Bright Maidens: Catholic Modesty

The Bright Maidens posed this theme for this Tuesday: “Catholic Modesty”.

At Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, I found it odd when people entered wearing tank tops for an usher to hand them a disposable shawl, made of paper fiber, triangular in shape, and bright yellow. No bare shoulders, and no shorts allowed within the Basilica’s walls. That’s pretty much standard procedure for all of the major basilicas throughout Italy, and most of her Churches.

Outside of Saint Peter’s Basilica, one can’t miss these signs warning that those wearing shorts and/or tank-tops, they will not be allowed to enter.

I’ve witnessed the refusal many times. A tourist arrives at the steps of the Basilica, and is pulled aside, and told she cannot enter unless she has something to cover her shoulders (or legs). The well-informed tourist will whisk out of her backpack a long shawl and tie it around her waist as an instant skirt. If the tourist can’t comply, they are turned away.

At times, I wished there was such a dress code in our Churches here in the States. Just this past weekend, I attended Mass where a baptism was being performed. The mother of the child was wearing a mini-skirt and a single shoulder tank top (sporting a tattoo no less!). The godmother was sporting an even shorter dress and a tank top with her black undergarments showing. The women were constantly adjusting their skirts, aware that they were a bit short. This, of course, distracted from the beautiful moment of baptism.

However, it appears the trend for greater modesty is on the rise.

Rev. Fr. Lino Otero - Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Sacramento Diocese-CA

In today’s local paper, it was reported a priest began sending the message to his parishioners that shorts, tank tops, tight skirts and low-cut necklines would no longer be welcome in the Church. The article explains:

“The idea for the posters came from longtime parishioner…(a) homemaker, mother of four, and chair of the Parish Council, said she became tired of her teenage daughter asking why she couldn’t dress like some of the women she saw in church and her teenage son not concentrating on the Mass. 

“We are trying to teach our children certain values, and people are showing up in skimpy outfits,’ ” she said. ” ‘We have to do something.’ “

As with everything, we don’t live in a perfect world, and there are arguments that such a dress code would turn people away. Fr. Otero commented on this, saying that ‘getting to church is more important than what you’re wearing, and he understands if parishioners have to dress informally once in a while. “But they should make the effort to give God their best.”

An aside to the above, and yet very central to the discussion, is the VIRTUE of Modesty. Fr. John A. Hardon’s definition of modesty is as follows (Taken from Hardon’s Pocket Catholic Dictionary, 1980):

“The virtue that moderates all the internal and external movements and appearance of a person according to his or her endowments, possessions, and station of life.  There is internal modesty (humility and studiousness), and external modesty (dress and general behavior)…Modesty in dress and bodily adornments inclines a person to avoid not only whatever is offensive to others but whatever is not necessary. Modesty in bodily behavior directs a person to observe proper decorum in bodily movements, according to the dictum of St. Augustine, “In all your movements let nothing be evident that would offend the eyes of another.””

Sometimes we forget that what we wear and how we act can impact others. A priest once wrote (sorry, I can’t recall where) how difficult it is for him to give communion to women who wear revealing clothing. He has taken a vow of celibacy, and yet he is subjected to immodestly dressed women almost every day. One associate pastor, Father John Lyons, wrote for the parish bulletin outlining the new dress code to counter the problem:

“At this time we most especially need to remind girls and women to not wear immodest low-cut dresses or blouses. Women and girls should be careful that their dress is not revealing at all, even when they bend over or kneel down. Maybe some women do not know that revealing clothing is a source of temptation for most men.”

What do you think? Is Fr. Otero over the top to suggest a dress code? Should our churches strive to challenge parishioners to ‘give God their best?’ by being more conscientious in how we dress?

Here’s some posts that might be good to review:

10 Reasons Why Men Should Practice Custody of the Eyes

10 Reasons Why Women Should Dress Modestly


Past Bright Maidens Posts:

Three Reasons for Mary

Mary, Teach Me to Pray

Mary, Teach Me to Pray

The Bright Maidens posed this theme for this week (Tuesday): “Mary, our Guide”.

Thank you, Bright Maidens, for getting us to think again about our wonderful Mother, Mary, who does much to lead us to her Son.

I have learned much from Mary through her disposition towards the things of God, especially through her example as a woman of deep prayer. How else could her heart be ready to accept the Angel Gabriel’s announcement that she would bear the Son of God? How else could she accept that ‘her heart too would be pierced’ as prophesied by Simeon at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple? How else could she bear to stand at the foot of the Cross and watch in agony the suffering and death of her Son?

