By Rose Leigh & Amber Kinloch
Catholics are known for many things. One is the set of ‘calisthenics’ we perform at Mass, which often bewilders newcomers—we stand, then sit, then stand again, sit again, stand again, kneel, etc. Another is the belief in the Real Presence of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist, an idea which has been shocking people since the events of John chapter 6. In addition, Catholics often make the news for taking controversial stands on hot-button issues like abortion, same-sex unions, and other issues that are considered by many in society to be ‘private’ decisions because they pertain to an individual’s body.
Overall, it’s evident that the Church places special emphasis on the human body and what we do with our bodies. Many people view Church teachings and practices pertaining to the body as strange, controversial, intolerant, or even downright harmful. Why would the Church even be interested in how people choose to treat their bodies? Shouldn’t Catholics just be concerned with saving people’s souls?
The crux of the matter is, what we do with our bodies is intrinsically linked with our souls. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
“The human body shares in the dignity of ‘the image of God’: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit (CCC 364).”
That’s a bit complex to take in all at once. Let’s break down this passage piece by piece.
In the Image of God
“The human body shares in the dignity of ‘the image of God’…”
In Genesis 1:27, we read: “God created man in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” What does it mean to be made in God’s own image?
“The image of God” doesn’t signify a visual type of image. Rather, CCC 357 explains that “the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone.” Unlike all the animals that God created, we possess self-knowledge, understanding, and free will. We are persons, like God, who are capable of having relationships with Him and other people. And our hearts are incomplete until we let God’s love fill them. This is the Church’s ultimate goal: to bring all people to a personal relationship with God.
Unity of Body and Soul
“… it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul…”
God created us in the physical world, with bodies as well as souls. He didn’t give the angels bodies; instead, the angels are pure spirits with far more powerful wills and intellects than us. And He didn’t give the animals rational or immortal souls. As human beings, we have a unique unity of body and soul.
Our bodies aren’t merely prisons or near occasions of sin that we have to ignore or punish for the sake of our souls. On the other hand, bodily pleasures and physical realities aren’t the whole picture, either. Both the body and the soul are essential parts of our being, and their unity in us as human beings is a unique reflection of God’s wisdom and glory. Man is said to be the pinnacle of physical creation because of this unity.
Therefore, the Church takes an interest in how our actions affect both our bodies and our souls. You can’t separate the two. For instance, that’s why we stand, kneel, and sit at specific times throughout the Mass; our bodies show our interior dispositions in prayer.
Our Final Purpose
“… and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit.”
We can serve God in this world with our bodies to attain the ultimate goal of Heaven. In this life, we are called to be stewards of Creation, bring other people to Christ, and worship God with both body and soul.
When we turn away from this calling and sin with our bodies, it affects our souls as well. We should take to heart St. Paul’s admonition: “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 purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). A “temple,” i.e., a sacred space. And we don’t do whatever we please in or with a sacred space, lest we profane it.
Let’s not forget, while this earth may only be a temporary home for us and while our souls are torn from our bodies at death, we will receive our bodies back. Not just a body. It will be our body, resurrected either unto eternal glory or torment. Given that, how seriously should we take these sins committed against our own bodies (1 Corinthians 6:18)? On the other hand, how much we have to look forward to if we strive to use our bodies well in the service of the Lord.
Rose has been drawing and writing since she could hold a pencil, creating worlds of giants, fairies, and adventurers from her imagination. She works as a graphic designer and loves discussing the good and creative aspects of literature, art, and film.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.