Friday, June 17, 2011

Modesty: Unveiled

I drafted this post some time ago and posted it finally in order to contribute to a topic prompt by the Bright Maidens. I highly recommend reading them if you have any interest in what it's like to be young, female and Catholic!

Disclaimer #1: I hate the word “modesty.” I feel like it only applies to women and has no real basis in reality with respect to what one can actually find in stores. I am not one to advocate the wearing of floor-length prairie skirts and turtle-necks. Mainly because I really think they are a fashion faux-pas and if that makes me a materialistic secular person, so be it. That being said, I am going to use the word modesty for- literally- lack of a better word. I am using it to mean…basically… um…. Not slutty. I guess? Semantics tick me off.

There has been a bit of buzz lately about modesty in the Church.  There are two forms of modesty rules that women are to follow. One is sometimes referred to the Fatima rule, which was codified by the Cardinal Vicar of Pope Pius XII in 1956. Distilled, the rules are: no shirts cut lower than two finger widths below the hollow of the neck, sleeves to the elbow, skirts below the knee. I’ll add for good measure: head covered in the sanctuary. Many women do not follow this rule, because, come on. Why would you? But some still feel compelled to, and, power to them I guess.
The other one is the more modern rule, which is shoulders covered, thighs covered, cleavage covered. This is the rule that you will run into if you ever go visit any great Cathedral in Europe. At the Vatican, they have these paper towel type things that they hand to women in spaghetti straps to act as makeshift pashminas for all those American tourists in their Miley Cyrus tank tops. Don’t even get me started about Americans dressing like this in Europe in general, regardless of trying to get into a Catholic Church.

I find that modesty is a complicated thing that you can’t ever quite pin down, and it varies based on who you speak to. I look at it akin to the veiling of Muslim women: some Americans (or Westerners) look at it as oppressive, sexist and backwards. Some Muslim women look at it as an equalizer, something that frees them from being judged on their bodies or looks. In the Catholic modesty debate, I tend to fall into the equalizer camp, though it’s not really that cut and dry.

Disclaimer #2: one of my favorite and least Christian pastimes is to look at (and, admittedly judge,) people’s clothing in Church. To be fair, I do it everywhere anyway. I literally balk each week at the things people wear to Mass, and, more importantly, the things people allow their children to wear to Mass. Since I felt compelled to start veiling at Mass, I find this has started to lessen quite a bit, mainly because I know I am in the minority and I am getting stared at as well. I also think the veil helps me to be more pious and remember why I am at Mass in the first place. Added bonus that it still smells like the chrism from my confirmation.

Okay, so here’s a list of things I really, really dislike seeing at mass: teenagers in flash-dance inspired off-the-shoulder sweatshirts with their bra straps showing; flip flops; teenage or young men in basketball shorts or anything that resembles workout clothing; anyone in holy pants/shirts/tennis shoes (just ‘cause they’re holy doesn’t mean you can wear them to church ba-dum-ching!); women in mini skirts; women in leggings with tops that don’t cover their butts; kids in things that resemble Halloween costumes; anything you would conceivably sleep in (i.e. pajama pants, flannel shorts and oversized t-shirts, frequently splashed with the name of some “fun-run” you participated in); and last but not least teenagers in mini skirts, cheerleading hoodies from their high school *and* flip flops (minus 10,000 points if this outfit is being worn in January, February or any month in which the temperature does not regularly soar over 50 degrees). I’m not super concerned with your shoulders being covered (necessarily, I feel like sleeveless tops are modest and fine), or your knees showing, or your hair being exposed.
The Amish. Keepin' it modest since 1693

