Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Human Body: It Matters

(Ascension Thursday 2016: This homily was given on May 5, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 1: 1-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Ascension Thursday 2016]

There are three possible attitudes that a person can have toward his or her body:

·         It doesn’t matter
·         It’s all that matters
·         It matters

“It doesn’t matter” is an attitude that’s very common these days.  It’s the attitude, for example, of those who abuse drugs or alcohol.  It’s the attitude of those who live a promiscuous lifestyle: people who treat their own bodies and the bodies of others as objects—as objects for their pleasure and amusement.  It’s the attitude of those who don’t take proper care of their bodies—of those who aren’t good stewards of their physical health.  It’s the attitude of abortionists and of people who support things like euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.  And it’s definitely the attitude of the growing number of people in our society who want to normalize so-called “transgenderism”.  Now that might sound strange, because these men and women seem to be obsessed with the physical.  But in reality they’re not.  In reality, the supporters of transgenderism say to the rest of us, “The human body is irrelevant; it doesn’t matter.  Therefore you can do whatever you want with it, and you can do whatever you want to it.  You can pamper it if you so choose (if that’s what makes you ‘happy’), but you can also abuse it and mutilate it in any way you please—even by removing otherwise healthy body parts.  And, of course, you should be able to take that body of yours into whatever locker room or restroom you feel like taking it into.  That’s a given.  And it others don’t like it or are offended by it, too bad—because their bodies don’t matter either.”

Welcome to our modern, “advanced” society.

That’s the first possible attitude a person can have toward his or her body (or the body of another human being): It doesn’t matter.

The second possible attitude is at the opposite end of the spectrum, and it says that the human body is all that matters—in other words, that it’s the only thing that matters in life.

“The cult of the body” is what Pope John Paul II called it.

This is the attitude of many people who currently work in the entertainment and advertising industries—and in the fitness world: places where we’re constantly given the message that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you is that you get old.

Well, let me tell you, my brothers and sisters, it’s gonna happen—you WILL get old!—no matter how many miles you run, no matter how many reps you do at the gym, and no matter how much anti-wrinkle cream you use on your face.

Hopefully that’s not news to anyone here!

It certainly shouldn’t be.

The proper attitude toward the body, of course, is the third one I mentioned at the beginning of my homily.  As I just said, at one extreme you have those who say the body doesn’t matter at all, and at the other extreme you have those who say the body is the only thing that matters in this life.  But then you have those who take the middle position (the right one), and who say, very simply, that the human body “matters”.  It’s not all that matters—in its present state it’s not immortal like our soul is—but it’s still important.  Which means that we should respect it, and care for it in reasonable ways, and nourish it properly, and use it to serve our neighbor and to demonstrate our love for God.

This is an important lesson that we learn from the Ascension of Jesus.  When our blessed Lord ascended into heaven 40 days after he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, he did so with his human body.  It wasn’t just his soul that went into the kingdom of God; his body did as well.  That little fact is extremely significant, because it means that ever since Ascension Thursday, heaven has been inhabited by a divine Person who has a body like ours (although his body is already in a glorified state).

Jesus, in and through his Ascension, has made it clear that our human body has value—great value—even in its present mortal condition, because someday it will be resurrected and will exist (if we go to heaven) in a glorified and immortal condition.

This is why, incidentally, the Church says that the human body is to be treated with respect and care even after death.  And that respect is to be shown even if the deceased person is cremated.  The ashes of our deceased relatives are not to be kept on the mantle in the living room, or scattered to the four winds at Misquamicut Beach, or left at various places on the Camino de Santiago in Spain (as Martin Sheen’s character did in the movie, “The Way”).  They’re to be kept together and interred with the proper burial rites of the Church—because those are the ashes of a human body: a human body that will be raised from the dead at the end of the world, a human body that will be reunited with its soul, a human body that will become immortal.

A human body, in other words, that matters.