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May 27, 2018

ON THE SANCTITY OF THE HUMAN BODY

Pastors corner with Fr Henry Ibe
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Today, St Paul is emphatic that we must glorify God with our bodies. In the Ancient Greek culture under which he was writing to the Corinthians, there was a negative anthropology that discriminated between the body and the soul. The body was considered useless and the soul very important. Even the philosophers of those days saw the body as a prison where the soul was trapped like a ghost inside a machine. Consequently, the Greeks tended to be extremely lax in matters of sexual morality. Since the body didn’t really matter, it did not really matter what people chose to do with it.
Seeking to overturn this mind set, St Paul argues that sexual morality and bodily purity do really matter. We cannot achieve meaning and happiness by doing whatever pleased us with our bodies. We are no animals or insects living only for instinct and pleasure. For St Paul, when Christ saved us, he saved the whole human person, body and soul. Through baptism our bodies become members of Christ and our faith makes us one in Spirit with him. Therefore, body and soul are intrinsically linked, and whatever we do either brings both body and soul closer to God, or pushes both further away from him.
It was strange for the Corinthians to be told to glorify God in their bodies, by staying away from sexual immorality. And in a sense, it’s also strange for us today, because our culture has revived the ancient pagan view of the human body. Many of the most common and prominent sins of our society flow directly from the mistaken denial of the spiritual dimension of the human body. Many today view the body as something we own and with which we can do as we please. This mentality leads to an alienation of the body from the person; instead of the body being an integral part of who we are, it becomes on object of utility and pleasure. Hence, we also tend to see other people’s bodies as mere objects of personal gratification.
According to the hedonistic culture of the day, whoever feels attracted to anyone should be free to “hook up” with him/her without any regard for morality or social convention. As a result, human sexuality becomes a toy or a game that one plays just for the fun of it. This viewpoint completely negates the unitive and procreative dimensions of sexuality ordained in the institution of marriage. It forgets that sexuality is a divine gift that has a sacred meaning. When two people come together in that way, their souls are necessarily involved, not just their bodies. This is also the reason behind Christ’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, another scourge that is rampant in our culture. When a man and wife come together in marriage, they don’t just make a business contract, they establish a covenant of love and mutual fidelity, and a unique bond between their entire lives, body and soul. This is the marriage bond, and once it is truly formed, it can only be broken by death
The sin of pornography – one of today’s most lucrative industries – is another way that our culture shows its pagan view of the relationship between body and soul. Pornography treats human beings as if they were only bodies, only objects to be consumed and enjoyed. But one cannot treat a human being like a thing without damaging his or her own soul and that of the other person. Because we are people and not things, our bodies and our souls are linked. That’s how the Maker designed us.
Euthanasia is another symptom of this modern paganism, as are artificial reproduction, cloning, illicit drugs, and many other popular practices that make an unnatural and dangerous separation between the body and the soul. They are all signs of the culture of death, which denies the transcendent meaning to life beyond pleasure and comfort.
Even in death, the human body remains sacred and should always be treated with the respect and dignity it deserves. This brings to the fore the odd practice of hiring funeral undertakers to dance with and throw around the human body in the name of “celebrating life”. No matter the age or achievement of the deceased, or the wealth of the family, death is and should always be a solemn and somber moment – a moment to reflect on the life that has been, and to ponder our own mortality.
Equally worrisome is the unhealthy tendency for some priests to show up late for funeral masses, leaving the grieving families to stand outside the church with the body of their loved ones for long periods of time. This does not only show disrespect to the body of the departed Christian but also puts further emotional and psychological strains on the family. A change of attitude is imperative here!
However, St Paul reminds us today, like he reminded the Corinthians, that Christ has freed us from all of that. Christ has taken on our human nature, body and soul. He suffered, died, and rose again, body and soul. And he ascended into heaven, where he reigns and rules, body and soul. And through his generous grace, he has united us to himself, body and soul. Christ has freed us from slavery to our physical instincts! Thus, we must be mindful that every aspect of our human nature has a beautiful, meaningful, spiritual dimension. By discovering and living out that dimension, we can, as St Paul exhorts us, glorify God in bodies! The sacraments remind us of this, because they touch us both in body and soul. Each sacrament uses natural, material substances like water, oil, or bread to bring supernatural, spiritual grace into our lives.
Therefore, let us thank the Lord today for revealing to us the truth about the human body and sexual morality. Let us ask him for the grace to respect our bodies and those of other people as sacred temples of the Holy Spirit. And as we receive him in Holy Communion, body and blood, soul and divinity, let us ask him for the courage to offer him the gift of ourselves in return. Amen!

 


 

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