 “But, Miss Holier-Than Thou Catholic,” you may say “why should we be concerned with modesty in the first place?” Short answer: respect. Respect for you and for the the fact that you are at church. I don’t buy that oft-repeated crap about how women should be modest so that we don’t incite lust in the menfolk at church. That’s a load of BS, if my scoop neck top is lower than 2 finger-widths than the hollow of my neck and you glimpse my sternum and get yourself in a tizzy and think an impure thought and can’t receive communion that’s your problem. Because really, where are we to draw the line? Thanks to pornography people have access to all kinds of pervy things that make them aware of fetishes and the sight of an earlobe or feet could make someone get all hot and bothered, and neither I nor the Vatican is calling for a Catholic burqa. I really, truly feel that modesty is at least 90% in your mind and in your character. We’ve all known women who could cover from head to toe and somehow come across as well… skanky. And we all know women (and I hope I am one of them) that can wear tank tops and shorts above their knee and still look modest. I think most women fall into the modest camp. There are some that think women shouldn’t wear pants to church, which doesn’t make a darn bit of sense to me because pants actually cover things up, and as long as you can’t read the date on a dime in someone’s pocket, I see no reason why a woman can’t wear them. I happen to wear dresses to church (as well as a mantilla, as I mentioned) but that is me, and it’s not required nor would I want anyone to do it if they didn’t feel called to (or at the very least prayed about it beforehand). I also frequently wear skirts and dresses as street clothes and so it’s really just more my style than anything else. I wear lower cut tops because I feel like since I don’t have cleavage, I’m golden. I think the motivation for being modest should come from within, and the closer I get to my faith the more modest I become unconsciously. I hate being told what I can and can’t wear. The owner of my company is LDS (Mormon) and we actually have a “modesty” rule in our dress code, which is almost word-for-word the modesty rule they teach their daughters. Even though I wasn’t ever planning on wearing short shorts and tube tops to work, the fact that that rule is in there ticks me off (again, it doesn’t really apply to the male employees) and makes me want to push the boundaries. I guess that’s a rebellious part of my nature that no amount of incense and Magisterium documents can squelch. That being said, I think the rule to anything should be “appropriateness.” It is appropriate to wear a bikini to the pool or beach, it is not appropriate to wear a bikini to mow the lawn. It is appropriate to dress as if you are attending church, it is not appropriate to attend church dressed as if you are attending a sleepover. See? Modesty issues solved.
Back to the respect thing and modesty outside of Mass, though, I think Blessed John Paul the Great (That title is just so fun!) said something along the lines of (my paraphrase here) “you should dress in a way that incites a man to LOVE you, not to lust after you.” If women really want to be treated as equals in society today, I think we need to give more thought to how we’re dressing and what it says about us. Just as I dislike the whole “dress modestly so as not to lead your brothers-in-Christ to sin” thing, I equally dislike the whole “I’m a woman and I can dress however I want because this isn’t the Middle Ages” thing. Because, really, aren’t they two sides of the same coin? No matter how much you may think that wearing shorty shorts and a halter top is for YOU and not for men, it’s really for men, isn’t it? Whether you are trying to attract them or not. Because if you were straight up honest with yourself (and you’re anything like me) you would go everywhere in yoga pants and a long sleeved t-shirt, right? Because that’s way more comfy than shorty shorts and a halter top. But women these days are taught, nay, brainwashed to do everything for men, even in this post sexual revolution society (case in point: look at the cover of any “women’s” magazine…the entire thing is about men and how to please them). You’re either dressing modestly for men, or you’re dressing immodestly for/to spite them. So here’s my advice: dress modestly, but do it for YOU. Dress modestly because you care enough about yourself to do so; because you respect yourself enough to know that what matters is the brain in your head and not the skin on your thighs. And think modestly, too, because if you think modestly, in the long run, it really won’t matter what you wear. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oh, Baby...?

Sorry for the very, very long delay in posting. I have been going through a pretty rough emotional time that had a little bit to do with my faith journey.
You see, I'm terrified of babies.

Almost a month ago, a good friend of mine had a baby girl nearly 8 weeks early (she was born Feb. 26 and was due April 23.) She is doing alright, remarkably well from what I can tell, but prayers are still needed and appreciated. Basically, once that happened I had a complete and total emotional freak out and have been torturing myself ever since.

