Today is the 13th Sunday in Ordinary time, and this year it is also about the halfway point between the Feast of the Ascension and the Feast of the Assumption. Both of those events involve a body going to Heaven. Today, I would like us to think about the importance of our bodies in God’s plan of creation, redemption, and eternal life.
About five weeks ago, we celebrated the Ascension, in which Jesus Christ rose up to Heaven by his own power, rising up in his glorified body. He rose up to Heaven to take his seat on his throne at the right hand of the Father. He rose up to Heaven to return to the Father after giving us the gift of salvation through his sacrifice on the Cross. After he ascended, the angels told the disciples that Jesus would return in the same way.
What does the Ascension teach us about the human body? In the first place, it teaches us that God has sanctified it in a mysterious way. The Ascension confirms that the human body has been raised to a new level of dignity by Jesus Christ. He is God, and in that sense he is pure spirit. But he is also human, and in that sense has a body. As Father Neil has preached in the past, there has always been a temptation to separate the spirit from the body, but the Church has always pointed to the example of Jesus as it insists that the human person is integrated, both body and spirit. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the soul is the formal cause of the body: the soul is the essential thing that defines the human body. Animals have bodies but not souls, which is why they do not compare to the human person’s body.
In seven weeks we will celebrate the Assumption of Mary, when Mary was taken up by God’s power into Heaven with her uncorrupted body intact. Mary is important to us in so many ways, from being the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church to being the first and best disciple of Christ. She also shows us what we can look forward to. Mary is as we hope to be. She is without sinful inclinations, which we all hope for. She is perfectly docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, which we all pray for. She is also with her Son in Heaven in her glorified body, which we all hope for. The Assumption teaches us that Mary went to Heaven bodily, and we can hope for a bodily experience of Heaven like her.
So, both of these important feasts in the life of the Church have much to say about the importance of our bodies. First of all, they teach us that our bodies are a gift to us from God. Secondly, they teach us that our bodies in some mysterious way are eternal. Our souls never die, as our bodies do, but our bodies will be restored and reunited with our souls when Jesus comes on the day of judgment.
We see this in the Psalm today:
Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.Psalm 16:9-10
We who seek to be faithful to the God who made us for himself should be mindful of the ultimate incorruptibility of our bodies. St. Paul puts it plainly to the church in Corinth when he writes to them in this way. He says:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body.1 Cor 6:19-20
Our bodies are a precious gift from God. They are not ours to use and to abuse. Christ died for our sins so that we could be with him in Heaven forever, forever with him in our glorified bodies, which were given to us and will be restored to us by God.
In our respect for our bodies, Christians stand apart from the ways of the world. The cemetery on Dallas Highway has a marketing sign asking “Have an urn at home? We have creative solutions for you.” As Christians, we are supposed to demonstrate our respect for the human body and the ultimate reunion of body and soul in how we handle death. For the longest time, the Church did not endorse cremation, for the body was burned up. Cremation is now an acceptable practice, but the Church asks that we deal with the ashes of our loved one in a way that respects our belief in bodily resurrection at the end of time. We really should not have an urn at home, where it might be knocked over and cleaned up like a houseplant. We really should not scatter another’s ashes over multiple locations, as that is hardly consistent with an understanding that the body and soul will be reunited when Jesus comes again in glory.
In our respect for bodies, Christians stand apart from the ways of the world. This is especially clear when it comes to the use and sale of human body parts. Undercover video revealed a few years ago that in addition to the terrible practice of abortion there was another horror of the selling of the aborted children’s bodies. Our bodies are not just a bunch of parts that can be traded like used auto parts.
St. Paul makes this point in his letter to the Galatians today. He says:
For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.Gal 5:13
We were made for freedom, but not freedom as the world understands the word. According to the world, freedom is the license to do whatever I want. If we approach our bodies understanding freedom as the world does, then there is nothing wrong about trafficking in human body parts. According to the world, there is nothing disrespectful about keeping dear old dead GrandDad in an urn by the recliner since he loved to watch football there.
The world has chosen the wrong definition of freedom. Authentic freedom is conforming my entire self (body, mind, will) to the One who created me to love him. Real freedom is submitting to the truth, the way, and the life. Binding ourselves to the Way of the Cross is how we experience true freedom.
True freedom starts with freedom from the lies of the Devil. Never forget that Jesus described Satan in two critical ways. He called the Devil the ruler of this world. He also called him the Father of Lies. Real freedom therefore means that we receive the messages of the world open to the very real possibility that they are false, or wicked, or both.
Transgenderism is of course the most pernicious lie about the human body the Devil is promoting as freedom these days. Rather than responding with love to people who are suffering from emotional and spiritual confusion, the world offers to help them disfigure themselves. Rather than share the truth about the human person and our bodies, the world offers to inject some hormones and suppress others to perpetuate the lie that our bodies are ours to use and misuse as we like. The sad consequence of these unloving responses to human suffering is just deeper suffering, for true freedom and true peace can only be found in the God who loved us enough to share our human bodily experience and then die like us so we could live with him.
As Christians, we struggle with living in a fallen world. This world is ruled by the Devil and soaked in lies, yet we must march forward guided by the Kingdom of Heaven and the Author of Life. I think this might be what Jesus is saying when he says to his disciples:
“Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”Luke 9:59
Jesus is telling his disciples (you and me) that authentic freedom jars the ears of the earthly minded. We are called to evangelize with our lives. We are called to evangelize as Jesus did, just walking around talking to ordinary people and showing them the truth about love and freedom through his own actions. Many who heard him and saw him turned away from him. A very small number decided to follow him. Those that turned away were caught up in worldly thinking. Worldly thinking leads us to understand the human person wrongly: we are dust to dust completely, our bodies are temporary in nature, something owned by us, they are parts of a machine, a disposable utensil.
Disciples of Christ understand our bodies are gifts to us from our Creator who loves us. We should care for our bodies. We should respect our bodies as God respects them: they will be with us forever in Heaven.
Our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit. In a few minutes, at Holy Communion, those who receive will take into their bodies the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. He will make his habitation in our bodies. May we see our bodies as He sees them.