Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Liturgy and Lust


Wow! Could two subjects be ever more diametrically opposed? Sadly it is a subject that I reluctantly and shame-facedly bring to my blog today. With the advent of the summer season I find that attending the Divine Liturgy (AKA the Mass) can sometimes be a real battle for me.
Since becoming Catholic, I have received much grace in overcoming a lot of strongholds of sin in my life but the "lust of the eyes" is one that I, and most Christian men continue to struggle with.(though it has been much better through frequent confession and the reception of theEucharist)

When I attend Mass, I desire very much to unite myself with Christ, first in prayer and then in His body and blood in the Eucharist. Mass is an opportunity to be cleansed of our sins and once again receive Him and be "animated" by His soul, body, blood and divinity. But attending Mass shouldn't be an opportunity for near occasions of sin! These near occasions of sin are often caused by the inappropriate styles that are worn by our fellow parishioners particularly in the warmer months of the year. Do these folks know they are putting their fellow parishioners at risk for the near occasion of sin? I doubt it and if they were aware of the struggles we go through, I suspect they would be willing to dress more modestly. (By the way, this is not a strictly Catholic issue because in my evangelical Protestant days, it was still an issue on Sunday mornings.)

So how do we conquer lust during the Liturgy? We begin Mass by asking forgiveness for our sins and asking those around us and in heaven to pray for us. Then, I tend to keep my eyes focused on the altar and the crucifix. I don't look around the congregation , there's no need to. I close my eyes for most of Mass since a good portion(about 3/4ths) of the Mass is prayer directed to God and I get distracted if my eyes are opened anyway when I pray. Until I am more perfected and gain complete mastery over this temptation, these little steps do help me to approach the altar and receive Him more worthily.

The other approach I may try is asking that this letter be placed in the bulletin anonymously. What do you think?

Dear Women of St. _____Parish

I write this letter with the utmost respect for your dignity as women. From childhood, I have been assaulted by media messages that portray you as mere objects for sexual pleasure. Every day I see images of women on television, magazines, and billboards with little clothing and in provocative poses. Now with the Internet, it is even more of a struggle for me to avoid the temptation of viewing pornographic images which are merely a click away.

I know how harmful pornography is, destroying marriages and families by the thousands. Thankfully God has provided the grace for me to avoid this mortal sin by receiving the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.

I find great strength in going to Mass on Sunday. However, the images and thoughts are never far from my mind causing a constant battle to maintain purity. When I see women in Mass dressed immodestly I lose focus on the things of God and instead am battling lustful thoughts. Our parish publishes announcements about dressing appropriately every summer and some of you have graciously tried to comply. For that I thank you tremendously because my desire to focus on the Holy Eucharist and see you not as an object but as one created in the image of God is definitely enhanced when I don’t have the distractions of seeing you in immodest clothing.

I have a great desire to continue to overcome these temptations and follow God with my whole heart. Please help me to do so by dressing modestly for Mass.

Sincerely your brother in Christ,

A male parishioner of St. ______.

24 Comments:

Blogger Magister Christianus said...

Have you seen this? http://blog.adw.org/2010/05/adore-the-lord-in-holy-attire-on-proper-dress-for-mass/

God bless you, brother. I think you should forward this as much as you can. You are absolutely right. I know I am going to be assaulted with such images at the, sadly, expected places: grocery stores, schools, sporting events, malls, beaches. Why at church? The only reason to dress provocatively is from a focus on self. Either I want to attract attention to myself, care only about what I think is attractive and not what others think, or do not think it matters so long as I am comfortable. No matter what the proximate cause of inappropriate dress, the ultimate cause is always selfishness, a sin that is denounced and offered its proper corrective in the First Commandment.

May 31, 2010 9:03 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Thanks Magister. Yes, you are probably right, that ultimately, if we are more worried about our comfort and vanity vs the soul of the brother in the pew behind you, it is selfishness.

Catholics have a saying that "we want to help bring others to heaven with us." Well one of the ways to do this is to dress modestly and not cause your brother/sister to sin in their heart, and God forbid sin in their body as well.
We have become so automatic in this sin, we start to think we are "hard-wired" to sin in this way, but thanks be to God through Jesus Christ we can have victory over it. But until that time, I want folks in Mass to dress in a way that will help me get to heaven!

May 31, 2010 9:55 PM  
Blogger Brian Sullivan said...

As far as the anonymous letter, I'd lead with the 3rd paragraph--hmm, maybe only the 3rd paragraph. Not that I want to be an editor! BTW, men can dress poorly too!

Brian

May 31, 2010 10:45 PM  
Blogger kkollwitz said...

I commented over at the original post.

