Temples of the Holy Spirit

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

St. Paul reminds us in the second reading this Sunday the intrinsic value of our body, its incomparable dignity and its supernatural meaning.

Pope St. John Paul II dedicated many catechesis during his general audiences to explain the meaning of our body. They were edited into a book entitled “Theology of the Body.” It was in the general audience on February 11, 1981 that he commented the passage we hear in the second reading taken from chapter 6 of the First letter to the Corinthians.

“”Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own”—Paul said this to the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:19), after having first instructed them with great severity about the moral requirements of purity. “Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18). The peculiar characteristic of the sin that the Apostle stigmatizes here lies in the fact that this sin, unlike all others, is against the body (while other sins are outside the body). In this way, we find in the Pauline terminology the motivation for expressions such as “the sins of the body” or “carnal sins.” These sins are in opposition precisely to that virtue by force of which man keeps his body in holiness and honor (cf. 1 Thess 4:3-5).

Such sins bring with them profanation of the body: they deprive the man’s or woman’s body of the honor due to it because of the dignity of the person. However, the Apostle goes further: according to him, sin against the body is also “profanation of the temple.” In Paul’s eyes, it is not only the human spirit, thanks to which man is constituted as a personal subject, that decides the dignity of the human body. But even more so it is the supernatural reality constituted by the indwelling and the continual presence of the Holy Spirit in man—in his soul and in his body—as fruit of the redemption carried out by Christ.

It follows that man’s body is no longer just his own. It deserves that respect whose manifestation in the mutual conduct of man, male and female, constitutes the virtue of purity. This is not only because it is the body of the person. When the Apostle writes: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God” (1 Cor 6:19), he intends to indicate yet another source of the dignity of the body, precisely the Holy Spirit, who is also the source of the moral duty deriving from this dignity.

The reality of redemption, which is also redemption of the body, constitutes this source. For Paul, this mystery of faith is a living reality, geared directly to every person. Through redemption, every man has received from God again, as it were, himself and his own body. Christ has imprinted on the human body—on the body of every man and every woman—new dignity, since, in himself, the human body has been admitted, together with the soul, to union with the Person of the Son-Word. With this new dignity, through the redemption of the body, a new obligation arose at the same time. Paul writes of this concisely, but in an extremely moving way: “You were bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20). The fruit of redemption is the Holy Spirit, who dwells in man and in his body as in a temple. In this Gift, which sanctifies every man, the Christian receives himself again as a gift from God. This new, double gift is binding. The Apostle refers to this binding dimension when he writes to believers, aware of the Gift, to convince them that one must not commit unchastity. One must not sin “against one’s own body” (ibid. 6:18). He writes: “The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (ibid. 6:13).

It is difficult to express more concisely what the mystery of the Incarnation brings with it for every believer. The fact that the human body becomes in Jesus Christ the body of God-Man obtains for this reason, in every man, a new supernatural elevation, which every Christian must take into account in his behavior with regard to his own body and, of course, with regard to the other’s body: man with regard to woman and woman with regard to man. The redemption of the body involves the institution, in Christ and through Christ, of a new measure of the holiness of the body. Paul refers precisely to this holiness in the First Letter to the Thessalonians (4:3-5) when he writes of “controlling one’s own body in holiness and honor.””

Fr. Roberto M. Cid