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Liz Peters wrote:

Hi guys,

I am a Catholic with scruples — especially on how I dress and it is terrible. I have asked for help among my friends but they have different opinions. This issue has paralyzed me for weeks.
Please confirm that my view is correct. With due respect, I've never been able to get a clear, understandable answer at least in a way I understand it.

I am currently thinking about the clothes I and others wear and am worried about whether I am dressing inappropriately or not. Before I write any more, I will state my understanding:

I can wear whatever I want, wherever, whenever no matter what it is — as long as
I am not trying to intentionally offend God in doing this.

I am diagnosed with (OCD) Obsessive-compulsive disorder, scruples. I really am not trying to be a difficult or bad person. Catholicism poses such a problem to me because everywhere I go, I find a different answer; there is no consistency, so I feel like I have to decide what you believe.

I am a confirmed and practicing Catholic. I have sought counseling both from a priest and a therapist and still I have problems. I know you may have a different opinion but I just want to know if what I believe is wrong. People have said that you don't want to offend or tempt anyone with the way you dress. I don't think something that can really be offensive and, if it is, I think the person with that view is being judgmental of that person. Isn't it someone's fault if they cannot control themselves. It has nothing to do with temptation.

There are:

  • short skirts
  • short shorts
  • tops that show a lot of skin
  • ones with backs that are completely open or have some type of hole in the back that show skin
  • shirts made mainly with netting instead of cloth so they show skin
  • shirts that have many different cuts and that are [revealing/provocative]
  • tops that have really low cuts in the front and back

    basically, clothing that shows a lot of skin.

These things are available for almost any age. I see people all the time wearing this stuff and see people wearing stuff like this to Mass or Church events as well.

  • sometimes people wear really tight clothes.
  • sometimes clothes are so tight the outline of the bra can be seen through the shirt.
  • sometimes a bra can be seen through a shirt.

An extreme example is wearing a black bra with a white tank top — though there are examples that are not as extreme. There are also swimsuits and string bikinis where stomachs [and/or] backs show.

I have to admit that I have worn all of these things to some extent and feel fine with it. This is today's style. I really believe that unless you are trying to offend God by wearing something, anything you wear is fine, no matter what or where or when, even if you are in Church or traveling in other [countries/places]. (You know how it is often said that you should dress conservative in other countries — depending on where you go — for protection or respect maybe.) Even if you are trying to do it to attract attention from whomever or an outfit may tempt others, I believe it is not wrong.

When I go shopping, I like to look at clothing that I think is pretty and fashionable. Determining whether a piece of clothing is sinful or not, while shopping, really takes the fun out of it and makes me just want to give up.

Taking everything I have said into account, I believe I can model any piece of clothing in the above examples. Wear whatever, whenever, and wherever — in Church or a different country — even if it is advised not to — and am fine if I am not intentionally trying to hurt God.

I beg you to tell me that my conclusion in correct and not wrong or sinful. I know that you may have a completely different opinion, but I am worried only about dressing in an incorrect manner or sinning.

I am writing and seeking your help because there is nowhere else to go, and I can't stop thinking about this. There are people I can go to but most don't really care about you, [and/or] they are narrowed-minded and have set their opinion as a standard of right versus wrong.

I beg you to take the time to answer. All I want is a:

Yes - I agree that you are not wrong in you opinion, or

No - You are wrong.

When people give their opinions, my head gets more and more confused and I begin living by someone else's opinion and in fear of doing otherwise.

I thank you for the time you take to help me.

Please help me.

Liz

  { Do you think I am I being too scrupulous or too careless about how I dress? }

Eric replied:

Hi Liz,

Thanks for your question. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

You said:
I am a Catholic with scruples — especially on how I dress and it is terrible. I have asked for help among my friends but they have different opinions. This issue has paralyzed me for weeks. Please confirm that my view is correct.

I don't think you're being scrupulous at all. I think your conscience is trying to tell you something. Deep down inside, you know you are being immodest, but another part of you I think is defiant.
I can hear the defiance in part of your e-mail:

I believe I can model any piece of clothing in the above examples. Wear whatever, whenever, and wherever — in Church or a different country — even if it is advised not to — and am fine if I am not intentionally trying to hurt God.

Intentionally offending God is not the definition of sin. We cannot intend to offend God and still sin. In fact, we usually don't intend to offend God when we sin, if by that you mean open, in-your-face rebellion. It's often more subtle than that; typically we are too focused on ourselves to care about offending God.

But let me explain why immodesty — dressing in short skirts and halter tops and tight clothes and what have you — is wrong.

First of all, you say,

Isn't it someone's fault if they cannot control themselves. It has nothing to do with temptation.

But this is not what Scripture says, St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 says:

"9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall."

St. Paul is talking about the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols and whether it should be done. Fundamentally, he says that there is nothing wrong with it since idols are nothing but he says, if eating it causes a brother to sin, then it becomes a sin. If you dress provocatively and make it difficult for a man to control his lust, you have sinned against him.

It's important to keep in mind that it is difficult for women to appreciate the impact their bare bodies have on men. Men and woman are wired differently; men are much more visual than women. A woman can be completely oblivious to the effect she has on men. It's an effect that is very hard for men to control. By revealing yourself in such a way, you are in the very least distracting men; the ones who want to be chaste will struggle to control their eyes and thoughts as you preoccupy their minds.

Now the measure of all things is charity. Consider:

  • Is it an act of charity to dress in such a way that causes men to involuntarily wrestle with temptations to lust?
  • I mean if you:
    • decided you liked to click your pen, and
    • said that you had a right to click your pen as often as you wanted so long as you weren't offending God, and
    • ignored the fact that you're driving everyone around you crazy with incessant
      pen-clicking,

      aren't you being impolite in doing so?

So much more then, when you dress in such a way that distracts the chaste.

  • Now what about those who don't care about chastity?

Here the problem is even greater. Not only are you enabling them to sin, but you have a situation where your dignity is being violated. Why? Because men are looking at you as an object rather than as a person. They see you as a means to an end, a base end at that, not as an end in yourself and so they fantasize about using you. This is beneath your dignity and you shouldn't allow it to happen. You are too good for that. To be honest it should creep you out that men are doing this.

The bottom line is to think about your motivations.

  • Are they selfish, or are they selfless?
  • Are they moved by love, or are they moved by worldly concerns?
  • Are you trying to impress people, or are you being considerate of someone else?

Here is a good thing to do:

Imagine yourself dressed as you wish before Christ and the Blessed Mother.

  • Do you think, deep down, that they would approve of what you wear?
  • If not, are you not offending Christ by wearing what you're wearing?

It sounds to me like you've received a lot of advice already on this, some of it you've listened to, some of it you've ignored. Make sure you are praying and seeking Christ's will in all of this, and not just searching for someone who will justify what you want to hear.

  • Have you been praying about this?
  • Have you been seeking Christ's will?
  • Are you completely open to Christ's will whatever it may be?
  • Are you willing to submit this to Christ's Lordship?
    (i.e., Are you willing to do whatever Christ wants no matter how much it may contradict your will?)

I pray that you may find a resolution to this in your own heart.

Yours in Christ,

Eric Ewanco

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