May 31, 2010 10:50 PM  
Blogger Scott Lyons said...

Russ, I'm going to comment more on this post later - I don't have the time right now. However, I think the letter in the bulletin is a bad idea. I'll share with you why later - perhaps later today. Peace to you, brother. Our weakness is why we pray for one another each time we pray the Lord's Prayer, "lead us not into temptation."

June 01, 2010 1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is absolutely true that men and women ought to dress in a manner that the culture considers modest; and that Christian liturgies (especially the Mass) are not stages to show off physical desirability.

That said, we must also realize that the burden of lust each person bears is his or her own; in other words, it is my own eye that offends me, not my neighbor's hemline.

King David lusted after his neighbor's wife who was bathing where she could be seen by someone outside of her home. Who's sin was greater? Bathsheba’s or David's? The culpability of the object of desire is not the issue, but the one who covets.

Western Christians live in a world whose norms of dress today would have been scandalous a short time ago. The way we react to these openly revealing fashions is more important than how we might attempt to mitigate them or counter them. Those who concentrate on covering up for decency's sake sometimes inadvertently miss the point of modesty, which is neither to flaunt nor suppress human beauty but to thank God for it as it is (no more and no less): yet another of His great gifts.

My problems with lust are my problems indeed--and may Our Lord have mercy on me and give me grace--and may I struggle to win through.

In the meanwhile, He is slow to anger and His wrath is quck to abate--thank God.

June 01, 2010 3:56 PM  
Blogger Owen said...

I made such a suggestion once and was told I was a pervert. I hope it goes much better for you. And, you are absolutely correct.

June 01, 2010 5:18 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Russ, I share your concerns. And the problem is not simply that women dress inappropriately, but that younger women, especially teenagers, don't have many (any?!) modest role models to follow. Over time, the age of girls dressing inappropriately for Mass has gotten lower and lower.

We live in an over-sexualized environment. The least a pastor of souls can do is try to save some by taking a stand for modesty.

June 01, 2010 11:02 PM  
Blogger Scott Lyons said...

Amma Theodora also said, 'There was a monk, who, because of the great number of his temptations said, "I will go away from here." As he was putting on his sandals, he saw anther man who was also putting on his sandals and this other monk said to him, "Is it on my account that you are going away? Because I go before you wherever you are going.' "
- from Sayings of the Desert Fathers

.....

To say, "If only women would dress modestly ..." is a misdiagnosis of the illness. I would wager that you would still struggle with lust during Liturgy even if all the women in your parish were dressed modestly. Then the problem would be their pulling their hair back, or the curve of one's neck, etc. This is our struggle. It is not about another's insensitivity or selfishness, it is about my wickedness. It is not about her immodesty, it is about my lust.

Here's my rule of thumb when dealing with women, "If it's not my daughter, it's not my business." Don't offend the women of your parish with this letter - and even modest women will be offended. Most women are tired of having our burdens hoisted onto their backs. They carry enough burdens already.

If this is a serious problem for you, the best thing would be to arrive at Mass early and sit in the first pew. When people are receiving holy Communion, keep your eyes shut in prayer.

June 02, 2010 10:41 AM  
Blogger Owen said...

In regard to Anonymous's assertion "it is my own eye that offends me, not my neighbor's hemline" this is technically true however several considerations are at hand.

I believe what Russ is addressing is immodesty and while one could haggle over who defines what immodesty is common sense must rule the day. Short hemline, tanks tops, low cut tops, skin tight apparel, these are not modest for the Christian and whether or not they should be word anywhere is a fair question but certainly the Mass is not the place.

As a former pastor I once spoke with a women working with young children - hence much bending down, movement, etc - to dress more modestly. To put a point on it, without any effort to ogle anyone, children included could easily see portions of her bum via those shorts, her underwear line and significant portions of her breasts. This is not appropriate. I was told to keep my eyes to myself and that I was a pervert. Really?

Which raises my other concern with Anonymous's (be they male or female) points.

The words of St. Paul reveal to us the intent of our own hearts when he addresses the matter of not causing another weaker brother to stumble when in public even though we may feel clear in our own conscience to do such and such in private (of course the matter at hand was the eating of meat once offered to false gods but the principle is broad and applies).

It's incomplete then to simply say the problem is in the eye of the beholder. Whether or not that person has or has once had any definable "problem" with pornography (thankfully in my case I do not) there is still the matter of a woman's inappropriate dress being anything from a distraction to a near occasion to sin for man.

Finally, there is also an entire discussion on the matter of how a woman understands her womanhood and values herself as an adopted child of God.

We don't live in the dark ages nor some repressive cultist regime and cultural norms do change however we, the people of God, are not to be governed by the norms of the day but rather their is common (God given) sense and the love of the brethren (i.e. all men and women of God) according to the sacred scriptures to consider, preferring one another over ourselves.

I would challenge the idea of "my problems with lust are my problems." Yes, they are but they are not yours alone. That idea reflects the pervasive way the, largely, Protestant, individualistic idea of religion has impacted our North American culture and even the Church. The Catholic Church, since the very time of Christ, along with the message of sacred scripture has always pointed us to the whole, to the community, to the Communion of Saints.

When I sin, I affect the whole body. It is not, in that sense, just between me and God and so it is the same when I choose to assert my "freedom" over the welfare of my brethren causing them to sin or to struggle unnecessarily with the near occasion to sin.

The comparison to the sin of David is not relevant. The unnecessary question is asked as to who had the greater sin. Bathsheba wasn't sinning at all. David was. David was where he should not have been from the start of that story and allowed to take a near occasion of sin to actual sin. I agree "The culpability of the object of desire is not the issue, but the one who covets" in the incident described in 2 Samuel but it is not the same scenario as attendance at the Mass.

June 02, 2010 11:53 AM  
Blogger Scott Lyons said...

Owen what you say would be true, perhaps, if we were the pastors here, but we aren't. If the pastor wants to take on the task of modesty, let him, gently, perhaps through the sisters of his community. But Russ's job, and mine and yours, is not to judge these women as selfish because their hemline is too short. Our job is to be at Liturgy to worship Christ.

We could force the women of our parish to wear shapeless potato sacks and some of us would still be struggling during Liturgy with lust.

June 02, 2010 2:11 PM  
Blogger kkollwitz said...

I support Scott.

June 02, 2010 5:48 PM  
Blogger Owen said...

Dear Scott,
great to be chatting again.

Of course what is true is not based at all on who brings it or it would not be truth and merely subjective. It's unfortunate you read what I have said as being judgmental.

However, I was addressing the comments of Anonymous in principle not telling Russ anything about what he should do. At this place now though I do think a letter, esp and anonymous one would be far more schismatic than helpful. Speaking as one anonymous is rarely a productive thing as there should be no need for such where the love of Christ moves us to love one another even when we disagree with each other. A "letters" do really seem to have the kiss of death on them. As a former pastor I have received exactly such and again, they are rarely helpful.

But now addressing what I haven't before and would agree the most helpful path would be to speak with the pastor and hope he might address the matter in the fashion he found most fitting.

And I'll take your hyperbolic potato sack image and raise it one footed in reality to say in fact I agree that a man or woman might struggle at Mass without any visual stimuli in recalling the story of a friend of mine who shared with me just that struggle noting that he is legally blind.

However, this very real inward struggle does not excuse members of the body from not being brought to an awareness, yes, gently so, that they may be causing the weaker member to sin or to the near occasion of sin and that the love of Christ constrains us to care for one another.

Certainly the balance can and has in times past and in certain places present tipped overly in the opposite direction of hard and fast human rules and codes of conduct that a more the stuff of the letter that kills rather than the spirit that brings life.

We seek for balance then and for grace in the manner in which we conduct ourselves toward others and before our Lord and for the sake of his love.

June 03, 2010 9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Owen.

Please do not imagine that I think the intent of another to lead one into sin is not itself a sin. However, not knowing the motivation of one whose dress tempts us, we can only deal with the component that we have power to address: our own reaction.

Please bear in mind that should I accompany a Missionary Priest who conducts a Mass deep in the rain forest home of people whose day-to-day dress consists of nearly no clothing at all and find myself lusting after someone because of this, it is not that person who has sinned or done any wrong whatsoever. That person is innocent--and may very well be a saint whose loincloth I am not worthy to launder.

Consider:

"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.

"And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.

"And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched."


If immodest dress is a problem at Mass and the offender is not part of one’s own household, it is fine for any congregant to bring the matter to the Pastor; however, it is the Pastor’s judgment that must prevail based on the Bishop’s (Magesterium’s) guidelines (if any), and through his authority that such matters be addressed.

June 03, 2010 11:21 AM  
Blogger Owen said...

Anonynous,
I don't usually carry on a discussion with those who will not identify themselves, something I learned the hard way over many years of ministry as a protestant pastor, however, I do thank you for your reasoned reply.

I take your point noting that we in North America are not, as a whole, an innocent culture such as the one you describe in your example. In the setting you describe I fully agree with you.

I also agree that the matter is one for the pastor, as I noted myself in my previous comment.

