What do you think of when you consider who "you" are? Do you feel like you are a spiritual being, living in a body but separate from it?
While it's true that there is a difference between the material and immaterial part of who we are, that difference is not total.
Existing as a union of body and spirit, material and immaterial, humans stand alone in all of creation as the only beings created this way!
Our bodies are not something we have, but something we are.
And if you and I are made in the image and likeness of God, this means that our bodies are good! Consider that even the human person of God, Jesus Christ - the model after which all of humanity was formed - was made of the same “stuff” that you and I are made of.
Your stomach (even if you're conscious of a few extra pounds there) is the same kind of stomach that Jesus had. He tasted with the same kind of mouth that you have. The Son of God had normal bowel movements, vulnerabilities to getting cut or spraining an ankle; He cried when He felt sadness, and felt the rush of blood to his face when He got angry.
These bodies of ours are masterpieces!
Yet we so frequently ignore them, moving through our day mostly unaware of what is happening in them. At our worst, we punish or harshly criticize our bodies, hating them for not conforming to either the culture’s standard of beauty or our ideal of holiness.
It’s a common temptation, even for saints. Did you know that St. Francis of Assisi used to refer to his body as “Brother Ass”? He saw his body as a beast of burden that he had to beat into submission. This treatment was very closely connected to the way his father had treated him, and what he learned about himself at an early age as a result of that treatment. (St. Francis’ dad beat him and locked him in the basement for disobeying his commands.)
At the end of his life though, St. Francis apologized to this “brother” for treating it so harshly. As he grew in perfection and holiness, he realized that his body was not something to be so suspicious of and violent toward.
Over time, St. Francis changed the way he thought about himself, slowly moving away from the identity his dad had taught him to the way God—the “best of Fathers” (the title St. Francis often used to address God)—taught him about his identity as he grew.
Contrast this with St. Thérèse, whose father was extremely kind and generous with her. (She used to call him her “king.”) His fatherhood was much more closely aligned with the love of God, and consequently Thérèse learned more quickly who she truly was.
It is no surprise, then, that St. Thérèse only briefly considered harsh corporal penance as a means to sanctity. She knew this was not the proper way to treat her body, and moreover she knew focusing on those penances would be more of a distraction than a help. She still engaged in some corporal sacrifice such as fasting and enduring great discomfort at times, but all within a much better developed sense of the goodness of her bodily existence.
You might have a negative view of your body, or at least some part of it. Many people—especially in our culture, which is so obsessed with physical appearance—are embarrassed by certain physical imperfections. Others would much rather just forget about or ignore their bodies.
But when we let the assumption that something is bad about our bodies cause us to turn away and disregard them, we are disregarding our very selves.
This is not to say there may not be some sickness or disease, or even a legitimate physical deformity, that we need to learn to accept. All sickness, whether psychological, spiritual, or physical, is a result of our original break from God. Concupiscence is the fancy word that summarizes all the ways in which our world, including us in it, has been affected by the turning away of humanity from God’s plan.
Still, though, despite how deformed or disordered anything can be in this world, the fact remains: the deepest identity of human existence is that we are created in God’s image and are therefore good!
In his Theology of the Body, Pope St. John Paul II reveals just how good when he says that "the body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine." What he’s saying is that it is in and through our physical bodies that we come to know something of the spiritual and divine realities of our universe.
It is through our human bodies that we can gain clarity about our calling and about our vocation! Maybe it can help us appreciate our bodies more when we understand the mind-blowing truth that through our bodies we can come to know something of God.
Consider pausing for a moment to take a deep breath and become aware of your body in the here and now. What comes to mind when you think about your body? Is it difficult for you to appreciate it as being an image of the Divine?
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