Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Modesty redux

As Darwin and I were discussing the writing of his modesty post below, I was reminded of an incident that took place when I was a freshman at Steubenville.

One hot, muggy day in September, as I was passing by the chapel, I noticed the lines for confession and decided on the spur of the moment to go. I usually prefer to go to confession behind the screen, but for whatever reason that day I sat down across from the priest. I blessed myself, confessed my sins, and waited to receive my penance. And the priest said, "Do you always go to confession in shorts?"

To say that I was mortified and repulsed would be putting it mildly. Perhaps he felt that shorts were such an offense against the sacrament that he was justified in drawing my attention to it as rudely as possible, but the fact that he was paying more attention to my legs than to my confession was deeply disturbing. After that, I went to confession off-campus as much as possible and avoided that particular priest. His willingness to humiliate me to make a point about modesty (I guess) gave evidence of either a lustful disposition or a arrogant and condescending personality , and either way I wanted no further acquaintance.


Anonymous said...

Or maybe he was fulfilling his duty as a priest to make you consider the propriety of your dress.

Sounds like a good priest trying to give you meat, not milk. You should be grateful he cared enough about your soul to risk "offending" you, and you definitely are off-base suggesting he was the one at fault for noticing your immodest clothing. You're the one who put on shorts; you're the one who approached the confessional; you're the one who chose to go face-to-face. And then you complain when the priest makes a valid observation about the respect you show (or fail to show) to the church building and to the priest and to the awesome sacrament by showing up dressed inappropriately?

With all due respect, the fault is not with the priest.

Darwin said...

If I recall correctly, most of the confessionals in the Stuebenville chapel either didn't even have screens.

Plus the Blessed Sacrament wasn't even in the main church area, but off in a side chapel.

Though I'm not sure why I focus on these details when the whole idea that wearing shorts is somehow bad for your soul is pretty laughable to begin with...

David L Alexander said...

Mrs D:

I'm no defender of wearing shorts, or of otherwise dressing immodestly to church. That being said, there is a right way and a wrong way to adress the issue in question. Your confessor chose the wrong one.

I don't know what it is, perhaps something that happens when a bishop lays hands on a man, that makes him believe he can be as big a horse's ass as he pleases, knowing that as long as he doesn't commit a felony or anger his bishop, he will not have to be called on it. We have sought many complicated explanations for the current sex abuse crisis amidst the clergy. My explanation is very simple; if enough people convince me that I can do as I wish, it is only a matter of time before I believe them.

Your only mistake, besides wearing shorts to Church (if you really wanna get fussy about it) was in failing to simply answer the question: "No, Father, I don't. I expect not to do so again. Now, about those MORTAL sins I just confessed..." The good news is that, when all is said and done, you'll probably never dress improperly to Church again, and the priest-confessor will still be a horse's ass.

I'd say that puts you ahead so far.

mrsdarwin said...

It is true that I've never worn shorts to confession again, for the simple reason that I rarely wear shorts at all. Frankly, for me this is more an issue of vanity than modesty.

I would not wear shorts to Sunday Mass not because I think shorts are immodest, but because they seem too casual for Sunday Mass. Christ the King Chapel at Steubenville had no posted dress code, however, and actively encouraged students to drop in for daily Mass and Confession or a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. And many did so wearing shorts -- it's hot in September in Steubenville, and the humidity is oppressive.

Anonymous --
I would expect a priest with a great concern for my soul to address the sins I had confessed rather than delaying absolution to give me a lecture on matters of taste.

Fidei Defensor said...

I am part Polish and we are notorious for pioneering awful fashion, such as socks with sandals, and my personal favorite, collared short sleeve dress shirts with athletic shorts. I usually try to wear pants to Church, but when it's 92 degrees out and the Church has no air conditioning there is no problem with it.

I would support the Priest if he had called you out on very immodest dress but just wearing shorts, nothing wrong with that, besides this was confession not Mass, it was not as if you were going before the Eucharist. Also, women's shorts are typically much shorter and tighther than men's shorts, we can "thank" the designers for that, its no fault of yours.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe shorts are appropriate for the inside of a church for either men or women. But that's just ol' narrow minded, inflexible me talking. :)

Anonymous said...

Context is everything. One reason I'm not a fan of hard and fast rules like "never shorts in church" is that it discourages exactly the practice you describe, dropping by for confession on the spur of the moment... and given that confession is the most neglected sacrament right now, that seems a laudable practice we should encourage.

That said, when I read this, I had to laugh because just the other day my sister (currently a senior at a Catholic University) was telling me a story about meeting up to go to confession with a friend of hers who arrived dressed in a skimpy tank top with spaghetti straps. My sister sent this friend home, saying "Put something more appropriate on, you will scandalize Father!"

When I travelled to Italy as a teenager I was refused entry to the church in Pisa because I was wearing shorts. I was dismayed, because I didn't get to see the magnificent church. But to be fair, my mom had warned me to pack a wrap-around skirt just for that eventuality. I had forgotten to put it in my backpack and had to live with thte consequences.

I think though that there is a reasonable expectation of such a reaction in Italy. On a college campus, there is usually a more relaxed atmposphere.

I'm not a big fan of shorts in church, I do feel they are generally inappropriate. I prefer to dress up if I'm going to church. But we live in a very relaxed culture where everyone dresses more casually. And you have to weigh the relative importance of appropriate dress with the importance of church being a part of the fabric of ordinary life. St Edith Stein says one of the things that influenced her conversion was being in a Catholic church and seeing ladies coming in from the market to pay a brief visit as a part of their day. A big difference between Catholic churches and Protestant ones is the Real Presence of the Lord and so a church is a place one should think of as being able to spontaneouly stop by to make that a part of your life. It would be sad if people stayed away from Christ and from the sacraments because they elevate clothing to such an extent. Then it seems like clothing becomes more important than God.