All of these moments – and we presume a lifetime of others not recorded in the Sacred Scriptures – present a picture of Mary as a woman who developed a deep life of prayer from an early age. One of the most prominent examples in the Bible of Mary’s prayer life is her Canticle of Praise, the Magnificat. It is this, I wish to contemplate in this post, as I ask Mary, “Mother, teach me to pray.”

The Gospel of Luke, chapter one describes the scene (verses 39-45). Mary travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and ‘when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,  the infant leaped in her womb, prompting Elizabeth to proclaim, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me? … Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

To this, Mary responds with these words of praise to God, “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” – my soul magnifies the Lord! (Luke 1:46)

If we ponder her response, we can learn a lot from the young Nazarean. She has just come from a rather arduous journey. She carries a secret that she knows will, in part, be known to all in the coming months. Yet, she is met with such a force in the words of Elizabeth. I ask myself, ‘how would I respond?’ How do I respond when I am caught off guard by something someone says or does? Do I turn to ‘magnify the Lord’? One can only respond in such a way if grounded in prayer.

An example comes to mind of a dear friend of mine, who unfortunately has gone through a rather difficult time with her family. She is quite gifted, but also is often misunderstood and maligned by those who presumably love her. One day, we were talking when she received a phone call. Over the phone, a prominent family member spoke in a very rough tone to her. When the conversation finished, I could see that not all was well. But the reason I remember the incident at all, is because of my friend’s response. I asked her, “Are you okay?” To which she unhesitatingly replied, “Lord, you keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (from Isaiah 26:3).

“Magnificat anima mea Dominum!”

My friend, had long ago adopted Mary as a teacher. Mary, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit – “Sponsa Sancti Spiritus” – intercedes to the Spirit that our heart may become like hers – a heart that ponders the working of God in the daily unfolding of our lives. Mary understands us well. Not all was understood by Mary in her lifetime, but she gathered her experiences in her heart, taking them to prayer. Contemplating the mystery of God in her human experience. In her ‘taking all these things to her heart,’ she brought them to God in prayer.

There are so many occurrences in our daily existence that we don’t understand. Things happen that cannot be explained with human understanding. Logic is foiled. It is a temptation to take these moments and enclose them around our human ‘wisdom’, to try and make sense of them, or explain them in human terms. It takes great faith to turn them over to God, especially when the event in question is not one of our liking: a broken relationship; a terminally ill child; an undetermined illness; natural disasters; the loss of a loved one. All of these spark our emotions, and our need to make sense of our lives comes to the forefront, demanding an answer.

That is why Mary is such a good teacher in the school of prayer. So many unanswered questions in her life, taking each one and ‘pondering it in her heart.’

Mary, you always point us to your beloved Son, telling us, “Listen to Him.”
By your humility, you teach us to be humble.
By your obedience to the Spirit, you teach us to listen (obedire).
Mary, teach me to pray.
Teach me in my life’s journey
to have on my lips a song of praise – my Magnificat –
giving praise to the God of All.


Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen!


Related Posts:

The list is up at Bright Maidens Facebook page of this week’s contributers to the topic: “Mary our Guide”

Anthony S. Layne, blogging at Outside the Asylum writes of Our Lady of Good Counsel

Popular Piety and Mary

Three Reasons for Mary

On This Altar

The Passion of Christ and Mary’s Role


This post is linked at New Advent (5/18/11)


For more about Bright Maidens:

Their Facebook Page, Bright Maidens: A Young Catholic Commentary

A list of  “Catholic Sorority” participants of Bright Maidens

You Will Have the Poor with You Always

Federica Maifredi, serving as a lay missionary in Togo is my guest writer today. I remember Fede from her budding missionary days when she was in Rome preparing for her first mission in Sudan, where she served for two years. Here, she shares what a day visiting the sick is like in her current mission in Togo.
The title of her story, ‘You will have the poor with you always,’ echoes the words of Jesus’ when the disciples rejected the woman’s use of ‘costly perfumed oil’, seeing it as a waste (Matthew 26:6-11). When I first read this story, I felt overwhelmed at how much suffering she encounters on a daily basis, and how little at times she could do to alleviate that suffering…her time seeming wasted.  And yet, there is joy that emanates from the words.  Enjoy!

Today, the ninth of March 2011, just like every Wednesday, I visited the so-called ‘Cabanò’: a section of prisoners in the city hospital of Tokoin. The conditions of the sick prisoners are worse than other prisoners, inhuman for anyone. Not only, but those who do not receive visits do not have sufficient food to stave off hunger … (in prison one gets maize porridge; here one gets a handful of rice morning and evening, according to whether the guards outside are more or less hungry!) Two rooms without windows are the living space for about thirty people, who can only console themselves thinking that at least the lodging is free!