This all started back in... I would say July, when Hubby and I started looking at our options to validate our marriage. I don't want this post to have too many tentacles, but for those of you who don't know what that means, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, because we were civilly married and not married by a priest, we aren't sacramentally married and therefore not married at all. That's actually what drove me to start this blog, initially... I had some... let's say issues... with some of this teaching and it took me a while to make a decision about what I wanted to do.
One of the big issues I had was the baby factor. The Catholic Church's teaching on this is very clear. Sex within marriage (which is the only kind allowed, of course) has two purposes: unitive and procreative. Anything else is lust. Using your spouse for pleasure only is just as wrong as using your spouse only to fulfill your desire to have children. In Catholic marriage vows you actually have to say in front of the priest, your spouse, all your friends and family and God that you will be open to any children that God sends your way. This is such a big teaching in the Church that it reaches into teachings on IVF, birth control, abortion, etc. In fact, according to the Catholic church, if you feel you aren't "called" to having children, then you aren't "called" to marriage, because that is the #1 purpose of marriage.

When we decided that having a sacramental marriage was something we wanted, one of the first things Hubbs and I had to do was get off of birth control. Which scared the ever-living crap out of me. Not because I love birth control, I actually hated it with a passion (as did my body) but because I had to relinquish control over something. We took the required class on NFP and started with it. It was around this time that I started to slowly panic about all of this. See, I really dislike kids. I'm serious and I'm just being honest. I never baby sat as a teenager, and I am an only child. My main experience with kids is the ones that scream in places I am trying to think or enjoy myself, like at Mass or at restaurants. I bristle from kids crying and fussing in grocery stores, and teenagers just give me the creeps. I hated college kids even when I was in college. When Hubbs and I married, we both had a general feeling of "meh" about having kids. Neither of us were very attached to either idea, and we figured we could discuss it more as the landscape changed.

As time went on, I could tell that Hubbs was leaning more and more toward having children, whereas I was staying more or less the same (as in "most likely not unless something drastic changes in the deep recesses of my brain and/or heart.") This started to scare me enough as it was, and then I was suddenly faced with this situation of "you have no real choice in this matter." I was devestated. Why would God put in me such a distaste for children if He wanted me to just accept that I should/would probably have some? Why should the Church tell me what I can and can't do with my own body and my own life? Who are they to tell me that I HAVE to have kids and can't use contraception to over-ride that particular function of my body? It's not like I can just lie, and unfortunately, if Hubbs decides he wants kids and I decide I don't, that's not exactly something that can be discussed and then move on. It's sort of a non-negotiable, right?
Mix in JB telling me (blissfully) that she was pregnant, everyone at work starting to suddenly ask me about when I was going to have children and you have the recipe for a complete emotional breakdown.
Which is basically what I have been doing for the past 3 weeks. I hate change, and I hate making decisions. And I feel like I have no choice, which sucks. I mean, sure, I know that I could just discard this altogether with a big percentage of your average Catholic population and go my merry way, but again, this isn't just the Church-- this is my relationship with my husband in a lot of ways. And besides, I told myself when I went with this that I wouldn't do it halfway, I was going to do it all or nothing, because otherwise, I wouldn't be living with any integrity whatsoever.
So basically, I have been trying to change my perspective. Sometimes I feel really great about it, and I am excited about the prospect of being a parent someday, and I think about holidays and fun vacations and all that lovely crap that everyone tells you about. But sometimes the idea of having kids (ever) makes me sick to my stomach to think about: all the things that could go wrong, how you influence so many things and can mess them up forever, my mother in law thinking she can tell me how to parent, etc. not to even consider the things that can happen ahead of all of that as I have been witness to with JB's teeny tiny little miracle baby.  I have been praying A LOT. To any and every Saint who I think can help me, as well as the BVM and hoping that my heart will change for the better. I keep trying to remind myself that I also never wanted to get married at one point, until I met Hubbs and then it seemed like the most logical and natural thing in the world (before that my plan was to have about a billion cats or become a nun--and I wasn't even religious at the time). I have no REAL reasons NOT to have kids, other than the fact that I don't like the idea all that much. In the end, my reasons are pretty selfish. I am fully aware that I can't really have kids at the moment (as in, we don't make enough right now as well as not really having a place to put a kid and we have to stay in our place at least 2 more years or we have to pay $8,000 back to the government...) so I know I have a little more time to get used to the idea that eventually, Hubbs and I will be someone's parents.
I know this sounds stupid to most people. I am aware how silly it really sounds, even as I type it. Because I am sure to a lot of people this would be simple. But as I said before, this is not just the Catholic Church. I think, in the end, the hardest thing for me is that it should not be something that I go back and forth on. It seems to me most people either know they want to have kids or they don't, end of story. It's hard for me that I don't feel strongly about it one way more than the other.
I am trying to be a really good example and accept whatever is in store for me and realize that it's entirely possible that I may never have kids. But then I get scared thinking about that, too, thinking maybe I am cursing myself and I honestly think I might be completely devastated if, say, I'm infertile and can't ever have kids. See my conundrum?

