Three young, Catholic women are on a mission trip to our parish from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Hannah, Theresa and Katalyn have already impressed me with what I call “soft evangelization” — spreading the Gospel through acts of mercy, kindness and friendship, and giving a reason for their hope in Christ, when asked.
They introduced themselves to our parish on Pentecost Sunday. As they spoke in front of the church I was struck by their poise, dignity and confidence. I just recently gave a retreat on the fruits of the Holy Spirit to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Rome. These fruits are commonly known as charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity.
In speaking with the sisters from Mother Teresa’s order, I shared my deep dismay that the three fruits most despised in our modern culture were meekness, modesty and chastity.
No one gets to the top of a Fortune 500 company by being meek. No one wields influence in the fashion industry by promoting modesty, and certainly no one would publicly admit that chastity and saving oneself for marriage was a primary goal in developing any romantic relationship.
And yet before me stood three young women whose inner strength and outer apparel matched. Nothing milk-toast about them and I thought to myself what father wouldn’t be proud of such daughters. But what a time they live in — we all live in. In ages past a young woman had to be ashamed of being sexually “experienced.” Today she is more likely to be ashamed of sexual inexperience.
In an older time (when I was a child) an unmarried woman was ashamed to give public evidence of sexual desire by living with someone. Now she has to be ashamed of her desire to save her most intimate self for her marriage partner.
Today vice is celebrated and virtue ridiculed.
Yet standing before the parish were three young women — obviously counter cultural. Where do they draw strength to stand against a secular culture that sees the virtuous life as nothing more than a product of too many hang-ups? I suspect their strength comes from family, church, faith and from an excellent Catholic university that presents the faith as an attractive way to live.
It is attractive to live humbly. The most attractive person on the earth showed us the kind of strength that flows from a deeply humble life. Jesus did not give up greatness, power or glory by submitting to meekness. Rather his power and greatness are found in and through his meekness. That is attractive.
It is attractive also to live with modesty, to uphold one’s personal dignity and refuse to be used by anyone. It is attractive to live a chaste life because sex is too good and too sacred to turn into a fleeting game or recreation.
We view our pastimes as something sacred and the sacred gift of sexual union as a mere game. But how many homilies have I heard on meekness, modesty or chastity? Very few, I’m afraid.
Yet how attractive is the presence of these three women visiting our parish. They live out their dignity, while loving and promoting the dignity of others.
We, too, can navigate our modern culture by embracing the power and dignity that comes from living the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.