Body and soul

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

In the second reading proclaimed this Sunday, St. Paul exhorts us not to live according to the flesh but rather to put to death the works of the flesh and live according to the spirit. It is a passage from the letter to the Romans that we have been reading sequentially for the last couple of weeks and will continue to read through the end of July.

St. Paul is in no way diminishing the worth of our bodies or pitting them in opposition to the spirit in the style of new age spirituality. This passage does not mean that we ought to have contempt for our bodies or reject our corporality, our being embodied spirits. We are neither Gnostics nor Manicheans, we are Christians. Created reality is good. Everything that exists received its being from God who is good, and therefore its essence and act of existence are good. Human nature is good. So much so that it has been assumed by God Himself. Jesus Christ is true God and true man.

We, Christians, affirm the goodness of everything that exists. Yet we know that, as St. Paul also states in the same letter to the Romans, creation is crying with birth pangs awaiting the full manifestation of the freedom of the children of God. Day is dawning, night is fading away. The Kingdom of God is present in our midst but not yet fully manifest.

We, Christians, affirm the goodness of the body. Matter is not evil, it is good because it has been created by God who is not only good, but goodness itself. While it is true that this human nature incarnate in us is wounded, our nature is good. Christ is fully man. In him, human nature shines forth in all its splendor. He fully and irrevocably embraced our human nature, becoming similar to us in everything except sin.

Precisely on account of our wounds, we struggle against sin. Our wounded human nature, including our bodies, although good is subject to passions and disordered appetites that if left unchecked turn against us and drive us away from the healing grace that Christ lavishly bestows on us because of his mercy.

It is important that we take to heart and live out the vision of the human person that follows from the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Second Vatican Council presented an outstanding exposition on human nature, its dignity and calling in the Pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et spes.

“According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown.

Sacred Scripture teaches that man was created “to the image of God,” is capable of knowing and loving his Creator, and was appointed by Him as master of all earthly creatures that he might subdue them and use them to God’s glory. “What is man that you should care for him? You have made him little less than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under his feet”.

But God did not create man as a solitary, for from the beginning “male and female he created them”. Their companionship produces the primary form of interpersonal communion. For by his innermost nature man is a social being, and unless he relates himself to others he can neither live nor develop his potential.

Therefore, as we read elsewhere in Holy Scripture God saw “all that he had made, and it was very good”.

Although he was made by God in a state of holiness, from the very onset of his history man abused his liberty, at the urging of the Evil One. Man set himself against God and sought to attain his goal apart from God…

Therefore man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. Indeed, man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully, so that everyone feels as though he is bound by chains. But the Lord Himself came to free and strengthen man, renewing him inwardly and casting out that “prince of this world” who held him in the bondage of sin. For sin has diminished man, blocking his path to fulfillment.

The call to grandeur and the depths of misery, both of which are a part of human experience, find their ultimate and simultaneous explanation in the light of this revelation.

Though made of body and soul, man is one. Through his bodily composition he gathers to himself the elements of the material world; thus they reach their crown through him, and through him raise their voice in free praise of the Creator. For this reason man is not allowed to despise his bodily life, rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and honorable since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day. Nevertheless, wounded by sin, man experiences rebellious stirrings in his body. But the very dignity of man postulates that man glorify God in his body and forbid it to serve the evil inclinations of his heart.”

That is exactly the point that St. Paul is making in the second reading. We need to reign in our inordinate passions, our disordered inclinations and miseries in order to live the fullness of life. Paradoxically, our contemporary culture idolizes the body on the one hand while promoting a vision of the human person that encourages its abuse. We, Christians, on the other hand, do not idolize the body, yet we recognize that it has an incomparable dignity and treat it with the great reverence that is due. Putting to death the works of the flesh means acknowledging our wounds, our frailty and our need for the healing grace of God, turning away from sin, having recourse to His mercy and actively cultivating the virtue of chastity among others so as to glorify God with our bodies.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid