Modesty: Your Body is a Temple (Pt. 1)

As a new Catholic, it often puzzled me when other Catholics spoke about modesty. At times, I even felt a bit offended by the amount of discussion on the topic. After all, if God looks at the heart, is it not self-righteous to worry about these externals? Are they of any importance at all?

One day, I thought about the verse from Scripture about us being temples of the Holy Spirit: “Or know you not, that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God; and you are not your own? For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body”. (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20).

This verse prompted me to reflect on chastity, and then on modesty. I thought I would share a reflection based on this beautiful passage. The reflection is only a small part of everything that could be said on the topic but the Scripture passage can give a beautiful message about purity as we prayerfully reflect on its meaning.

The first thing this verse says is that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Church teaches that if we are in a state of grace, the Holy Trinity dwells within us: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Perhaps, sometimes it can be easy to forget the beauty of this truth and the dignity that this gives us as daughters of God. The eternal God, who made the millions of stars we see in the sky and who is adored by countless Angels in Heaven, comes down to dwell near us in the Blessed Sacrament. Yet He not only dwells near us, but wants to come into our hearts, which is even greater humility for Him... There are only three ways He is present physically: in Heaven in His risen Humanity, in the Holy Eucharist in our churches, and in our souls after Communion.

Maybe modesty can be thought of in comparison to how we take care of a church, which is the other place where Jesus dwells on earth. A church is consecrated to God and set apart for Him. It cannot be used for another purpose without committing sacrilege. The special items in it are also consecrated or blessed to be used only for worship. The church is kept clean and decorated with images of Our Lady, Saints and Angels, to remind us of the spiritual reality of the Mass. The red light of the Tabernacle continually reminds us of Jesus living on the altar. The Tabernacle is also veiled as something holy.

Can we make a comparison with us as temples of God? At Baptism, we have also been made holy and set apart for God. Our whole being, body and soul, was set apart as His precious temple, fit to receive Our Lord as its Guest, spiritually and physically in the Eucharist. The Holy Spirit began to dwell within the soul and sanctify it. Any “yes” we say to Jesus delights Him. Yet this also means that sin is like a desecration of God’s temple that is meant for His service alone; or like taking Jesus out of a church and setting an enemy in His place – which is a terrifying thought but it shows the purpose of our souls and bodies is to glorify God.

Just as the chalice and ciborium used at Mass are specially consecrated, so our will, thoughts, reasoning, memory and the senses were set apart for service of God. This leads to the question: how much of me has God been allowed to reign over? He wants to be the King in our hearts who has first place above all others, but He wishes for us to give this place to Him. Is there some part of our lives we have not yet given over to Him? Does He have all of our hearts or have we given Him a part, reserving the rest for self will or attachments?

The light above the Tabernacle points to the presence of God within. Perhaps in a similar way, we can think that charity and virtue shows the presence of the Holy Trinity living in us. The Church during Mass is filled with Angels. If we could see the Angels who adore Jesus in the Eucharist and fall down before Him present on the altar, I wonder - do they also adore Him with the same love as He is present in us after Communion? Another connection that could perhaps be made about God’s holiness is the veiling of the Tabernacle. Traditionally, the Tabernacle is veiled to express the presence of God within, since veiling signifies holiness. The same Holy God lives in us, and perhaps modesty can point to the beauty of a soul in grace. Some women have also found a devotion to veiling their heads in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

You may be wondering how all this relates to modesty because so far it has not really been mentioned in detail. I think if we truly grasp the dignity of our souls, I think modesty begins to make more sense – not just as a list of rules to follow that seems constraining, but as something that brings joy and peace. This dignity is due to us being made in God’s image, but it also comes from God Himself living within us. Modesty can be a way to bring honour and reverence to Jesus and to protect the purity that is precious to Him. I thought of a few questions that can be asked while considering ourselves as temples of God. Maybe you can think of some more that are helpful to you, and this list is definitely not complete:

  • Is the way I dress and behave worthy of this mystery and the dignity of my soul as a dwelling place of God?
  • Does my clothing point to the reality of the soul and of God living in me, or does it emphasize physical aspects of the body to draw attention to them instead?
  • Does my way of acting and how I dress encourage chastity in myself and in others? Do I live out chastity not only in the major ways to avoid mortal sin, but in ways that could glorify God and come from a deeper realization of His presence within me?