Naturally, there are those who have a family, those who are well off and can afford to smoke and there are the poorest of the poor. Those with family are all together in the bigger room; their beds are covered with pieces of faded cloth (pagne), reasonably clean. They have packets of powdered milk, tins of sardines; some have bread, others a bowl of soup with fish and rice. There are people who take care of them. The poorest of the poor are reduced to skin and bone, piled up on filthy mattresses, without a pillow. And yes, I almost forgot: no visits!

During last weekend, people said that Monsieur Koffi “had left”. Here they use this term. No one uses the word ‘death’, it causes fear! It seemed that he did not even have a rag in which to be wrappped. His companions told me this today when I brought them some of our old sheets to cover their mattresses. I thought I would not find Monsieur Koffi, but instead … instead, this morning, he was lying on his mattress with two pieces of cardboard under his pelvis, in a coma, before “leaving” … He was reduced to this state for having tried to steal a sheep where he lived. Someone reported him and later he finished up here. Today, as I was going out to get a cool fruit drink (the wish of a boy affected by AIDS who gets thinner every day) …, finally he decided to leave too. Now this boy, on a stretcher, will probably end up in the mass grave with his friend Koffi if no one claims them.

I continued on my way and accompanied a young mother of seventeen who had brought her tiny baby, only fifteen days old, for a neurological examination. I thought “I am the one accompanying others, but it seems to me that it is the Lord who is accompanying me on this first day of Lent.”

Lazare was born with a malformation of the brain, hydrocephalus. He never cries, not even if he is hungry; he eats little and does not move. And yet he is so beautiful. The doctor who examined him said he must return next Friday and, perhaps, it would be possible to operate the following Monday, that is, if there was enough money to buy all the operating material and pay the doctors! The result was not guaranteed.

Then I had to show the same neurosurgeon the clinical situation of a young man of twenty-three who had fallen from the first floor while working as a builder and who was now completely paralyzed. His sister, Abla, had been with me from 7.30 this morning. Now it was two in the afternoon, but the hope of hearing someone say something positive was so high that she had resisted until then, without showing any signs of hunger or tiredness. Dr. Beketi looked through the medical notes and remembered the case quite well. The boy had been in hospital for about a month and the family had been told quite clearly that this had been a very serious accident. Koami would never be able to walk again. Abla explained, with tear-filled eyes, that now her brother was not able to remain lying down. Certainly, the family had been warned that this could happen. We returned home, Abla and I, in the car.

She still had not exhausted the source of her hope and she begged me, with a disarming smile, to come in. I could not have imagined a scene more “charming” than what appeared before my eyes: in the courtyard of red earth, under an arbor of dired branches, surrounded by squawking chickens and two cats that were licking each other, I found this boy with such a beautiful face, lying on a bed made of two planks of wood and a layer of thick sponge. I felt I was in a parable. Yes, the parable of the paralytic. And where was Jesus? “Jesus, where are you?! Please come, we need a miracle!” What must I do now! I did not have the courage to tell him the truth and what the doctor had said. Koami, who spoke French much better than his elder sister, told me that he felt great pain in his head, that he had finished the Paracetamol tablets, and even the gauzes for medication were finished. He asked what could be done for his swollen feet and so I pulled him up without thinking twice; Abla helped me while the mother watched at a distance, curiously. His smile of approval, the sensation of feeling better and that the pain was relieved a little, shone from his eyes and they seemed to shout to me “this is a miracle!” I regained my hope and trust; we live near him so I can bring him medicines and visit him, without difficulty, more than once a week.

He can read, so I can bring him some books we have at home; thus he can fly away from this courtyard, at least for a moment, and dream of beautiful things. We will find him a wheelchair and, when he feels better, perhaps we can get him into the car and take him to see the ocean.

But how many miracles can I work???

At this point, I remembered the other people I had met during the day (which never seemed to end) and I thanked the Lord for having let me hear His voice. “GO AND, YOU TOO, DO THE SAME” (Luke 10:37).

In reading this, may you be inspired in your reflection and prayer, to also take action so that, when you meet suffering, you may take it on yourself by sharing the burden of the others, minimizing the pain, thanks to the small miracles which each one of you is able to work. And if some of you do not feel prepared, the Master is ready to give us a hand.


Federica (Fede) Maifredi, Italian, is a Catholic lay missionary serving in Togo. She discerned her missionary vocation with the Canossian Sisters and their missionary voluntary service, VOICA. After two years as a volunteer missionary in Sudan with the Canossian Sisters and Voica, she made a life-long decision to be a lay missionary.


