Friday, March 7, 2008

On the body

If you haven't ever read Mother Mary Francis, PCC (+2004), you should. And this is a great place to start: Anima Christi: Soul of Christ. She's a good read for the dull of mind.

I was slogging through the mucus and the chapter on "The Body of Christ." Recent conversations with Catholics/non-Catholics reluctant to receive the Church's teaching on contraception have made me acutely aware of the radicality of the Catholic view of the body. So, here are some excerpts and thoughts.

"Our bodies are so noble. The infamous carnal sinners of history are, not those who loved their bodies too much, but those who loved their bodies too little. They are those who failed to respect or perhaps even to understand the dignity of that masterpiece of the Father, the human body. It is a creation so marvelous that the Father did not hesitate to give it to his own divine, eternal, all-comprehensive expression of himself in the Incarnation of the Son, in the same way that it is given to us with the same senses and faculties possessed by our own bodies."

I first came across the theology of the body--a theology based so much on this joy in the body's nobility--in college. What the Church says about the body is almost impossible to hear. We experience it as either a pain--colds, flus, hungry, lustful, flabby, pimply--or a means to a quick fix of our ills--sex, food, drink, highs, inebriation.

But then, for the Christian, comes the challenge: the Word became flesh. The Creator himself made a statement--a single statement--about the body. He took it on; he saved it. For the rest of human history (that means, also, in my own heart) it must be worthy of reverence and a source of our own salvation.

"A lowly estimate of our bodies results in our becoming prey to all manner of sins. When we consider the body only a necessary adjunct so that the soul can get about, we do our body a great dishonor... Body and soul are co-related, coordinated from the act of creation onward. Both will endure."

When confronted with the radical and seemingly impossible call of sacramental marriage--openness to life, our bodies at the (loving!) disposal of one another until death, sickness, death--I must remind myself that it is a call as well to reverence the body. To reverence is not to pamper or indulge. To reverence is to bring the body into cooperation with my soul for the sole purpose of imitating Christ.

"It is the body of Christ in his human functioning, during the historical period of his corporeal activity upon this earth, when his body perfectly served his soul and his animating principle perfectly coordinated its activity with his body, that saves us. We do not see in ourselves or of ourselves these perfect coordinations. Rather, we know how often we are tossed about by our lack of coordination. The soul says to the body, 'Do not pass this boundary', and th body replies, 'I will!' The body wishes to and often enough does disobey the incorporeal faculties.

"It is only in Christ, the perfect man, the firstborn of all creation, that we see the perfect functioning of the body. And so it is his body that will save us, that will show us how to be whole. Salvation is wholeness of life, just as sanity is wholeness of mind... We cannot order ourselves about with a: 'Get in line there, body!' Rather, we need humbly to pray: 'Body of Christ, save me!'"

I am reminded of Peter, sinking into the sea as his gaze left the body of Christ. Jesus stood in his flesh on the water and, as long as Peter kept looking on the Son's flesh, he was able too to walk over that sea. As soon as he started to look at the waters, away from the body of Christ, however, he sank.

So like the sea are the seemingly impossible invitations (and they are only invitations) God makes on our flesh: illness, sleeplessness, pregnancy, fasting, prayer! I feel in my body the protests of my friends: "But I could have 14 children!" "How can the Church invade my body like that?" "It is impossible for anyone to lie like that!" "You need to take care of (meaning: indulge) yourself, not stress yourself!" "What about my career?" They are the cries of the drowning Peter.

Christ replies: "Do not be afraid!" He has already saved us.

One more meditation. Since it is Lent, and the passion is upon us again (and childbirth is almost upon me and Todd!), I was trying to visualize the body of Christ in its pain. Somehow, this, too, must become beautiful to our hearts as we love him more and more.

I was looking at him stretched out on the ground as the soldiers beat him with rods and whips. It seemed we have only one choice: We can stand and watch (and perhaps even participate), or lie down with him on that ground. I don't know what this means--in real life--but I do know that whatever our choice, he has already shown his mercy. His body has already saved us.

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