So yeah. Hence the long delay in posts. And sorry I'm so rambling... I just need to get it out somewhere I guess.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

And What Kind Of People Are Those Exactly?

 I am snarky today. You have been warned.

Ever since I registered as a member at my local parish, I noticed an increase in flyers from other faith communities in my mail. My personal favorite came in the mail today. Again.

It's a very sharp-looking, very shiny, card for some church and it reads "A Church for People Who Aren't Church People." What the heck does that mean??? I honestly read it about 4 times trying to figure it out. A Church for people who don't like to get up on Sunday mornings, act reverently and adhere to religion?  A Church for people who like Christ, but not Christianity? I guess I am at a loss to figure out what kind of people these would be. As I see it, why go to church if you have no interest in church? A look at the website says that one of the core values for this faith community (I won't call it a church, I wouldn't want to drive away all those non-church people from going), is flexibility, meaning (and I quote) "adjusting our methods along the way."

As a Catholic, this kind of talk sends me into a panic.

And I still can't figure out what kind of people these are!? Last I checked, Church for Non-Church People was shopping, or football. Or... sex. To be honest, this kind tactic screams "Neo-Progressive-Social-Justice-Cum By Ya- Hand-Holding- Christianity" to me. Which, if I were not a church person is precisely the kind of church I would avoid. I would just join Amnesty International. I hear Bono likes them.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Rules for Rules Sake

So today at work, as I was simultaneously (accidentally) breaking my penance that I said I would do in order to be able to eat meat tonight, I was eating a cinnamon gummy heart and dreamily posited "do you think gelatin counts against my meat abstinence on Fridays?" My former Catholic and MS Lutheran (best friends with a Catholic nun) co-workers said that no, it did not. I googled it. It doesn't.
But it got me thinking about rules and following them just for the sake of following a rule. The meat abstinence is was actually revised in the 1970s to say that it had to be some for of penance rather than just not eating meat (except during Lent-- then you can not eat meat on Fridays). I am guessing this had to do with cultural changes that increased numbers of vegetarians as well as people who ate less meat for health reasons. It then became an idea that you could not eat meat on Fridays, or do some other form of penance. Many Catholics continue to abstain from meat, as it was easy to remember and most didn't do it anyway.
The thing about this rule-- like most things in Catholicism-- is that it's all about intent. Doing the penance is supposed to make us think, but what if you're following the rule and not thinking? We're supposed to remember the Passion and Good Friday and also be participating in redemptive suffering, but can we do that when we're just not eating meat because we're "not supposed to?" For example, down south, they have these huge fish fries and everyone gets together and eats fish and hangs out on Friday evenings. Not much of a penance, is it? My grandmother tends to opt for a ham sandwich and a can of soup on those nights. She is sacrificing her fun night out. Up here, The Hubbs and I could easily opt out and have a lobster dinner, but that is not sacrificing anything-- it's a bit lavish and decadent in the name of sacrifice. I actually find that I tend to focus more on what I am supposed to when I mess up on my abstinence or feel like it's not worthy penance.
So the question is, do you follow a rule just to follow it? Or is it more important to embody the spirit of the rule and not the letter? I think some people would argue that following the rule is important, but I think in this case, I will take the Lutherian position that the spirit of the rule is what matters. What's the use of doing something if you don't know why you're doing it, or it's not doing anything for you spiritually? If you can use the rule to bring about a positive change, then how does it matter if you're eating meat or not?
This is a rule I really try to follow, but I really try not to be scrupulous about it. I also know why I'm doing it, so I feel like there is wiggle room. But I really think this is something that can only be absolved through better catechesis all around.

