The Word Embodied
The Body Sacred
“Come and see.”(Jn 1:39)
If we ask God to speak to us in Christ, if we wish to abide with him, he simply tells us to follow, to look, and to hear.
Should we do so, however, all things will look different.
Paul does not let us escape this fact. In the transforming mission of Jesus, even our bodies will look different. If God can inhabit human flesh, it cannot be made for immorality. If our bodies are temples of God, we must not desecrate them. They are, Paul says, the very glory of God.
This is difficult for us today. How dare someone tell us “You are not your own”? We pride ourselves on autonomy. Our bodies are our property, there for our use or abuse, our pleasure or management, ours to begin or end at will.
And yet the body is a big problem for us, whether we want to admit it or not. Even the late, great psychologist Abraham Maslow, no churchy or Pauline preacher to say the least, warned us of the body’s degradation in our time. In his essay “Self-actualization and Beyond,” what he said of youth could be said of all of us:
[They] have learned to reduce the person to the concrete object and to refuse to see what he might be or to refuse to see him in his symbolic values or to refuse to see him or her eternally. [They] have desacralized sex, for example. Sex is nothing; it is a natural thing, and they have made it so natural that it has lost its poetic qualities in many instances, which means that it has lost practically everything. Self-actualization means giving up this defense mechanism and learning or being taught to resacralize.
Say what we may about the differing meanings for “fornication” in the first century and our own, try as we might to deflate Paul’s challenge as a form of Manichaeism and rejection of the body, the practice of human sexuality in contemporary culture is in no way worthy of a temple.
Familiar statistics reveal that more than one-half of our youth have had intercourse by the age of seventeen, and half of their pregnancies end in abortion. Births to unmarried teens rose 200 percent between 1960 and 1980. Chlamydia, genital warts, herpes, gonorrhea, and syphilis have increased, despite the doubling of condom use among teenagers in the last ten years. Stories of sexual violence against women and the abuse of children fill our network news and our newspapers. One estimate is that a woman is raped every six minutes in the United States. One of the most frequently used words for women in low rap music on MTV was the same that once rarely was heard applied to a female dog. And the September 1992 Vogue magazine featured a sleazy article called “Chain Reactions” about sadism-photographer Helmut Newton with a gaudy photograph of a topless, bound woman, nipples pierced, pointing a gun to her head. A caption read, “Making a virtue out of vice.”
Maslow would wince.
St. Paul, for his part, has already advised us: We are called to a different way. We heed a different voice. And we look at the human body as a temple, transformed by the eyes of faith.
John Kavanaugh, SJ
Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
**From Saint Louis University