in complete harmony and controlled by reason. Temperance is loving my body to keep it clean and pure, moderate in use of taste, exercising continence in the use of touch, and chaste in all the senses. Infused with the theological virtue of faith, we see the fruit of modesty.
The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. Church tradition lists twelve: charity (love), joy, peace, patience, kindness (benignity), goodness, generosity (longanimity), gentleness (mildness), faithfulness (faith), modesty, self-control (continency), chastity. Galatians 5:22-23 Vulgate As we mature in our faith, aligning our will with God’s, all the characteristics of our spiritual fruits, including the fruit of modesty, will grow. “’We live by the Spirit’; the more we renounce ourselves, the more we ‘walk by the Spirit’” (CCC 736).
Let’s look at some of the benefits of learning, understanding, and living in the fruit of modesty:
- Modesty is an essential base for humility; it may appear mediocre in our eyes, but it is not in the eyes of God.
- By this fruit, we learn to be content with what is required of us. We don’t harbor any ambitions, nor take pride in any achievements since they appear commonplace. We must be humble, not claiming any credit for ourselves, but giving all credit and thanksgiving to God by accepting His Holy Will.
- When we are not living in modesty, we get “inflated” thinking that we can do things on our own. We might feel we have accomplished something we are proud of without giving God any glory or thanks. We in turn, distance ourselves from the teachings of Jesus Christ.
- The Ninth and Tenth Commandments teach us about modesty where we are instructed to not covet our neighbor’s wife, goods, or anything that is our neighbor’s. Additionally, it is noted that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. In John 2:16, St John distinguishes three kinds of covetousness or concupiscence: lust of flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life which is the battle between the flesh and the spirit. This struggle belongs to the heritage of sin.
- Modesty is a sign of human dignity. Forms of modesty may vary from culture to culture, but a commonality is an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. Teaching modesty to our children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1-2
- Modesty protects the intimate center of the person – our heart. Purity of heart requires the modesty, which is patient, decent and discrete.
God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.James 4:6
How do we cultivate the fruit of modesty? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Pray a Litany of Humility.
- Take a challenge. Look at your interior life and the way you dress, speak, act, etc., and ask yourself, if you were to stand before our Lord would you be ashamed or proud of what you have done with the temple that He has given you? The challenge is, if your answer is a resonant “no” or like me, a doubtful “I am not so sure”, to begin to take steps to develop the gift of modesty.
- Practice Moderation. Moderation is key in modesty. We should never say anything or do anything that out of place or is against our station in life. The end of modesty is fear of the Lord. Modesty, St Thomas Aquinas said, will help us in having due maturity, not just in physical growth but in the certain stage of the interior life. This stage is set aside by self-denial and striving for excellence in life, not just exterior but also interior aspects. Modesty is one of the first virtues lost when we lack in the interior life; it is also one of the last perfected.
- Look to Mary. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary with the Good News of the coming Messiah, she replied, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:38). By her modest response, Mary didn’t become proud of such a gift. She kept it to herself, risking being divorced publicly as she was a virgin. Next time you are recognized for a success or achievement, give God the glory.
- Get some perspective. Read Pope Pius XII’s letter on the Moral Problems in the Fashion Industry. It still holds-up principles of modesty in dress:
- Clothing fulfills three necessary requirements: hygiene, decency, and adornment.
- Like other material objects, fashion can become an undue attachment—even perhaps an addiction—for some people.
- The human body is “God’s masterpiece in the visible world”; Jesus elevated the human body “to the rank of a temple and an instrument of the Holy Spirit, and as such must be respected.”
- Certain fashions and styles “create confusion in well-ordered minds and can even be an incentive to evil.”
- God has made the human body beautiful. Immodest attire neither contributes to the promotion of the human person nor to the establishing of the Kingdom.
Modesty is the quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s abilities. It is an attitude that includes the physical, intellectual, and spiritual. It is a desire to attract attention to that which is truly good instead of that which is superficial or distracting. By understanding and practicing modesty, our inner beauty and authenticity will shine. We will shine with faith, hope and love – the divine beauty God infused in us to light up the world.
Smitten with the fruit of modesty,