Human body is meant to be holy


Christmas is almost here! There are lots of things we see this time of year that help us take joy in the meaning of Christmas: manger scenes, images of angels and stars, and so on. But there is something that we normally don’t think of which strikes to the core of the special meaning Christmas has for all of us: your body!

That’s right! Your BODY! One of the most amazing things about Christmas is the fact that the invisible, infinite God actually took on visible human flesh: a mind-blowing event that really occurred! That’s who Jesus is: God enfleshed! And that must therefore mean that flesh – the human body – is meant to be holy. That makes Christianity pretty special in world culture. Most philosophies (and religions) are OK with the “soul” being holy, but not so much the “body,” which has often been seen in world cultures as less holy, even to be avoided.

But not so we Christians. We are positive folks with an amazing message to share. We have always believed that the body is a special part of the human person. The holiness of human flesh shared by God has profound implications for us and our culture regarding how we must therefore treat and relate to the human body – our own body and those of others. It affects, for example, medical moral decisions, or how we relate to the poor, the unborn, and other social justice issues. The holiness of the body which Jesus demonstrates by that first Christmas (and also later with His bodily Resurrection) also has a lot of amazing implications for another positive dimension of human bodies designed by God: the area of sexuality.

Within my own Christian tradition (the Catholic Church), we’ve been on the forefront for decades of defending and promoting a deep respect for the profound meaning and power of human love – especially intimate human love which involves not only the soul, but also the body. For example, St. John Paul II, back in the 1980s, reflected on the Bible (especially passages from Genesis, Matthew, and Ephesians) to show that intimate marital love is meant to be all about “mutual self-giving”: an amazing and powerful visible sign in this world of the invisible mutual self-giving love of God. How does God give Himself to us? Through Jesus Christ, God has been wanting to reunite us to Himself by saving us through a powerful relationship with us. We see this especially between Jesus Christ and the community of His disciples.

Remember what St. Paul said about Jesus? Jesus is the “bridegroom” who desires to give everything as “total gift” to His “bride.” God wants to be in a bond of intimate love with all of us. And we see this divine bond made visible most powerfully in our human world through the total, mutual self-giving of husband and wife in the bond of marriage. Intimate human love, including precisely the body itself, has great, beautiful power to serve as a positive sign therefore of Heaven itself: that’s right: a sign pointing to and preparing us for the full union of divine love, of total self-giving that we all hope to experience with God for eternity.

Wow! This connection with God, and this dynamic of allowing the body to be a “total gift” to another, is a much more positive way of appreciating the body and its power than sadly what we – and our youth – are exposed to from our culture. Much of our pop culture wants to view the body only as a means for “taking” from another for self-gratification only. And we have seen the devastating effects and suffering that this has had for family life, marriage, and women. The much more positive reflections of St. John Paul on the beauty and deeper meaning of intimate human love are called the “Theology of the Body.” To learn more, I encourage you to check out the introductory resources of Christopher West, who is a lay missionary on fire for getting this positive message out. And I also encourage all of us this Christmas season to come to Jesus in honest prayer with whatever personal challenges we may deal with as we strive to keep holy our own body, our desires, and our relationships with others. Jesus, who was born in a body like we are, is there to give you whatever encouragement you need to do it. Because the body – YOUR body – is special and holy. What an amazing message of Christmas!

Father William Ferguson is the parochial vicar at St. Mary Catholic Church in Delaware.

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