In the early morning before we go to school, to work, or perhaps even in retirement, while half-awake, we make our way over to the closet dreary-eyed and ask ourselves the question, “What should I wear today?” Well you may not have to ask yourself this question if you wear a uniform. I can relate, since I wear a uniform. Priests have uniforms called “clerics.” When we wake up, we say, “black or black?” However, many of us do ask this question, and whether or not we wear uniforms, maybe we all need to take time to think about what we wear, especially to Church. Does what we wear to Church reflect our faith in any way? Is father going to tell us what to wear, or ask us to get a new wardrobe? No and No. But I challenge you to think and pray about it. Three points I would I like to bring up in this article are as follows:
- Respectable and appropriate dress attire
- “Come as you are.”
- Wear your “Sunday Best.”
All of these ideas of thinking about what to wear for church leads to one word – modesty. What is it? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says “modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve when there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet” (CCC 2522).
Media advertising through TV, billboards and the Internet are not advocates of modesty. Rather, they are anti-modest and thus help to promote immodesty. The Catechism confirms this. “It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things” (CCC 2523). What is one way to oppose the Goliath of secular media advertising? Use the slingshot of modesty. It “inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies” (CCC 2523).
First, modesty involves respectable and appropriate dress attire. Are men expected to wear tuxedos and feel like they’re in straight jackets, while women should wear bridal outfits every time you come to church? Hardly. But it is summer and obviously there are less layers to be worn than in the frigid winters. I understand there are exceptions, including the one this past weekend at the parish picnic, which many of you and I were blessed to attend. But when the warmth and hot summers are here, we still take precaution not only with sunscreen but with what we wear too. A woman already knows that her skirt shouldn’t be too short and that her top shouldn’t be too low which aids a man’s modesty of eyes and inspires him to have greater respect and honor for a woman. I’m not a woman and will not go any further, so I will leave it to you women and the experts to fill in the rest of the story… As a man, I challenge you guys to wear some type of slacks like khakis or dockers with an ironed, short-sleeved, buttoned down shirt, for example. Guys, our shirts should be clean and not sloppily hang out. Our pants shouldn’t be falling off of our underwear, and our pant legs shouldn’t drag on the ground. Also, our shoes may need a shine every once in a while. When we do things like this we show respect and honor not only to ourselves but also to others and God.
Second, I have heard the phrase said before, “Come as you are.” While God loves us for who we are, he also challenges us on a daily basis to grow deeper with Him and become holier on a daily basis with His grace, and I believe this can involve what we wear and how we dress too, whether it be to church or any other place we go. When we wake up in the morning and go to work, does our boss say, “Come as you are?” If you came in your pajamas, the boss would make you march right out the door until you came back and proved you looked presentable or at least came back in uniform. If you’re unemployed and looking for a job, would the interviewer imply or explicitly say, “Come as you are?” No. You would dress your best. One slogan I’ve heard is “Dress for Success!” If your bride-to-be is waiting for you at the altar at your wedding, would she say to you, her future husband who just finished his softball game, “Come as you are”…in your dirty, stinky, baseball uniform? No. She would make you get cleaned up and have you put on a tuxedo for the most important day of your lives. If that’s the case, then what do we do for God? I think with the high expectations of our bride, boss and job interviewer, couldn’t we do better for God, who we owe our very life? Do we give God our very least, or do we have the mentality and spirituality to give God our “first fruits” and our very best, which leads me to the last point.
Third, let’s give God our best by dressing in our “Sunday best.” This seems to be something we have lost in our Catholic Churches over the past few decades partially due to the craziness and busyness of our schedules in the modern world along with the mentality to lower morals and standards. Dressing in our “Sunday Best” was very much a part of the ordinary life of Catholics and the faith lives of previous generations as it still is in some Protestant and evangelical communities, Baptists, Mormons and even Jehovah Witnesses, who are down the street from St. Stephen. Maybe we need to bring a little bit of that back. Growing up, my dad would often wear a blue blazer or dress jacket to church especially when he lectored. You may say, what if I’m poor? My response would be, “so was Jesus and so are many people today.” That doesn’t mean you can’t dress in your “Sunday Best.” Everyone’s “Sunday Best” is different and we need not compare nor judge. But dressing in our “Sunday Best” will restore some of that honor and respect we have lost in our churches over the years. Maybe this is a good time to think and pray about it, and make a small improvement, if needed. Wear the best that you have, because we want to give God our best. When we give God our best, we do it with sincere, contrite and pure hearts.
In sum, the Catechism states: “purity of heart requires the modesty which is patience, decency, and discretion. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person” (CCC 2533). May we all be challenged to become more pure of heart like Jesus and Mary through our modesty of dress. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8)
Jennifer Fulwiler, a Catholic writer and mom of six kids wrote on this topic in her article, “How Changing What I Wear Changed My Approach to Mass.” She said, “What I wear has a direct impact on my ability to focus on God during the Mass…I found that I paid more attention to God and less attention to myself now that I was dressed well…on the occasions that I do make the small sacrifices necessary to transform the way I look on the outside, I find that it transforms me on the inside as well” (http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/how-changing-what-i-wear-changed-my-approach-to-mass). May we be inspired to dress in our “Sunday Best,” no matter how rich or poor we are, so that the way we look on the outside may transform us on the inside too.
In The Spirit of Modesty Through Jesus and Mary,
Fr. Jeff Allan
Further Reading: 1. Bible: Read 2 Sam. 11-12 – “David lusts for Bathsheba,” Daniel 13 – “Susanna,” Zec. 3:3-7 – “Joshua’s filthy garments” and Mt. 22:1-14 – “The Wedding Garment” 2. Catechism of the Catholic Church: CCC 2521-2524, 2533 3. Video and article: “How My Family Dresses for Mass”- http://brandonvogt.com/video-family-dresses-mass/