St. Francis deSales on “EXTERNAL MODESTY”

In his book, The Art of Loving God, St Francis deSales follows the chapter on Patience with a discussion on modesty. He writes about external modesty, or as he says “being modest in your bearing.” He then discusses interior modesty. We will look at modesty in our bearing this week. Next week we will look at the chapter, “The Practice of Interior Modesty.”

It is interesting how deSales connects external modesty with religious modesty. By religious modesty, he means how others perceive what our relationship to Christ might be. To explain this, he refers to the story of Martha and Mary. Martha was running around the house trying to set up everything for dinner for Jesus Christ. Mary simply sat at the feet of Jesus. As St.Francis says, “Oh my dear God, how modestly and devoutly we should lie down to rest if we saw thee!”

This kind of interior disposition is reflected in the way that we are seen by others. Francis DeSales refers to the other Saint Francis (probably Saint Francis of Assisi). The brown-robed saint passed through towns with great modesty of appearance. He did not speak much yet a great number of men followed him. They were attracted by the modest way in which he carried himself. DeSales writes “A modest demeanor is a silent sermon. It is a virtue that Saint Paul recommends for example to the Philippians by saying ‘Let your modesty be known to all men.'” (Philippians 4:5)

DeSales says that external demeanor is related to time, place, and person. This could be reflected by what we read in Ecclesiastes Chapter 3. DeSales says that it would look silly if someone would be standing all serious and dour in the midst of a party. It would be just as inappropriate if someone was laughing and acting silly during a serious event such as a funeral.

Just like he mentioned in the chapter on patience, DeSales says modesty is related to ourThe Art of Loving God St. Francis deSales state in life. A newly married woman with young children does not act like a religious sister. She would not be expected to keep her eyes lowered and walk around with a serious countenance. Religious carry themselves this way. It would be just as inappropriate if religious sisters spoke and acted the way that a married woman and mother does. People in authority should not be shy and reserved. They are in charge. They need to be forceful and commanding.

St. Francis recommends that we take an opportunity to look at the way that we carry ourselves. We should examine what we say, when, and how we say it. We should consider the appropriateness of our words and actions. Does our physical appearance and dress fit the times and situations? How does it affect the people we engage?

Next week we will examine what St. Francis deSales writes about internal modesty.


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