Charlie's Blog: Modesty in Material Things


Modesty in Material Things

 But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world: and certainly we can carry nothing out. But having food, and wherewith to be covered, with these we are content. For they that will become rich, fall into temptation, and into the snare of the devil, and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition. For the desire of money is the root of all evils; which some coveting have erred from the faith, and have entangled themselves in many sorrows.

This is the second time I have used this bible verse. The first time was for the Voluntary Poverty Manifesto. I looked for an alternative verse for this post, but I can't do better than what St. Paul wrote here. This passage is a touchstone for me about how you should live your life. I will now share some stories of people not living this way because they are immodest in material things.

Modesty usually refers to how women dress. There is no sin in being beautiful, but it is shameful for women to dress in such a way to arouse lust. This requires discernment, but I can tell you that a thong bikini is not modest. Likewise, there is no sin in being wealthy, but it is shameful to flaunt that wealth in such a way to arouse envy. I will give some recent examples from my own parish.

One fine Sunday, Father Jerk blasts out that one of our older parishioners owns a beach house in addition to his residential home. Now, I don't think this is anyone's business. I think Father Jerk was being a jerk in keeping with his character as a narcissist and a jerk. As for the embarrassed parishioner, I have always considered him a fine fellow and still do. But I admit that this information caused my respect for him to slip a notch. I was better off not knowing about that beach house, but I can't unknow it now thanks to Father Jerk.

I think beach houses, lake houses, mountain cabins, and all vacation homes are immodest. I think one home is plenty. As for vacations, you are always better off renting. These second homes bought only for pleasure are indulgences that make no financial sense, but they are certainly status objects. People buy them as trophies of success, and the old fellow who owned the beach home was certainly successful in his career as an engineer. It was certainly enough to inflame the envy and hatred of Father Jerk.

Now, I don't care about what other people own. I think most possessions especially the ones serving conspicuous consumption are stupid. In short, if you own a beach house, you are an idiot. That's your problem not mine. Just as an immodest woman is a whore, a man immodest in his material things is a fool. Here are some more recent examples of foolishness from my parish.

One day, I saw an elderly couple pull up in the parking lot. They were driving a brand new Ford Mustang. You would expect a Buick sedan or a Toyota Camry. But these were Boomers, and Boomers gotta boom! It blew my mind because the elderly gentleman could barely walk. He had to have been close to eighty years old. His wife who was driving was firmly in her seventies. I cannot fathom why anyone of any age would need or even prefer a Mustang.

This couple are not the worst offenders. Another parishioner drives a sparkling new Rolls-Royce. I confess to never having seen one outside of a magazine or a TV show. I was blown away by the thing. It literally dripped of immodesty. Naturally, the driver was another Boomer.

We have a doctor in our parish that we call Doctor Ego because his narcissism is on an equal level as that of Father Jerk. His wife and he owned a historic mansion in our town and a lake house. He used to make a living as a real doctor but now prefers to be some kind of motivational speaker. To his credit, Doctor Ego liquidated that historic home and lives in the lake house full time now. Motivational speaking must not pay so well these days.

It's easy to pick on Boomers, but we also have a Gen X dermatologist I call Doctor Skin. This man is awesome. He has a large family. His children are well mannered. His wife and daughters wear chapel veils to Mass. He is well regarded in our parish and community. I actually admired him until I discovered that he bought and lives in one of the finest historic mansions in our town. At a million bucks, it was a sweet deal, but it is the house equivalent of the Rolls-Royce. It's only practical quality is its size. It even has a guest house which is as large as a residential home in our county. Needless to say, it is disgusting in its opulence and splendor.

Now, I use nicknames to spare these people the embarrassment they should feel over these things. The stories are true, but the names are changed to protect the guilty. I now encourage you to read again the quoted scripture above. How do you reconcile these lifestyle choices with what Paul has taught us? You can't. But idiots will try.

What is modest about a Rolls-Royce or a mansion? Try and argue that point with a straight face. You might as well argue that a G-string on a stripper is modest attire because most of her privates are covered. It just boggles the mind. I know millionaires who are not even Catholic who live more modestly than these people.

Now, I am not going to go down the social justice Marxist path of guilt tripping people for not being poor. Being poor helps no one. If you have wealth, put it in the bank instead of inflating your lifestyle. That's just smart. It's even smarter if you invest in heavenly treasure. This would be helping someone who owns neither home nor car. But for the sake of your own soul, don't blow it on a Rolls-Royce. That is just ridiculous.

I am not into envy. Never have been, and never will be. The only thing I covet from a man is virtue. I am more impressed by the wealthy man who doesn't flaunt it than by the temporarily wealthy man trying to show off. I do not care about your ride, your home, your vacation home, your private jet, your yacht, or your trophy wife with the botox and artificial breasts.

I am grateful for the food on my table, the clothes on my back, and the roof over my head. God has not left me in want. I am content with these things. I am a nobody, so I don't waste my resources trying to change this or anyone's opinion of me. I prefer not to be envied because envy is essentially hatred. People will still envy you no matter what, but you shouldn't help them out on this. Live a simple and humble lifestyle. This is both holy and good sense.

It has been my experience that people who lack modesty in material things do not keep those things. Some wise up and opt for a simpler lifestyle. Others are forced into a simpler lifestyle as their fortunes change. As for those with modesty, it has been my experience that they enjoy lives of greater stability and tranquility. Those are the people I admire because they know the true value of things.