Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Love Your Body

Many people associate Christianity with Puritanism. If you are Christian then nudity and sex must make you uncomfortable.

Not so.

Christians believe God loves the human body - so much so that He created our bodies and took one upon Himself!

The association of the soul with what is good in the human person and the body with what is bad is a common error in thinking that reared its ugly head in the late first century and is still present today. This line of thought is called Gnosticism, a heresy that was condemned by the Church long ago, but it makes its way into our thinking nevertheless.

Blessed James Alberione (the founder of the Pauline families) understood that our bodies are good, even sacred, and he emphasized care for both the body and the soul in his writings. Although this is fully in keeping with Catholic theology, in some ways he was ahead of his time in viewing the body as a beautiful gift that we need to take care of, not just dominate. 

The Church teaches that all human beings are composed of an intimately unified body and soul. Philosopher Peter Kreeft refers to the human person as “embodied souls” - the soul being so unified to the body that he says it is not even proper to speak of our body and soul as if they are parts of a whole.

When God created man, (soul and body), He saw that it was good - it was all good (Gn 1:31). It is through the Fall that both the body and the faculties of the soul were polluted by original sin.

But God did not give up on us.

God redeemed humanity, including our human bodies, by taking a body Himself. If we really take the time to think about this, it really is astounding. God, the Creator of the Universe became human. It would be like one of us choosing to become a worm. Muslims are shocked and offended at the very thought that God would choose to become one of us. We should understand to some extent their shock at this proposition -  it is truly shocking! Shocking love.

God, through His Incarnation, lifts our soul and body through what Alberione calls the “third element” of our being that is available to us, if we accept it – Grace. Grace from God is what helps to harmonize the war between our fallen nature and God’s will for our body and soul. It is what gives us the strength to follow the promptings of God, even if we are screaming, "NO!" 

Adam and Eve were overflowing with sanctifying grace in the Garden of Eden. It was easy for them to choose virtue, and yet they chose evil. Now, we have lost this gift of overflowing sanctifying grace from God and we are wounded, unable to make good choices easily. But through His Incarnation and the grace that flows from Jesus’ suffering and death, God provides us with opportunities to receive His grace back. 

Through the sacraments, God gives us His sanctifying grace, the water for which our body and soul thirst. The sacraments are made for us, body and soul, which is why they always have form and matter. The matter of the sacraments - the water, bread, wine, oil, etc - are all for our body. The sacraments are visible and tangible because that is what our bodies need. They are made to feed us, to strengthen us, to heal us and to lift us to our original nature and even beyond that, to share in the divine life of the Trinity.

This does not mean that we cannot receive grace if we are not Christian. The Church believes that God can dispense His grace in whatever way He pleases, He is God after all! However, we know that grace is available to us in the sacraments. We do not know how God chooses to dispense grace otherwise. So this is why we should go to mass, (every day, if we are able!). God is waiting to pour His graces upon us.

Sacraments are proof that Christianity is a body-based religion - which is why as Christians we must love our bodies. We care for our bodies, not out of vanity but out of love for the body that is intimately connected to our soul.  We must love our body so much that we hold it to be sacred, something to be cherished and loved. Carefully disciplining our fleshly desires is a form of love! But like a valuable jewel, we strive to not allow our bodies to be used or abused, even by ourselves.

When we care for our bodies, we care for our soul.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Letter to a Perfectionist

God is perfect, lacking nothing. That is, God is distinguished from other beings on account of God's complete actuality. - Thomas Aquinas

I am perfect,
I died to perfect you.

You do not know what perfect is.

Do not dwell on what you think
are imperfections.
When you do, you miss
the great work I am doing in you.

The world will not be perfect until the last day.
When you see imperfection, even sin -
Give glory to me, the Perfect One.

See your imperfection, and that of others,
as an opportunity -
to watch my glory at work.

Do not worry that you will resist.
Do your part and put the rest in my hands
- my perfect, wounded hands.

Wounded by loving you and this imperfect world.

I made myself imperfect in the world's eyes -
poor, pierced, put to death as a criminal -
out of love for you.

If you cannot accept what you see as imperfection,
you cannot accept me.

Who creates the standard for perfection?

Is it you my little child,
my small beautiful creation?

Or is it me,
the great infinite Creator and God?

And so, when you are disappointed,
upset, frustrated and even in despair  -
Turn to me and give glory to my perfect
Sacred Heart.

I will gather all things to me and make you perfect,
in the End,
if you will let me.

In the meantime, rest in Me.
Do not be disappointed
or allow yourself to be discouraged.

Perfect trust is all that I ask of you.

This you can do.

Monday, September 12, 2011

We Will Never Find the Body

Sign directing pilgrims to the Church 
A priest I know recently told a story during one of his homilies. As it goes, he was in the Holy Land, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, waiting to see the Tomb of Jesus and he overheard a conversation between two friends that went something like this:

“So this is the tomb of Jesus?” one friend said to the other.