June 03, 2010 1:33 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

thanks guys for all the comments.
No women commented...interesting.
Unless anon is a woman, but I don't think so.
I will plan on not giving a letter to the congregation, and will pray more about my issues and continue as I do to keep my eyes closed for most of Mass, particularly in the summer months. I can't bring myself to sit in front, but that's due to my other issues :)

June 03, 2010 5:44 PM  
Blogger Owen said...

God bless you Rich. In thinking some on this today I came across the following These saints have a particular predilection for helping those of us struggling with pornography, lust and impurity

June 03, 2010 6:55 PM  
Blogger George Weis said...

AMEN and AMEN! God bless you Russ! Thanks for saying what needs to be said.

Church of all places is to be a sanctuary for those who are seeking Christ. May it be so!

Blessings,
-g-

June 04, 2010 2:28 PM  
Blogger Shirley said...

Finally got around to reading this post, so her goes with one woman's opinion. I agree that immodesty among women, especially young women, is rampant, and that it is disturbing during Mass. However,I think your letter would do more harm than good. It is an issue that should be addressed at the pastoral level; I have seen some (very few) churches that post a dress code at their door.At our church, we were recently asked not to wear scent due to the sensitivity of certain people; how much more appropriate it would be to ask people to dress with modesty and REVERENCE when in the Presence of Our Lord. It all goes back to a lack of proper teaching of young people and instilling strong morals. The lack of modesty is a symptom of the breakdown of family values and the undermining of the authority of parents.
As a side note, I do dress properly for Mass, even on weekday Mass I wear a skirt or dress below the knee, and never wear anything sleeveless without a jacket or shawl over it. I also wear head coverings. I don't think that the younger women appreciate my sense of style! :0)
I think these ladies are aware of the effect of the way they dress- after all, that is why they dress like that- to attract male attention, to be admired.
It is something to pray about; both that the men will not be led into sin and that the women will realize that Mass attire isn't the same as party attire.
God bless!

June 04, 2010 10:16 PM  
Anonymous Barb L. said...

I would like to offer one additional perspective, that has not been mentioned, but which came to mind when I first read this post, and yes, when I too have experienced lustful thoughts during Mass, especially during the time surrounding the consecration of the Holy Eucharist----

from Ephesians, chapter 6:
12 For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
15 and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace;
16 besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one,

and, . . . .

vv. 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Russ, you know me and I am truly not one to say "the devil made me do it," but in this situation, I have to wonder, and am not surprised, that satan would attempt to distract, attack, distort, and yes, amplify my own sinful heart, during the Sacrifice of the Mass and the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Just a thought, . . . from a woman

June 08, 2010 10:10 AM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Thanks Barb, that's an excellent point. Satan will do whatever he can to distract us and make us feel unworthy to receive the precious body and blood of the Lord. i too have heard others say that at the point of consecration the attacks come even more, in terms of thoughts.
God bless you!

June 08, 2010 9:41 PM  
Blogger Gretchen said...

Russ,

This is a very late addition to the discussion, but I see that some of the male posters have been well-trained by our feminist culture to assign resposibility to themselves only. Bunk.

If a woman is dressing provocatively in church it is almost certainly to draw attention to her 'charms'. Women in this culture have been acting and dressing provocatively for a couple generations now.

They are entirely responsible for this behavior, however, regardless of the whys and hows of the cultural shift.

It is a terrible burden to inflict on parishioners, male or female. Women don't like looking at their sisters in Christ who are dressed inappropriately, either. In my parish, we have young women cantors who dress in see-through skin-tight tee shirts and miniskirts...Believe me, it is distracting for everyone!

I have been debating bringing up the subject with our pastor, but this has been going on for years and I know that others have complained. Nothing is done. For temporary relief from this and other issues in our parish, we sometimes attend Mass at a local monastery. We are blessed to have two within a 10 mile radius.

At any rate, my heart is with you on this one.

June 09, 2010 2:15 PM  
Blogger Owen said...

In light of earlier comments made by guys it is enlightening and even refreshing to read this additional comments by women. Thanks.

June 09, 2010 2:55 PM  
Blogger Tim A. Troutman said...

Great post. Owen and Gretchen are spot on. Yes "woe to those who cause others to stumble" and woe to those who defend evil with sophistry.

There is only one purpose for women to dress provocatively at Church (or anywhere) and that is to *cause* others to lust after them. If they dress immodestly out of complete ignorance (which is almost never the case) then they are guilty of imprudence.

The Church fathers were clear that women should not dress immodestly (that goes for men too - its just a vice less common to men.) Heck if I dressed immodestly I wouldn't cause women to lust - I'd cause them to throw up. :-)

And husbands - you cowards - the blame is on you too! Don't allow your wives and daughters to dress like that in Church!

June 11, 2010 11:39 AM  

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