Monday, January 24, 2011


I read recently that, despite what the media (secular or Protestant) might lead you to believe, there is actually a boom in vocations. That is, more and more young people are becoming part of religious orders.
I have done some thinking about this, and I think I know why: our generation needs the stability. So many of us were raised without any real religion, but rather a cafeteria spirituality that told us to be good people according to our own definitions of "good." We were made to grow up quickly, but coddled so badly to where it rendered us almost unable to grow up at all. We were told that we were the most important things in the world, and that if we got bad grades, it's because the teacher wasn't teaching to our personal learning style-- nevermind that she had 24 other students to teach as well. We were products of divorce, of single moms and dads who worked so hard to make our lives comfortable. No wonder some of us grew up, got put on anti-depressants at the first sign of adversity, blamed society at large for all of our problems and then got religion. I think some of us are just comforted by the rules and rigidity that comes with it. Catholicism, at least.
In my family (my great-grandmother's side), I had 3 great-great aunts who were nuns, a great-great uncle who was a brother, and one that was a monsignor. That's a lot of vocations for one family (even though there were 17 kids). When I was a kid, I used to want to be a nun. A lot of this stemmed from movies-- Julie Andrews was a nun, after all. But as I got older, before I shunned all ideas of God and anything that resembled Him, it was something I really thought about. It wasn't a calling, per se, but as a kid it's hard to ignore. I'm married now, obviously, so this is not an option, but I often think of those aunts of mine and think how happy their lives must have been. Modern women, women of my generation (and I would count myself as one of them in some ways) say "women should want more than that for themselves." But my great aunts had college degrees in the mid 1920's-- something very few women had back then. And some orders of nuns now are called to serve their communities through social work and teaching. But what's more, they have time to pursue the things that make them happy: learning and reading and prayer and teaching and travel. Many of them are theologians who research and write. They're academics who don't need grants!
I think our modern sensibilities are scandalized by the idea of nuns. They are so unlike the "modern woman" and yet, I think they are, in some ways, the most feminist women out there. They don't wear makeup, or worry about their hair or clothes or their weight. They can't be materialistic, and they don't worry about men! They live according to their own wills, with educations (most require you to have a BA before you can profess) and assuredness in their life choice. They don't do what society tells them to do and they aren't the woman society tells them to be. And isn't that the true definition of feminist?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rosary Madness!

Here is the second rosary The Hubbs and I made. This one is for a friend of mine who is not technically Catholic, but I think she might be more Catholic than at least a few people who attend Church at my Parish. I chose red because it looks like her, and also it is the symbolic color of the Holy Spirit. I got her a little pamphlet on how to pray the rosary, but I am looking forward to teaching her as well. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

We May Imitate What It Contains, and Obtain What it Promises

I love rosaries. My grandmother taught me how to pray the rosary one summer shortly after my uncle died in 1992. She was serious about the rosary, and still is. It's something that she gave me besides her smile and impeccable fashion sense. I have actually started to collect rosaries because I love them so much. I like old ones, with interesting beads, the kind that look like they might be worn down from years of thoughtful prayers throughout a person's life: for a good husband, a better job, enough money to buy a decent car, to help their loved ones get better, to have a healthy pregnancy, for the repose of the souls of family members who have died,  for comfort in their last days. A person's entire life could be prayed out on a rosary.
The rosary is a Marian devotion, a meditation on the mysteries of the life of Christ. I find it helps me think about Jesus and his Mother, it comforts me, and it never fails to put me to sleep. But the rosary is powerful, too. Mary has never failed to answer the prayers I have placed as intentions for a rosary, and if those answers are slow in coming, she has always given me patience and peace in the meantime.
Recently, I thought it might be fun and interesting to make rosaries. There are so many beautiful crucifixes, center medals and beads to put to together and so many saints to make chaplets for. As I have mentioned before, I am notoriously un-crafty. I have many, many creative and crafty ideas, but no real talent for their execution. So when Hubbs gave me a rosary making kit for Christmas, I was a bit nervous. Turns out, I need his help (I can't get the loops to be equal-sized) and he needs mine (he can't get the chain onto the beads), so it's a team effort. We finished it tonight, and I am hoping to make many, many more!