“Ya,” the friend says, “but what I am wondering is where is Jesus’ body?”

To us, this lack of knowledge concerning the Christian faith, even if these people were from another religion, may be shocking. But after visiting the tomb, I can actually say that this conversation is not so outlandish to me.

A priest who was on the trip with us recounted an experience that he had while saying mass in the tomb of Jesus. He had just consecrated the Eucharist and he was holding the host. Suddenly, he felt like he was in a time warp and he could not take his eyes from the host. He heard voices all around him, voices he felt were the apostles. They kept saying over and over:

“It’s empty! It’s empty!”

When I heard this story I was moved but it was not until I was actually in the tomb that I understood what he had experienced.

Steps leading to Golgotha 
Now, it is not easy to get into the Tomb of Jesus. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains the Tomb of Jesus, Golgotha, the place where Jesus died, and the location where St. Helena found the true cross. It is collaboratively run by several Orthodox faiths and the Roman Catholic faith. The Tomb is the busiest place in the Church with rotating masses between the faiths, morning prayers and vespers - all on an extremely tight schedule. Even when my group had a mass outside the tomb, only a few people were not able to make it inside because another mass was beginning seconds after our mass ended.

I visited the Church every morning, very early, and still the tomb was busy. I had reached a point of losing hope until one day, I believe it was on the feast of the Visitation of Mary, I happened to enter when the Franciscans were having a procession around the Church. Because the Church is so huge, the procession took some time. I could hear the chanting in the distance when I noticed two Spanish speaking pilgrims begging the friar guarding the door of the tomb to let them have a peek while the procession was far away. With a twinkle in his eye, this friar waved them in and I meekly tagged along behind them. When we got into the tomb, large enough only to hold the three of us, the two women immediately threw themselves down and began to weep. “Ay pobre Jesus,” the women cried, “Pobrecito Jesus!”

The Sepulchre - The Tomb of Jesus
I closed my eyes while the women wept and I felt transported back in time. I could hear excited whispers, “He is not here! It’s empty! It’s empty!” It was as if I were present at the moment that Peter and John found the empty tomb. It lasted only a moment but when I opened my eyes I looked around the tomb in amazement thinking, “Jesus is not here. His body is not here. He raised Himself from the dead.”

The words “It’s empty!” echoed through my mind and in a deep, profound way that words cannot capture, I realized that this tomb was not a tomb. This was not the grave of some holy man. Jesus’ body was not here. We may find the cross Jesus was crucified on, his tomb and the place he was crucified but we will never find his body. Because Jesus’ tomb is empty.

Jesus’ tomb is empty.

I had another profound realization at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that was connected with the feeling of the empty tomb. I visited the Church every morning our group was in Jerusalem. A group of us would wake up in the wee hours of the morning and make our way to the Church to pray for an hour before returning for breakfast. I am not one to deny myself sleep under any circumstances so it is a miracle of grace that I got my jet lagged bum up every single day.

Roman-rite chapel  
As we walked to the Church every morning I would plan in my mind where I was going to pray in the Church. I wanted to pray one day at the place Jesus died, another at the tomb, and another at the stone where His body was laid out but every single time I entered the Church, I made a beeline to the Roman-rite chapel hidden away on the side of the Church. Every once in a while I would pray for a few minutes at the tomb or at the place Jesus died but after several minutes I would make my way back to the almost empty chapel.

At first, I was irritated with myself. I thought, “I can pray before a tabernacle in any place in the world!” But deep down I knew that this truly was the best place to be in the Church. Jesus was not in the tomb. He was not in the place of His death. His bruised and beaten body was no longer laid out on the burial stone. Jesus was now in the tabernacle.

When I prayed about whether I should go to the Holy Land, I felt Jesus inviting me to get to know Him better. I was not sure what Jesus meant by this but it happened. It was like going to see the family of someone you love. I met Jesus in the place of His people, His home. But more than anything, I grew closer to Jesus praying in front of the tabernacle at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Jesus I met was different from the Jesus I had met before. Of course, Jesus is always the same but He chose to reveal to me another dimension of His identity. It was as if being in the place where the Paschal Mystery took place, I could understand Him in a deeper way. I have come back from the Holy Land much more deeply in love with this Jewish man from Galilee.

I pray that each of you gets the chance to visit Jesus in the Holy Land but if you do not, it is not a tragedy because He is present in the Word of God and in millions of tabernacles around the world. He is waiting to reveal Himself more deeply to each and every one of you. The offer He extended to me to get to know Him better is an offer He extends to every single person in the world. Jesus is longing to help you to plumb the mystery of Himself, of God.


This post will wrap up my series of posts about my trip to the Holy Land. I am partly relieved that the series is over so I can now post on whatever strikes my fancy. But I am also saddened because I have learned so much from writing about my experiences in the Holy Land. I hope that anyone who has followed these posts has felt at least a tiny bit like they made a little trip to the Holy Land. May God bless you!