The virtue of modesty plays a huge role in my novels. Before we start, let’s be clear that modestly is a close relative to humility, but they are not the same. Ironically, modesty is very much understated in our world today, yet immodesty is overly defended by those with a “If you have it, flaunt it” attitude. And not just in reference to clothing.
In the first book of my Faith & Kung Fu series, Freeing Tanner Rose, the subject of modesty is most evident; although the virtue is carried through to the second book, and likely will continue throughout the series. Gabriel is the main protagonist in this book series, and he is the epitome of modesty.
A boy? I hear you ask. Isn’t modesty reserved for girls? Well let’s find out!
MODESTY IN APPEARANCE. Let me explain something here. Gabriel is gorgeous. He’s got dark hair that falls into his crystal blue eyes. He has a face that takes your breath away, and a smile that quickens the heartbeat. And he has an athletic physique. He’s an expert in kung fu, after all. But what makes him the most attractive? His amazing modesty. He knows that God gave him his face and his physique, and so he takes no credit for it. Faith and Tanner discuss this on page 48 of Freeing Tanner Rose. Faith says, “Personality is what really defines a person, and even a beautiful person can be ugly if they’re horrible inside, and vice versa.”
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Dressing modestly. This isn’t just reflected in the fact that Gabriel doesn’t go around showing off his abs or flexing his biceps (FTR p. 47), and you know he could if he wanted to. And it’s not because he’s ashamed of his body. He just doesn’t want girls ogling at him and conjuring up lustful thoughts about him, and yes, girls do that too! Gabriel knows that when God created man, He made something good; something beautiful. And we can’t take that creation and flaunt it or allow it to be lusted after. Tanner comes to realize this later in the story when she returns to the city and poses for a photo shoot, (FTR p. 156) .
Gabriel knows that his body is a temple of God and that he carries the Lord within him. He knows that in carrying Jesus on the inside, he should reflect Jesus on the outside. Let’s be clear, in dressing modestly, we’re not hiding ourselves from people. Instead, we’re presenting ourselves in a dignified way so that people see us for who we are in our hearts, and are not distracted by our physical selves. In essence, modesty means asking ourselves how much we’re willing to reveal for the sake of our dignity. Miss Ruth explains it to Tanner when she says, “I have noticed that you’re not a spinster, Tanner. Just be careful about what you are saying about yourself.” (FTR p. 27)
MODESTY MEANS REFRAINING FROM FLAUNTING our wealth or possessions. When we’re focused on our wealth and we live for the latest trend or fashion, -and Tanner evidently does- we create for ourselves a false god. We live for something outside of God. We define ourselves by our wealth. Additionally, when we flaunt our wealth, we put focus on ourselves, and that is the opposite of modesty. Tanner does this on page 31 of Freeing Tanner Rose when she “pulls out a wad” of money trying to impress the sales ladies at the malls following a senseless shopping spree (FTR p.29). Flaunting is also the same as flirting, and again we see this with Tanner. We also see this with her friend Emma (FTR p.87-88), and later with Natasha (FTR p.176).
“Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; 4 rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4
MODESTY IS REFLECTED IN SPEECH. Gabriel is quiet and reserved, and sure he gets frustrated and raises his voice sometimes or says something mean, but he knows when he’s wrong and he apologizes for it (FTR-p.77). He is dignified in his speech. Tanner is the opposite. She’s loud and obnoxious (FTR p.21-at the fair), and she is often rude without apology (FTR p53-camping and p.81-in the limo). In the second book in my Faith & Kung Fu series, Saving Faith, you meet Christian. And this character is also the opposite of Gabriel. He often speaks immodestly. “You know what they say about Maria,” Christian says to his friends on page 71. He’s clearly talking about a girl they are all familiar with and causing scandal in his discussions about her. Modest speech does not cause scandal. Gossip is also considered immodest speech.
MODESTY IS BEING DIGNIFIED in your demeanor. Gabriel is not a show off. He has a lot of reason to be one according to the world’s standards. But he’s not. In fact, his humility is evident when his mother or Tanner praise him and he doesn’t relish upon it (FTR p.35, p.146). He’s modest in his successes. He doesn’t boast. He doesn’t flirt or make a dramatic entrance. He does not try to be the center of attention. Again, Tanner in contrast elevates herself to a very height and self centered degree (FTR p.14, p.61, p.94). And then there’s the beginning of chapter 23 of Freeing Tanner Rose with Natasha who is brought back to earth by Gabriel’s modesty and his recognition of it’s adversary.
When we speak and act modestly, we are in turn treating people in a modest manner. We’re treating them respectfully. We’re not putting them down or making them feel bad about themselves. We’re lifting them with our words and our deeds, even if we’re not aware of it. There are many examples of this in Freeing Tanner Rose and Saving Faith, but more predominantly in the latter when you look at the difference between Christian and Gabriel. It all begins in the first tournament at the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2. The fighting styles between the two are reflective of their personalities in general, and more specifically in how Gabriel is more modest than Christian.
MODESTY IS BEING CONSCIOUS about what we expose ourselves to. The shows or movies we watch, the books we read, and the places we go. It’s what we allow into our minds. Tanner’s favorite place to go is Rick Vonn’s house where all forms of immodesty present themselves. But when she tries to share the experience with Gabriel, he doesn’t understand it (FTR p.74). If we see, read, or surround ourselves with immodesty in a manner in which it is celebrated and promoted, we become immune to it.
In all its ways, modesty is about self-control. Controlling ourselves in the way we act and in the things that we do, even in tiny instances that don’t seem to matter. An example of this is a moment between Gabriel and Tanner in Freeing Tanner Rose:
Gabriel moved toward her and bent down to retrieve the paper, and as he did, he glanced discreetly at Tanner’s black patent stiletto shoes. She wore a thin gold chain on her left ankle. He stood up quickly and turned away, denying his eyes their natural tendency to gaze up. (FTR p. 12)
Modesty is about stepping back and putting the focus on God. It’s about living the way the Son did and pleasing the Father. It’s about giving Him the glory instead of yourself. The Son of God was born in a manger in a barn. He lived a very modest life. And we should do the same by living for Him and not ourselves. When people see us, they should see Him.
“Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24
LET’S BE CLEAR! Modesty is NOT about putting ourselves down or staying quiet in the corner of a room. It’s not about believing you’re inconsequential or nothing special. On the contrary; modesty shows that you have confidence in yourself, you’re strong, and you’re not pressured by your peers or by current worldly fashions. Gabriel clearly proves this. It means that you don’t have to put yourself above others of push others down in order to be relevant. You already know that you are a jewel like everyone else, because God said so.
So you see, modesty is not a girl thing; it’s a virtue that we instill within ourselves as Christians, and it should reflect all aspects of our being and our lives. And so modesty is everything we as Christians should strive for.
The books referenced in this post were Freeing Tanner Rose and Saving Faith from my Faith & Kung Fu Series. Free discussion questions are available for both:
Freeing Tanner Rose Discussion Questions
Saving Faith Discussion Questions
For more Catholic fiction reflecting this theme, check out the comments below!
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Call out to Catholic authors of fiction for teens and young adults. Have you written a Catholic novel that encompasses the subject of modesty? Please share in the comments below, listing the titles and including a brief description of how it’s presented in your fiction.
For more on the titles listed in this post and others, as well as their educational themes, visit Catholic Teen Books For Teachers