16. Body/Person

How does your body belong to who you really are? It reveals your presence. It is your person that is bodily present to others, and as such, your body shares the dignity of your person. It is through our bodies that we reach one another. Through the eyes of others we see ourselves. What a child or youth or ex-prison inmate sees in another’s eyes can make or break their chances in life. When they look to you for a sign of their own worth, do they see someone who believes in them (still) or doesn’t, or who leaves them not knowing? Have you ever noticed that little look of disappointment in a child’s eyes when some over-careful adult, out of fear of being misjudged, denied the child the palpable sign of affection it was innocently looking for?

It is through our bodies that we find intimacy. Being male or female is not additional to being a person. It is the way you are a person. Sexuality is nature’s first hint that we become ourselves through being “for others.” This is symbolised especially in the marriage relationship. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacrament; in other words, God’s own life-giving, self-giving, love for the husband and wife is made present to them - em-bodied - in their love for each other. Christian marriage is intended to mirror the completeness of Christ’s love for us:

This is my body (my self) given up for you…my blood (my life) poured out for you. (Luke 22:19-20)

Sexual differentiation and complementarity are part of the “language” that points to our destiny as a communion of persons sharing the same wonderful life.

When human sexuality is turned from being an expression of self-giving into an expression of grasping and possessing, the other is being treated not as a person to be loved, but as an object to be used. You are a gift to others - your true self - only when you treat others as persons.

Self-respect, respect for others, and self-control make for chastity. A society that makes light of chastity and winks at pornography in the name of freedom brings on itself precisely those behaviors that involve lack of self-respect, lack of respect for others, and lack of self-control. Society’s confusion about sexuality has consequences beyond sexuality itself.

It is your person that is bodily present to others, and as such, your body shares the dignity of your person.

From her experience of New Zealand prisons, Celia Lashlie found that “the attitudes held by many male offenders towards women ... often lay at the heart of the reasons why they were in prison” (The Journey to Prison). Can society be serious about reducing sexual abuse and domestic violence if it believes that sexual self-indulgence is “harmless,” and that expecting self-control (chastity) is unrealistic? Chastity matters because persons matter. It is about treating yourself and others as persons, not as objects to be exploited, dominated, or trivialised.

The human community to which we are linked through our bodies includes not only our contemporaries, but the generations before us. Each of us has an historical context, a story, that goes back to before we were born. Your way of being you is linked to the ways of your ancestors.

A people’s “ways” are their culture. Culture is not something people can pick up or put down. Our ancestors are our roots, and we are their shoots, branches, and blossoms. Cut off from our culture, we are cut off from our natural ways of being ourselves. Respect for persons includes respect for their culture, the “ways” that are culturally natural to them.

Cultures can also be de-humanising and not life-giving. Every culture needs to be purified. As Christ’s gospel gradually changes ourselves, it transforms our relationships, our “ways,” and society. It touches all that is human. But “there is no new humanity if there are not first of all new persons” (Pope Paul VI, Letter on Evangelisation).

Sometimes the body has been given a bad name, through a misunderstanding of what Scripture means by “spiritual” - as if the body gets in the way of our spiritual relationship with God. But in the writings of Paul, your “spiritual” self is your whole self (body and soul) when your life is turned towards God. And it is your whole self (soul as well as body) that is “unspiritual” when your life is turned away from God.

God, too, is revealed through the human body. The incarnation is the invisible God being made visible. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

We come to be aware of God in ways that are natural to us as human persons. The sights, sounds, and smells associated with the places and times of Christian rites and ceremonies, feast days, devotions, and decorations deeply impact our consciousness, creating a sense of what it’s like to be who we are. It is your whole self (body as much as soul) that you put into your worship when you participate in the postures, gestures, stillness, movements, words, songs, and silences of the whole community acting as “one body, one spirit, in Christ.” And it is your whole person - body, mind, and spirit - that will be glorified.

My heart is glad, my soul rejoices; even my body shall rest in hope. (Psalm 16)

For Practice

Cultural and ethnic differences can make us more aware of the humanity we have in common, and of each individual’s uniqueness in the whole of creation. Try becoming more aware of this when you are close to others, especially those who are “strangers.”

For Prayer

To your eyes a thousand years
are like yesterday, come and gone,
no more than a watch in the night.
You sweep us mortals away like a dream,
like grass which springs up in the morning.
In the morning it springs up and flowers:
by evening it withers and fades ...

Our span is seventy years
or eighty for those who are strong ...

Make us know the shortness of our life
that we may gain wisdom of heart.

Psalm 90:4-6, 10, 12