I saw a blog post circling Facebook the other day, and it’s been on my mind.
Larry Denninger at A Catholic Misfit writes that he was at his usual holy hour, one Tuesday night. A woman and her teenage daughter who were not regular adorers came in. The daughter was wearing jean shorts that were on the short side. Denninger’s fellow Tuesday night adorer, a woman in her fifties, embarrassed the teenager by getting up and draping a jacket over her legs with a “Cover up – this is Jesus we’re talking about here.” The visitors were so embarrassed that they left the chapel a moment later, with the teenager in tears. Denninger was horrified by his fellow adorer’s behavior but unsure what to do. He didn’t want to give her a piece of his mind in front of Jesus just then, which I can understand.
I have a few thoughts on this myself.
I have to begin with the obligatory paragraph that, all other things being equal, I don’t think you should wear shorts in the Adoration chapel. Maybe if they were very long shorts or culottes or something. And you see, in two sentences I’m already wandering off topic by questioning myself as to how short a pair of shorts is appropriate, which is where modesty conversations always lose me. Clothing comes in different sizes. Definitions of articles of clothing change over time just as cultural taboos change, and what’s appropriate for me may well not be appropriate for you. I realize that what we wear is significant, I just don’t think it gives us the right to shame anybody else. Modesty means letting yourself decrease so that others might increase in every way that’s appropriate– in your dress, in how you speak, in what you do. It’s about how you choose to present your own self, not about policing other people. Policing other people is the opposite of modest.
Rules about what to wear change from situation to situation. But there is one thing we can know for certain: the Adoration chapel is never the place to hurt people.
When you go into the Adoration chapel, you go into the presence of Almighty God.
That’s sort of a trick, because you are always in the presence of Almighty God. But in the Adoration chapel you get to see Him present physically in a unique way.
Seeing Him present in this unique way is supposed to open your eyes to see Him in the other places He dwells. God is everywhere present and filling all things, but He is present in a unique way in the human beings we encounter. They are also tabernacles. Sometimes, that tabernacle is opened for us and we truly see God in people, and when that happens it’s called feeling love for them. But we are required to act in reverence and love for people even if we don’t feel like it. Even if the tabernacle is closed and locked. Yes, even if that tabernacle is wearing shorts.
If you wouldn’t be mean to Jesus stripped naked and crucified, you must not be mean to a teenager in shorts– least of all in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
And yes, the lady in the chapel was absolutely being mean. She wasn’t “admonishing the sinner” in a productive or prudent way, supposing that any sin was committed here which I just don’t think is the case. She wasn’t thinking of a tactful, quiet way to express her concerns, whether they were right or wrong. She was putting on a big show to shame a total stranger. She drew the attention of everyone in that room away from Christ and to her own actions, which is deeply immodest, more immodest than a pair of shorts could ever be.
And no, I don’t want to hear anyone telling me this is justified because of some story you once heard about Saint Pio. First of all because saints are admirable but not necessarily imitable, and I don’t think that being mean to penitents was part of Saint Pio’s virtue in the first place, let alone something imitable. Secondly because Saint Pio was a priest hearing confessions and that’s a completely different relation to a person than a random old woman praying in the chapel who takes it upon herself to shame other people just like her who came in to pray.
That woman was immodest, and she was mean as a snake. And whether she thinks of herself as doing that or not, she did it to Christ.
And Christ left the Adoration chapel, crying. He also remained present in the Eucharist, through no merit of anyone in that room. But in a different way, He left the Adoration chapel in tears.
I have a suggestion for Mr. Denninger. And I’m not saying this to shame him because I probably wouldn’t have thought of it in the heat of the moment myself, but upon reflection I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s what I resolve to do if I ever see this happen to anybody else.
Christ is present to us in the Eucharist, and a Holy Hour in the Adoration chapel is a deeply meaningful way to give Him the worship He deserves. But we can’t neglect to worship Him by helping our neighbor, and if you’re ever given the choice in a moment like that I think running to help your neighbor takes precedent. And it sounds like that girl and her mom needed the help of a supportive friend just then. I think you should have walked out of the chapel for a minute to tell them how sorry you were that the horrible old grouch did that to her. Ask if there’s anything you can do, take it humbly if the girl or her mother screams at you, tell them they’re welcome back if they’re open to hearing that. Maybe say it loudly enough that the old woman in the chapel can hear you, but she isn’t the point. She’s not the one who was hurt and doesn’t need any more attention. The girl and her mother are, and they need some attention.
After all, paying attention to Christ is what Adoration is all about.
(image via Pixabay)