When I first encountered the Catholic Church, I was blessed to be welcomed into a community of young women living their faith with vivacity and energy. As a secular feminist, I was initially opposed to the Church’s teachings on gender. However, the simple joy with which my friends lived their Catholic femininity convinced me that embracing gender is not a matter of an oppressive list of rules, but simply rejoicing with Christ in the way that He designed our hearts, minds, and bodies. Still, I remained at odds with the virtue of modesty. I dismissed it as a dictatorial tradition that was disrespectful to women’s freedom. And wearing a veil to Mass—wasn’t that for people who were stuck in the Middle Ages?
A Healing of Heart, a Change of Life
In the meantime, I struggled to overcome dispositions from my pre-conversion life. Especially the damage to my heart from relationships with men who were not of God. The way they treated me taught me that I only had value to them if my body, appearance, behavior, and personality were what they wanted.
Conditional love teaches us that we are not enough and that we must commodify ourselves—and bargain away pieces of our bodies and hearts—in order to be loved.
In Need of Love
The feminine heart, the heart that longs to be sought, pursued, treasured, and uniquely appreciated, is fulfilled by unconditional Love, a Love that chooses and appreciates us as we are.
The Enemy tells us that we will never be loved in this way. It isn’t possible that we can be chosen and appreciated for who we truly are. The feminine heart breaks when it is pierced by this lie. Mine remained broken for a long time.
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In the most unexpected way, Christ began to assure me of the depth of His affirming love through the virtue of modesty. Modesty, I found, is the natural expression of the radical assurance that we as women are perfectly and unconditionally valued. God knows us completely and delights in us completely.
Holding nothing back, Christ shows us that He wants to be with us totally by giving us His whole self in the Eucharist. Instead of being content with pieces of us, He desires us for Himself totally.
Modesty and the Feminine Heart
Even though I had found the unconditional love that the feminine heart longs for through practicing modesty, I was blessed to learn how to respond to it as well. When we abstain from revealing clothing and overly-flirtatious behaviour, it signifies that we no longer offer pieces of our bodies and hearts to others in exchange for momentary appreciation. Instead, we offer our feminine hearts first and foremost back to God.
By paying the ultimate price, the Lover of our souls showed us that infinitely valuable to Him. Modesty is a joyful sign to God that we accept His definition and purpose for our personhood. We allow Him to define our value.
Veiling: Not So Middle Ages
I was surprised to learn to love the virtue of modesty. But I was shocked to be drawn to the practice of veiling. It is important to be clear that, following Vatican II, veiling is not a compulsion: it is a personal devotion. While some are called to express their feminine love for Christ in this way, it is not for everyone.
I found myself attracted to veiling when I began to say “yes” to Christ’s healing love for my broken romantic desires. Both women marrying and religious sisters wear veils to express their heavenly marriage to Christ. I knew that this tradition was an unmistakable way to show that my heart belongs to Christ before anyone else.
A Future Full of Hope
When I am tempted to give in to discouragement and believe that I am defined by my past, practicing modesty teaches me again that my femininity has been redeemed. My heart is entrusted to the most perfect Lover.
My vibrant community is made up of women who celebrate Mass with dresses and veils, and equally devout women who wear pantsuits. Regardless of how we dress, our femininity is a gift to the world. It teaches us how deeply Christ wants to satisfy our hearts. However you are called to live your femininity, I hope my journey towards accepting His unconditional love reminds you that He delights in you as well.
How has modesty affected your heart and life?Modesty: Healing the Wounds of Conditional Love #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Kathleen Mawhinney is from Prince Edward Island, Canada, where she studies nursing by day and theology by night. She was received into the Church one year ago.