JOURNEY OF FAITH
Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
Life is a journey of faith. But it is a journey of faith that is made in the body, the human body. And the journey will go as far and as well as the body sustains life. Anyone starting out on a journey of faith would do well to give a lot of attention to the body.
St. Paul is eloquent on the importance of the body in the spiritual life. “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one…I drive my body and I train it, for fear, that after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9: 25, 27) “For no one hates his own body, but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the Church.” (Eph. 5:28)
What is needed today is a clear understanding and a greater emphasis on the role and the destiny of the body. Western theology is almost exclusively intellectual. The body has always been a problem for Christianity. There is always a tendency to “angelism.” We speak of St. Aloysius, for example, as the “angelic youth.” And we are told that we should strive for “angelic purity.” But that is not possible for us. We are not angels, either literally or figuratively. Our model is not an angel but Jesus Christ, true God and true man.
One reason why the Pharisees rejected Jesus was because they could not accept the Incarnation, that the Word did become flesh. Manichaeism, which held that the human body was evil, was a powerful and influential heresy of the first centuries. Today the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme. If the culture in which we live has a god it is the human body, a young, healthy, beautiful human body. We should keep a balance. The body and soul are partners; they were made for each other. At death there is only a temporary separation. At the General Resurrection the body, a glorified body, will be reunited to the soul. The body participates in the battle of life it will also participate in the victory.
The body, of course, does present some difficulties for the spiritual life, but it is in solving these problems that we grow and mature into the person God created us to be. One of these problems is that as a result of original sin we do not have integrity; we do not have it all together. When we did enjoy the preternatural gift of integrity, the lower faculties were completely under the control of the higher faculties. Now, each faculty goes out after its own proper object, sight to color, hearing to sound, intellect to truth, will to good, and so with all the other faculties, heedless of the other faculties.
The imperfect control we now have comes only after much discipline and training. What we need most and want least is discipline. Discipline means taking exercises, eating a proper diet, and getting sufficient rest. The only exercise some people get is running down people, jumping to conclusions, and dodging responsibility. While a large part of the world’s population goes to bed hungry, in our country obesity is a serious national problem.
This does not mean that our culture does not have a concern and care for the body. In fact, our culture has an inordinate, superficial concern and care for the body. We are the cleanest, most hygienic, best groomed, sweetest smelling sinners this world has ever seen. “Save the surface and you save all,” might be a good slogan for a paint company but not for a Christian.
How important is the body? Well, it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. That makes the body a tabernacle, just like the one on the altar. That alone makes it important and demands respect.
The body is also the instrument of knowledge. All of the knowledge we have, even the most abstract, has come in originally through one of the senses of the body. The body is also the instrument of the communication of knowledge. Ordinarily, people do not and can not read our mind. We must communicate what we think through our body.
The body is also the instrument of grace. We receive the sacraments, the ordinary source of grace, through the body. We also exercise the theological virtues of faith, hope and love through the body
No one has to be told, of course, that the body is the instrument of sex, that the preservation of the human race comes through the body. The body is also the instrument of pleasure and pain. Most important of all the body is the vehicle of life. We live as long and as well as the body sustains life.
To care properly for the body it is not sufficient just to take the proper exercise, observe a good diet and get sufficient rest, it is also necessary to keep the moral law. What does the moral law have to do with the body? A common saying in medical ethics is, “Good moral is good medicine.”
When you buy a new car, you get with it an owner’s manual, which gives you instructions as to how to care for the car. These instructions are given not to limit your use of the car but to insure that you will get the maximum service out of it. Of course, the owner is free to disregard these instructions. After all it is his car. God created the human body and he knows exactly what it needs to function properly. And he gives us an owner’s manual with instructions, the moral law, as to how to care for it. We are free, of course, to disregard these instructions; after all it is our body.
Life is a journey of faith
that will go as far and as well as the body sustains life. By respecting
and caring for the body we honor God, serve our neighbor and save ourselves.
“So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:20) It is good spirituality
and good sense.
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