As they were walking along together, two bishops crossed paths with a scantily clad prostitute. The first, knowing his own weakness, immediately turned away from the woman, averting his eyes in order not to give into lust. The second was so astonished by the woman’s great beauty that he was moved to tears. So touched by the reverence and respect showed to her by the second bishop, the woman’s heart was converted, and she left her life of prostitution and came to Christ.
Which bishop’s response was “correct”? Actually, both.
Both responses showed a conviction to respect the woman’s body, and neither was willing to give into lust. The second bishop is able to see the woman for who she truly is—a beautiful creation of God the Father. And because of his witness to this truth, her heart is won for Christ. But for the first bishop (like many men today), the woman’s revealing attire proves to be a stumbling block that hinders him from being able to readily view her with the dignity that she is owed. Rather than use this fact as a pretense for his sin, he turns his eyes because he is aware of his own weakness.
As a mother of a little boy, I pray that God gives my husband and me the graces needed to instill in Tyler Jr. the kind of respect and reverence for women showed by the bishops in this popular pious legend.
But as a woman myself, I pray that women everywhere come to know the conversion of heart of the woman in the story, even to the point of going out of our way to dress modestly— out of care for our brothers and out of respect for the great dignity we’re born with as children of God.
It’s an unbelievably unpopular idea—that our actions or choices could make it easier for others to fall into sin. But not liking something doesn’t make it not true. I’m not saying women should wear shapeless bags to hide the form of our bodies “lest our brothers fall into sin.” I’m saying that in our overly-pornagraphic culture, it is incredibly easy for us women to end up wearing outfits that are far, far below our dignity as daughters of God. So easy that we often do so without even realizing it.
The bottom line is that it’s 100% true that the way I choose to dress or act does not give anyone else the right to think less of me or to assign me any less dignity. But it does provide the rest of the world a glimpse into the way in which I view myself.
Blessed John Paul II once said that the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much, but that it reveals too little. I think the same can be said for immodesty. What do the clothes we wear reveal about ourselves? Are they befitting of our dignity?
We ought to dress and behave in a way that is revealing in the best sense—in a way that reveals our true dignity and beauty as children of God.