First of all, I’m not going to talk about the allegations of the secret Fatima prophecy. I am not even going to go to my back yard, hew down the oak tree and fashion it into a ten-foot pole with which to touch the allegations of a brand new totally-not-the-other-one secret Fatima prophecy. Steel Magnificat is a Catholic blog. We are faithful to Rome. If Rome says there’s no super-dibbley-top-classified-secret prophecy, Roma locuta est.
But every time Fatima is the news, you hear somebody quoting the other, actual Fatima prophecies from the Fatima visionaries. And you always here someone quoting the line, “Certain fashions will be introduced that will greatly offend Our Lord.” It’s always invoked out of context like that; I’ve seen it a hundred times and I’ve never seen the original context, or if it was really just spoken in isolation in just that way. And every time that line is invoked, we Catholic bloggers have to deal with a vast army of those Skirts-only Modesty people.
Let me say for their benefit and yours, that I do believe modesty– real modesty, the actual fruit of the Holy Ghost– ought to be cultivated, in our children and in ourselves. And I would call several of the fashionable things I’ve seen ladies wearing in my day as immodest, and I would agree that if they wore them on purpose to be immodest, that would certainly offend the Lord.
But isn’t there a lot more to fashion than clothing?
The visionaries were Portuguese; I assume that’s the language in which they heard and reported their prophecies. I don’t speak Portuguese. I’m hoping somebody fluent in Portuguese will weigh in and join the discussion here, because I don’t know the first thing about it. But Portuguese is a romance language, like French, Spanish and of course Latin, and I have studied Spanish, French and Latin before. I looked up the Portuguese word for “fashion.” It’s “moda,” a very common word in romance languages. The Spanish also say “moda,” and the French say “mode.” The Latin word is “modum.” I know that French and Spanish people use “mode” and “moda” to refer to fashionable clothing, and I imagine that at least sometimes when the ancient Romans said it, they were referring to their togas. English-speakers use the same ancient word when we call something “mod,” and I believe the Germans do when they say “modisch.” But “modum” and its variants don’t always refer to clothing.
The mode, in mathematics, is the number which occurs most often. The mode in fashion is the thing that is or is desired to occur most often; it’s the way of the world to which we’re expected to conform. Models model cropped jackets to make us want to buy cropped jackets– “model” also comes from “modus.” Everyone wears a black silk dress, and suddenly you feel you ought to be wearing a black silk dress– black silk dresses become the mode. The mode is the thing you copy. The mode is the fashion.
And fashion doesn’t begin or end with clothing. There are all kinds of things that are fashionable, that aren’t to do with clothing. Fondue pots, flash mobs, swing dancing for chastity, pogs, beanie babies, baby slings and people who say you shouldn’t use them, lolcats and limited-edition minted quarters have all been fashionable at one point or another. None of them is an article of clothing.
Other, more pervasive cultural movements could also be called fashions. Remember, the fashion is the modus, the thing to which everyone is expected to conform. Cultures demand conformity to a lot more than clothing or fondue pots. You could call the Civil Rights movement a mode, and it was a very good mode for people to follow. The Industrial Revolution was a mode. Non-industrialized countries had to catch up to the mode and become industrial, to be economically competitive. And this spurred plenty of movements, ones that persecuted the poor and movements in reaction that fought for the rights of the poor, one movement against another both fighting to be the mode for the whole culture.
The eugenics movement was also a mode. It was beginning to be quite fashionable to be pro-eugenics, in Europe and the United States, when Our Lady was talking about fashions in Fatima. US academics lauded eugenics as the latest thing, all through the 1920s. Countless mentally ill and intellectually disabled people were abused because of Eugenics, here in the US and overseas as well. Lobotomies and forced sterilizations were the mode. It wasn’t fashionable to have a special needs child, so you quietly ditched them in institutions that abused them, and pretended your child was dead. Not everyone did this, but it was considered the decent and respectable option. It was the mode.
The main Nazi innovation on the eugenics mode was to murder and cremate such people en masse. This was fashionable. You weren’t supposed to speak against it. You weren’t even supposed to notice. It was the way things were, the way to which all good people were meant to conform, the way that would make society pleasing and safe. Then the Nazis moved on to the Jews, the Roma and other unwanted groups. And these actions were also lauded as good, by many, because they were fashionable. It wasn’t fashionable to be a Jew. It wasn’t fashionable to be a Roma or a Pole or an African. This fashion went deeper than looks, far deeper than clothing, and I imagine it offended Our Lord far more deeply than any skimpy bathing suit.
What are the modes, the fashions, to which we’re pressured to conform today? Other than clothing? The Pope keeps talking about gross economic disparity, the widening gap between rich and poor. That’s a movement going throughout our whole culture, and there’s a definite movement to accept it as necessary and good for “job creators.” That’s a mode. That’s a fashion. So is abortion as a solution to poverty. People have always found ways to dispose of poor children; that’s the one that’s fashionable today. Sexualizing younger and younger children is a mode, and so is the type of abstinence sex education that makes girls who lose their virginity seem like irredeemable trash. They are both fashionable in some circles. Binge drinking at parties is fashionable for college and even high school students. In my town, Steubenville, it’s fashionable to blame young girls who get raped at such parties for their assault, because they were drinking. These are modes. These are all fashions, and they are fashions that I’m sure break the Heart of Christ.
The sin of the pharisee is to attend to small things while ignoring great obligations. What’s greatly needed is to take a big step back and examine the fashions of our whole culture, if we’re going to understand what Our Lady meant.
(Image of witnesses to the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)