The Importance of Being Beautiful

The following is an excerpt from Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Therese of Liseux:

I was six or seven years old when Papa brought us to Trouville (France). Never will I forget the impression the sea made upon me; I couldn’t take my eyes off it since its majesty, the roaring of its waves, everything spoke to my soul of God’s grandeur and power. I recall during the walk on the seashore a man and a woman were looking at me as I ran ahead of Papa. They came and asked him if I were his little daughter and said I was a very pretty little girl. Papa said, “Yes,” but I noticed the sign he made to them not to pay me any compliments. It was the first time I’d heard it said I was pretty and this pleased me, as I didn’t think I was. You always took great care, Mother, to allow me to come in contact with nothing that could destroy my innocence, and you saw to it, too, that I heard nothing capable of giving rise to vanity in my heart. As I listened to what you and Marie said, and as you had never directed any compliments to me, I gave no great importance to the words or admiring glances of this woman.

At first this might sound a little shocking/extreme. You might think to yourself, “What?! Her parents never told her she was pretty? They never paid her any compliments about her beauty? How could a little girl survive like that?! She must have been so insecure! What terrible parents!” But before you take that stance I would ask you to take into account two details 1) Consider that Therese was not insecure about her appearance in the least. In fact she says right there in the passage that compliments about her appearance were of no great importance to her. 2) Also consider that St.Therese’s parents are also on their way to becoming saints. They have both been beatified in the Catholic Church. Her parents were not martyrs, they did not found a religious order, they were just parents. So if they have been beatified for being parents, that obviously says something about their parenting abilities.
Next, you might be thinking to yourself, “Well Therese was just a nun, and nuns don’t care about how they look.” But take into consideration that this story from her childhood took place long before she entered a convent.
The French philosopher Blaise Pascal defined vanity as putting too much emphasis on things that are really not that important. Obviously it is important to look nice. Pope Pius X described God as “infinite beauty.” All of creation contains beauty in different ways, and some things were created even just for the sake of beauty. However, a problem arises when too much emphasis is put on external beauty and not internal. You have a limited amount of control over how pretty you look exteriorly, but there is no limit to how beautiful you choose to be internally, there is no limit to how much love you choose to give people. That is where the real importance is.

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Modesty for Men

GuysDefining what modesty means in a man’s life is tricky, because the entire debate on the subject has been spun to revolve around how much skin is showing. Since most men have no problem in that area, it would be easy to make the mistake of assuming modesty is just something for women; but that’s not true. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says, “Modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man” (par. 2524). This presents a much richer idea of modesty than as turgid rules about the length of a skirt. It also means that everyone is called to participate in modesty by recognizing both their own spiritual dignity, and the dignity of those around them.

For men, this means respecting everyone at all times, especially in our demeanor towards them. So there’s a lot more to modesty for men than making sure your pants cover your whole rear. For example, imagine if the president of the United States addressed the United Nations in jeans and a sweatshirt. He would be lambasted, and properly so, for disrespecting both his own office and the assembly he addressed. This is an extreme and obvious example, but there are plenty of similar if more subtle moments like is in all of our lives. Ask yourself if the way you dress says that you care about yourself and what you do, or does it say that you don’t give a darn. When you talk to people, are you genuinely concerned about their needs, do you ever think about what you could do for them, or are you only concerned about what you can get from them.

Even at social events, it’s easy to only talk to people because we can get something from them—enjoyment, social standing, etc., and to ignore people who we perceive as having nothing to offer us. Really though, everyone is important, regardless of what they can or can’t do for us. Especially as men, it’s our calling to reach out to reach out to others, not because of what they can do for us, but because of what we can do for them.

Manhood is always equated with strength of some kind. The lie of the world, however, is in defining that strength as the ability to take what we want. In reality though, the measure of a man lies in his ability to give, whether he wants to or not. Be a man. Be modest.

-GOM