When we grow up learning about the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, we often learn about the extremes of those dispositions. Much like the Cardinal and Theological Virtues, we’re supposed to cultivate and live out the seven gifts and twelve fruits of the Holy. In fact, if we live virtuous lives – as we’re called to do – then we are living out the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
However, unlike the virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit can be misused and even take to the extreme.
How Can These Gifts Be Misused?
These extremes turn the gifts into an unrecognizable form, to where they become imperfections at the very least and sins at the very most. The most renowned example of this extremity is fortitude, also known as courage. To use the gift of courage properly you must have the virtues of faith, hope, and temperance. However, you must also use the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, and knowledge, as well as the fruit of patience.
Without faith, courage becomes self-centered as the person becomes single-minded without any regards to God’s will. Without hope and patience, courage is easily lost completely or becomes empty. Without temperance and wisdom, fortitude becomes foolhardiness. With foolhardiness, a person is likely to put himself or herself in unnecessary danger. Therefore, fortitude’s two extremes are foolhardiness on the one hand and desperation and hopelessness on the other.
What About Modesty?
Like fortitude, some dispositions are easy to find the extremes. However, other gifts and fruits are not as clear-cut. One such gift is modesty. After all, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where someone is too modest to a fault.
Today’s society and culture would have us believe that dressing and acting modesty is unnecessary and even sexist. They contend that “covering up” goes against women’s freedom. Furthermore, they believe that if you dress modestly, you’re a prude and self-righteous. Consequently, it would seem that modesty – when focused on dress – is up to personal preference.
To a certain extent, “covering up” does depend on personal preference. For example, some Christians believe women should only wear dresses, long sleeves, and high necklines; while laxer Christians believe shorts are OK to a certain length. Some people would contend that the belief in fully covering up with long sleeves and dress is being too modest. However, even though this may seem too modest to some Christians, it’s not an extreme to a fault like foolhardiness is to fortitude.
Modesty & Attitude
Unlike fortitude and other gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, modesty seems to have no dangerous extreme. However, it’s the motivation behind modesty that can cause the gift to be misused. By covering up because of shame due to imperfection or the belief that women are impure are motivations that can cause “extreme modesty”. Furthermore, dressing modestly while conveying harsh judgments on others and acting uncharitably can also be signs of a misguided virtue.
So, although modesty may not have the same extremes as fortitude, there can be problems with it nonetheless. When we exhibit virtue, and the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, we are called to be humble, contrite, and charitable in living them out. This is even more important with modesty and chastity, as these two virtues are the most apparent and outward signs that our society focuses on. By dressing and acting modestly and chastely with humility and charity, we are not only putting on Christ, but we are living examples of His love.