And I totally agree, that even if your dress had been an offense to modesty (I'm not saying it was), there is a right way and a wrong way for a priest to address the issue. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. A kind word after absolution would have been better and would perhaps have opened the door for a dialogue on why he felt your dress to be inappropriate. So sad he let his temper control his tongue.

Sorry for the long rambling post. I guess this topic was really timely for me.

Rick Lugari said...

I wouldn't get that upset over it, MrsD. A simple, "No Father, I hadn't planned on coming here, but saw the opportunity to go to confession and decided that it would be a good thing to do." That would have shown him that you're conscientious and do indeed have a sense of sin.

It's a good thing to have a priest who evaluates the whole picture of a soul. The beauty of confession is not just that you get absolution and more graces, but you also (or should) get direction. That awkward confession story is nothing compared those generated by our beloved St. Padre Pio.

Anonymous said...

Just speaking for myself, but that's the sort of response I'd never come up with on the spot. At the time I'd be flustered and not know how to react. I'm very shy and confession is very hard for me in the first place, emotionally, I mean.

Fr Martin Fox said...

I'm sorry the priest said that. Regardless of the merits of wearing shorts in church, or in the confessional, I don't see offering that comment. Maybe he lacks all subtlety; or maybe he was having a bad day.

mrsdarwin said...


Thanks for your comments. I particularly enjoyed the quote from Edith Stein.

I'm usually quick with a snappy comeback, but I was so taken aback (and confession isn't often the place one finds oneself in need of a quick retort) that I really didn't say anything, apart from a mumbled apology. I was rather startled, because I was wearing a pair of mid-thigh-length jean shorts, which everyone knows are about the least attractive shorts a female can wear. I recall thinking, as I looked at the line of penitents waiting as I left, "If my shorts bother Father, he'd better just leave now; it's all downhill from here!"

mrsdarwin said...

Maybe he lacks all subtlety; or maybe he was having a bad day.

Entirely possible, Father, and I thank you for pointing that out.

Anonymous said...

"St Edith Stein says one of the things that influenced her conversion was being in a Catholic church and seeing ladies coming in from the market to pay a brief visit as a part of their day."

Women dressed differently in the early/ mid 1900's. They always wore dresses. So, if a woman was coming from the market, chances are she was dressed quite modestly and appropriately.

Darwin said...

Women dressed differently in the early/ mid 1900's. They always wore dresses. So, if a woman was coming from the market, chances are she was dressed quite modestly and appropriately.

By modern standards, probably so -- at least on the modesty front. Depending on the place, time and what sort of merchandise they dealt with, they may have been very far from fitting modern standards of how clean and fresh you should be when entering a church...

I think the distinction (as relevent then as now) is that while a certain approach to church attendence held (and still holds in some circles) that one should specifically clean up and dress in "church clothes" before daring to enter a church, a Catholic approach has generally been that dropping in to 'make a visit' in an unplanned fashion is a good idea.

Nor does modesty seem to a be a new consern, though we might have difficulty telling the difference between modest and immodest dress circa 1910.

Anonymous said...

I think that your defensiveness shows a certain amount of rebelliousness and lack of care on your part. I struggled with that, too, when I was called on wearing inappropriate clothes once. So, I understand your feelings. However, it is only hurting you to continue to hold that resentment. Maybe he wasn't subtle or kind, maybe he was lustful, but priest are imperfect people, too, with good days and bad days. I think parishoners should be sensitive to that.

I think you should be more thoughtful when you are going to go to confession. It is a sacrament. If you are rebuked for being inappropriately dressed you should understand and be ready with a response, humbly.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe he wasn't subtle or kind, maybe he was lustful, but priest are imperfect people, too, with good days and bad days. I think parishoners should be sensitive to that. I think you should be more thoughtful when you are going to go to confession. It is a sacrament."

Maybe she was dressed casually for church, but people are imperfect people with good days and bad days. I think priests should be sensitive to that. And this particular priest should have been more thoughtful when this girl came to confession. In particular, he should have remembered that she might not have planned to go to confession at all, but decided to do so on the spur of the moment - and that this walk-in sacrament is a practice that this parish had already decided, as a policy, to encourage.

Priests are human and they make mistakes. But no one is helped by refusing to acknowledge mistakes in the first place.


Riptide911 said...

I'm with you here, Mrs.D. While I agree that respect should be shown for the sacraments, and especially while in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, that isn't the issue at heart. I am a college student and have heard "God doesn't care how I'm dressed" enough times to make me gag. That is mostly an excuse. THe crux of the matter comes down to the very point Jesus was trying to make while talking to the pharisees, telling them that it is no good to (wear the right clothes) and present a perfect image, but the inside of the cup is dirty. It is more important to have the right disposition than to be wearing our nicest clothes.
Having said that, I also agree that there is a certain degree of "modesty" in dress and style *appropriate* for mass. Personally, I typically wear khakis or dress slacks and a collared shirt on Sundays, and I have been known to wear shorts to daily mass on my way to class or inbetween classes, but I think that God is probably just happy that I stopped by to say Hi, rather than counting it against me. I wouldn't count it against a construction worker who took his lunch break by coming to noon mass, either. Plus, as it is easy to see, sometimes the more "dressed up" some 'ladies' are, the more inappropriate it becomes.