by Colleen Hammond
I’m glad I got the mail that day instead of my children.
Living in the country, our mailbox is a quarter of a mile from the house, and the children — ages 8, 6, 4 and 2 — take delight in running down to the box to get the mail. It also helps them burn off some extra energy.
I was headed out for an emergency trip to the grocery store that afternoon and stopped to get the mail myself. We had received a postcard.
One of my husband Dennis’ boyhood buddies (I’ll call him Ted) was in Hawaii and though he’d favor us with a correspondence. Ted is a cradle Catholic, married, in his 40′s, and has four children of his own.
Since one of the lines in Ted’s postcard stated that he, ‘liked the absence of swimwear’ on the Islands, I’ll leave it to your imagination what the picture on the front of the postcard contained — or rather, didn’t contain. In short, it was something inappropriate for a married man to send to another married man — let alone to a home where four young children reside.
In addition to giving me fodder for this column, the postcard stimulated an interesting discussion between Dennis and me. The conversation revolved around the main issues that men and women struggle with in our daily walk toward heaven.
Dennis and I concluded that one of the chief temptations women must contend with is that of engaging in detraction.
“Now, let’s fact it,” I told Dennis defensively. “Women have four hormones that are constantly fluctuating. Basically, that means when we wake up in the morning, we’re not quite sure who we’re going to be on that particular day. It just depends on the particular combination of hormones how we’ll react to circumstances.”
Dennis chuckled knowingly.
“We’re emotional creatures,” I continued. “So if someone has hurt us or a loved one, and we’re in an emotional state, we just might engage in some detraction. Rash judgment and calumny are a possibility, too!”
“Does that make it okay?” he asked dubiously.
“No, but it helps you to understand us better, ” I offered.
But we both agreed that men have the toughest battle in our culture of death — their struggle to retain custody of the eyes.
I realize that there may be some exceptions, but women as a whole don’t look at men lustfully.
But God created men differently. They have one hormone, which is responsible for the procreation of the species. That hormone remains at the same high level all the time. And many men, with that one hormone raging, never seem to grow beyond the mentality of a 16-year-old when it comes to ogling the female anatomy (e.g. Ted and the above mentioned postcard.)
“There’s a difference between admiring God-given beauty and ogling,” Dennis said. “Ogling could be many things, but it isn’t chaste.”
Granted, chastity is chiefly a personal task. But it also involves a cultural effort, as there is “an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society” (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 25.) We’re not getting much cultural help for our men and boys.
You’ve seen the same magazine covers at the checkout stand that I have. Then there’s the commercials on TV that try to stimulate lustful thoughts, not to mention the current fashions women wear. Even going to the mall is like driving past a car accident — we don’t want to look, but we find ourselves staring in shocked disbelief.
What must our men and boys be going through? Jesus said that if a man even looks at a woman lustfully, he has committed adultery with her in his heart (cf. Matthew 5:27-28). Our guys have a tough row to hoe.
So I asked Dennis a delicate question: “What do you do if you find yourself ‘looking’?”
“I stop looking,” he responded thoughtfully. “I think of you and the children, say a prayer to Saint Joseph and Saint Michael, and by that time everything is okay.”
But it got me thinking: am I guilty of dressing in a provocative manner? Would our Blessed Mother wear the clothing that I have on right now? How about what I wore to the store the other day? Or what I planned to wear to Sunday Mass the following day?
The next morning in the church parking lot, a woman in a bright fuchsia suit caught my eye. She was a very attractive, well –endowed woman wearing a snug, low-cut top paired with a skin-tight short skirt, and she was walking toward a group of men who were chatting outside the front door of the church. I was interested to see how the men responded, as I had found myself starting at her.
As she strode by, the entire group of men stopped their conversation. They looked her over tope to bottom, and then returned to their discourse without missing a beat. It was as if nothing had happened! After Mass, I sent Dennis on a mission to talk with the men involved. The amazing thing is that none if them remembered the incident.
“That’s how natural it is for men to look, ” Dennis remarked. “Was I ogling, or was it admiring?”
“Based on what she was wearing, I’d say it was closer to ogling,” I replied.
No, I’m not suggesting we dress like a character from Jane Austen’s books (although I’d love it!) But as women we do have a responsibility to make sure we dress our daughters and ourselves in a chaste manner. Add that to keeping a rein on our tongues, and it figures to be a pretty full day requiring lots of prayer!
But our men and sons still have the toughest job in today’s culture: the responsibility to keep custody of their eyes and thoughts.
“A job that would be a lot easier,” Dennis added, “if our friends sent postcards with sunsets and palm trees.”
Copyright Colleen M. Hammond 2001