Saturday, August 18, 2012


This is an article from a couple of years ago, so the "January 7" refers to 2010, but I think the message is still quite relevant for today.  It came to mind recently, and I thought it was worth reposting (it first appeared in my column on


Pink.  Green.  Black.  Blue.

In the “spirit of breast cancer awareness,” on January 7, women furtively messaged each other to encourage posting their bra color on their status.  Soon, facebook was covered in a rainbow of colors, with women giggling at what they thought was their little secret.

Imagine their surprise when men began posting statuses and comments of their own:

“Ladies! Your colors. TMI!”

“I feel adequately aware of breast cancer thank you very much.”

Another man posted a color as his status.  When women began commenting, he wrote, “Oh, and if you girls got an interesting mental image, now you know how it feels...those mental images aren't fun...”

Judging by the ensuing conversations, most women seemed amused by the experience.  I was quite disturbed.

Unfortunately, an effect of the Fall is that men and women experience blindness to the reality of how the other thinks and acts.  Women were upset when men complained that seeing a particular individual’s bra color resulted in picturing the color on the person.  There was the usual flinging of blame and rally cries of, “Well, then that’s your problem.”

But whose problem is it?

No one should deny that men need to challenge themselves to purity of thought in such an instance.  However, what responsibility do women have to help them to better live a chaste lifestyle? 

Before becoming pope, John Paul II wrote, Love and Responsibility.  While the book is well-worth the read, even the title deserves some examination.  Integral to love, purity and friendship is responsibility for the other person.  He wrote, “ The greater the feeling of responsibility for the person the more true love there is” (Wojtyla 131).

John Paul further explained that modesty is not hiding or running away from love, but rather is opening oneself to love, with the ability to discover the wonder of the person as a person (and not just as a body or a collection of body parts).

This summer, in the midst of teaching Theology of the Body for Teens at Ruah Woods, one of the teen boys in the high school class broached the topic of modesty.  “I have a question for the ladies here,” the sophomore said.  “Are there ways that guys dress that you would consider immodest?”

The room sat in stunned silence, as young men and women alike began fidgeting, looking at their books and avoiding eye contact.  This young man’s earnest question inspired a spontaneous request that all of the students begin writing down what they would consider immodesty for the opposite sex.  More than twenty teens scribbled furiously, visibly taking the question to heart.  When they had finished their brainstorming, my co-teacher and I read the remarks aloud. 

The teens were quite honest and bold with their responses.  Young women shouldn’t let their underwear show, wear short skirts or shorts, or low-cut tops.  One young man wrote, “If your mother says it’s inappropriate, it probably is.”  Young men were challenged not to let their pants sag down, to wear a shirt and to avoid clothing that is too tight.

For the rest of the summer, the teens expressed interest in learning how they could better respect the opposite sex by their clothing, words and actions.  They learned to be more honest in sharing what could help them to better live a chaste lifestyle and found that they could be challenged in ways that would assist the opposite sex.

These teens came away with an invaluable insight – men and women are different, and in order to love one another, we need to learn how we can better respect each other.  Rather than blame struggles with chastity on the other individual’s “issues,” we have a responsibility to create a culture in which all of us living chastity is possible.

It’s time we all – men and women – take seriously John Paul II’s exhortation in Theology of the Body: “Christ [...] assigns the dignity of every woman as a task to every man; at the same time [...] he assigns also the dignity of every man to every woman” (TOB 100:6).

I imagine that most women never gave the color-status a second thought.  That’s a problem.  Each of us needs to consider how our actions, our words and our clothing affect the opposite sex.  To live purity in today’s culture cannot be an every-man-for-himself venture.  Truly embracing chastity requires consideration and respect of the other.

From our facebook statuses, to the shirt we choose to wear, to how we speak to an old friend, we are faced daily with challenges to living purity.  The words of St. Josemaria Escriva are just as relevant now as when he first spoke them, "To defend his purity, Saint Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow, Saint Benedict threw himself into a thornbush, Saint Bernard plunged into an icy pond . . . You . . . what have you done?"

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