Homily given at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Hanceville, AL
24 May 2006, Wednesday, Week 6 of Easter
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St. John 10:22-30
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Francis, referring to the Basilica which was constructed in honor of St. Francis of Assisi and consecrated in the 13th Century. Still one of the greatest Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, St. Francis’ relics, and those of his closest companions reside in its Crypt Chapel. Now, when we have a feast such as today’s, one might ask, why? Isn’t this a form of idolatry? And the answer is, no. We don’t worship or honor the wood or metal or stone, but because it is a place in which God is worshiped and His Saints are honored, we view God’s house as more than just places to gather or congregate. As our first reading for today’s Mass and the Catechism says
… [a] church has an eschatological significance [i.e., it has a connection to eternity]. To enter into the house of God, we must cross a threshold, which symbolizes passing from the world wounded by sin to the world of the new Life to which all men are called. The visible church is a symbol of the Father’s house toward which the People of God is journeying and where the Father “will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (CCC, 1186)
And so, as men and women who have the dignity of being the children of God, in God’s own house, we must dress and act with dignity. With summer well under way in this part of the world, the lack of love and respect shown by so many people to God and to their neighbor in the poor and immodest way in which they dress, especially while attending Holy Mass, has become severe. And this immodesty is very much tied to the widespread impurity in our culture and society. Immodesty is one of the biggest problems we have to face in dealing with purity in the West. The Ninth Commandment says that thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife. As the Catechism tells us, the struggle against carnal covetousness entails purifying the heart and practicing temperance (CCC, no. 2517). And purity requires modesty, which is an integral part of temperance (CCC, no. 2521). Modesty
protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons. (CCC, no. 2521)
Modesty protects the mystery of the person. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. (CCC., no. 2522)
And so modesty is a virtue. Included in the virtue of modesty is not only humility, but also in how one externally dresses (cf. John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary, p. 356). But many today have rejected to practice this virtue so desperately needed in our current culture, or no one ever taught them about it. Even to the most casual observer, immodesty in dress is seen as common place in society and in our Churches. We have got to do all we can to help people to wake up and realize they are dressing way too immodestly, especially when it comes to entering a Church to worship God. We must be like the Vatican (just one example, cf. www.cathnews.com – 2003) when there are heat waves in Rome the Vatican dress police, neatly dressed in pants, long-sleeved shirts and ties, turn back all tourists in shorts and bare shoulders trying to get into St. Peter’s Basilica. I’ve seen them do this with my own eyes. These immodestly dressed people have to go and buy paper pants and shirts from vendors eagerly waiting outside. These poorly dressed people get angry, but tough.
Many people come to Church dressed like they are ready to go to the beach or to play sports. One should not come to Church dressed in shorts, miniskirts, swimsuits, bikinis, tanktops, dresses above the knees, bare shoulders, bare arms, low cut dresses, sleeveless shirts, very tight fitting clothing, etc. As many find out, if you come to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, AL, USA, and you are not dressed properly don’t expect to get into the Chapel because of the dress code. Please don’t ever go into a Chapel before our Lord improperly dressed. If you do, hopefully you will be caught by security guards and asked to leave or to put on more clothing. We must return to having a holy fear for God and for His true Presence in the Eucharist and for being in His house. How can we expect to grow in the spiritual life if we are dressed like we don’t care? How dare we approach the Holy Eucharist dressed like we are going to the beach.
When a person dresses immodestly he or she can become an occasion of sin for other people. And this is the fashion for today. Each year it seems that the latest fashion is to see how little clothing one can wear and how much of one’s body can be shown. And what flesh is not shown is revealed by extremely tight clothing. To knowingly and intentionally dress like this is sinful, and can be even mortally sinful, because one becomes a temptation to sin for other people. We are all weak and can easily fall into sins of impurity by someone else’s immodesty.
Before we go out or buy new clothes we should do a modesty check. Ladies, remember some simple guidelines in buying and wearing an outfit, which are modeled here after a well known modesty promoter (cf. Colleen Hammond, Dressing with Dignity, www.ValoraMedia.com):
1. First of all, one guideline which can prove to very helpful (issued by the Cardinal Vicar of Pope Pius XI in Rome on September 24,1928); A dress cannot be called decent which is cut deeper than two fingers breadth under the pit of the throat, which does not cover the arms at least to the elbows, and scarcely reaches a bit beyond the knees. Furthermore, dresses of transparent material are improper.
2. Does my back, belly or shoulders show? Does my back or belly show when I am bending or stretching? When bending over does my blouse hang down and open for all to see through?
3. Is my blouse or top too tight? Is it more loose fitting or is it too tight and revealing? Can. one see the outline of my underwear through my tight-fitting clothing? Blouses and tops that are too tight arc very immodest and say a lot about the woman who wears such a blouse or top.
4. Lastly, we are concerned about how much flesh is showing, but as one well known modesty promoter put it, modesty is not just about how much of our skin is showing, but how much of our feminine shape is showing (cf. Collen Hammond, Dressing with Dignity, www.ValoraMedia.com). For many, especially men, tight-fitting clothing on women is often, more sexually stimulating than complete nudity.
The way one dresses is a big determinant in what kind of person one will attract. Ladies, if you dress immodestly, what do you think you will attract? If you dress like a woman of the night you attract men of the night — men who want to use you, not to love you for who you are. Women want to be loved for who they are, not for the pleasure their body gives to a man. Yet many dress so immodestly that all they attract is men who wish to love them for their body. If you want to attract a decent man, who will truly love you, then start by dressing like a woman who respects herself and her dignity as a woman. What we wear says a lot about us. By how we dress sends many messages to those who see us.
Let us love God and our neighbor, even our enemies, by dressing properly and modestly, especially while in His house. Let us dress properly. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).