Related lay missionary stories:

Katie writes of The Beauty of Aru

Karen writes of her mission in Congo

Lydia continues to write at Life is Beautiful, Admire It about Congo since finishing her mission.

A retired Catholic couple write about their experience in East Timor.

The Wonder of It – 3 minute retreat

Having a busy day? Perhaps you need a moment of refreshment at the well of God’s handiwork:


“Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these…
Do you not know or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth.”

Isaiah 40:26,28


h/t: Elizabeth Hillgrove, on Twitter.

Three Reasons for Mary

The Bright Maidens posed this question for today: “Why Mary?”

It is a beautiful question to reflect upon as we begin this month of May, traditionally dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. As I reflect on the question, “Why Mary?”, particular passage of the Sacred Scriptures come to mind that convince me of Mary’s definitive role in our journey of faith, and how she is meant to be honored because of her role in salvation history.

Reason One: Luke 1: 26-38 – the Annunciation

Mary is, like many young women, looking for her future, but as we learn in the Gospel, her plans are interrupted at the words of the angel who tells her she is needed for a special project. she responds “Ecce ancilla Domini. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.” I am the handmaid of the Lord, be done unto me according to your word. What an example for us especially for a society that projects an autonomous attitude of focusing mainly on one’s own project.

Why Mary? She shows us that there is a bigger project in life than our own, and that it is manifested only when we, establish a rhythm of prayer that guides our actions and decision, rather than relying solely on our passions and practical desires; in her trusting the Word of God spoken through the angel, she was able to give an example for us, to become ‘Women of Listening’ to the desires of God, and include His will in our plans.

Mary shows us, that in following God’s design that flows from our obedience to His Word and His precepts (commandments), we to can sing a Magnificat of praise: “God has done great things for me, and Holy is His name!”

Reason Two: John 2:1-11 – the Wedding Feast at Cana

At the wedding feast, as the wine was running out, Mary approached her Son, saying, “They have no more wine.” Have you ever wondered about Jesus indirect answer to her? He responds, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (v.4). Mary doesn’t wait to clarify. She turns to the serveants and tells them, “Do whatever he tells you.” And it is through her intercession Jesus’ first recorded miracle in the Gospel of John takes place.

In this example, we are encouraged to rely on Mary in a role as an intercessor. She as a mother knows that if she asks her Son to do something, he will do it. It is a sign of her faith in Jesus’ divinity. She doesn’t know how wine will be supplied – that is not in the scope of her concern – but only trusts that Her Son will provide because she has asked Him.  Today’s Gospel points to this reality, in the kind of faith Mary exhibits: “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14).

Why Mary? Mary, the Woman of Faith, understood these words of Jesus intuitively. She experienced through her relationship with Him that he never disappoints, but brings about everything, so long as it is not contrary to the Father’s will. We then, have recourse to Mary, to intercede on our behalf, just like she did for the wedding couple. And all will be accomplished so to glorify the Father.

Reason Three: John 19:23-27 – at the Foot of the Cross

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother 11 and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

Ecce Mater Tua. Behold your Mother. When I first heard the Bright Maidens’ challenge to write a post on the topic, “Why Mary,” the tender scene at the foot of the Cross, was the first thought that came to my mind. It is, for me, the culmination of Mary’s ‘Yes’ at the Annunciation. She had no idea when she first said ‘fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum’ that she would one day find herself looking up at her Son on a tree of pain and suffering. Nothing could have prepared her for that day, where her own heart would be wrenched in two. No prophecy (like that of Simeon in Luke 2:34-35) could have told her how sharp that sword of sorrow would be, piercing her motherly heart. Yet, there at the Cross, participating in the suffering of her Son, she continued to say:




I believe that it is here, at the foot of the Cross, Mary teaches us the most important lesson for Christian living. Her “Yes” to God has no conditions placed upon it. No strings attached. It is freely given to God, with her recognition that Her life is forfeited to whatever it is God wants.

Why Mary? Whenever I, in giving myself to God, wish that I hadn’t been so generous, it is Mary that tells me, “No, Lisa Marie, be generous with your ‘yes’, no matter what it costs you.” Looking to her example, how can I take back my small offerings when she has made it her life project to fulfill what she began as that young fifteen year old girl, in that first ‘yes’ to God? My prayer is, that I too, may be faithful in my own daily ‘yes’ that continues to build on my vows as a religious, my first fiat, allowing the Lord’s project for my life, to become my own.

This essay is cross-posted at Canossian Sisters – Sacramento

Linked on Friday Morning Edition at The Pulpit.

Linked at New Advent.

Linked at National Catholic Register.

Linked by The Anchoress at Patheos.


Related Posts:

By the original ‘Bright Maidens’:

More Posts by Bright Maiden friends: