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Scene from the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo
Scene from the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo
Photo Credit: Catholic News Service

ARCHBISHOP | Look to God to find the meaning of the body

Communion and self-gift are two meanings of the body that come from God

Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry. There’s a deep connection between body and soul: states of the soul naturally express themselves in bodily actions.

It works the other way, too. A touch, a hug, an embrace can lift a soul: “you are loved.” A dismissive look, a wave of the hand, or sharp words can wound a soul deeply: “you’re not worthwhile.”

God made us to be a union of body and soul, to bear His image not only in our souls but also in our bodies. The Catechism states this very directly: “God … impressed His own form on the flesh He had fashioned, in such a way that even what was visible might bear the divine form.”

Of course, if the body is so important in God’s plan, it will become a key target for the enemy, who wants to twist God’s plan. That’s where we find ourselves today: in a battle over the meaning of the body.

So we find people searching for the meaning of their bodies: wondering if they’re in the right body, engaging in sexual exploration to find themselves, feeling the need to have a tattoo artist write a meaning onto their bodies, because they haven’t found one already written there by God.

The search is exactly right! But faith tells us that we don’t create the meaning of the body, we can only receive it from God. The solution our culture proposes – “Invent your own meaning!” – isn’t working. The more desperately we’ve tried to create meaning for ourselves, the more anxious we’ve become.

Let me suggest that we look to God to find the meaning of the body, and that two key features of God that are “written into the body” are communion and self-gift. The more we recover these truths, the more peace we’ll have about the meaning of our bodies.

God is a Trinity, a communion of persons. Since we’re made in God’s image, not only do our souls long for communion, our bodies were made for it. Each of us, as man or woman, have distinct ways of giving and receiving love. Those ways of giving and receiving draw us into genuine communion. And genuine communion brings us peace, because we’re reflecting God’s image in body and soul.

Jesus’ life shows that we’re made for self-giving, and a self-giving that involves sacrifice. Again, our souls long for this, and our bodies were made for it. The more self-centered we become (“look at me!”), and the more self-gratification we seek (taking rather than giving), the less we become like God, in whose image we were made. By contrast, the more deeply we give of ourselves — even to the point of sacrifice — the more deeply we reflect the image of God, and come to peace.

Whatever undermines genuine communion and self-gift deepens the current crisis about the meaning of the body. It separates the truth of the soul from the truth of the body. And we have a name for the separation of body and soul: we call it death.

Communion and self-gift are central to the mystery of who God is. We’re meant to carry that mystery both in our souls and in our bodies. Only when we keep the two together – body and soul – will we be truly alive.

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