Most of the time when we come to Mass we reflect on our souls, on the meaning and purpose of having a soul, on the eventual destiny of our soul, and on how we relate to others and to God because we have a soul. But what about our bodies? What does it mean to have a body? And how should regard our bodies? The Ascension of our Blessed Lord presents us with the ultimate goal of the Incarnation, what God’s taking on a human body is telling us. What I want to reflect on today is the profound connection between Christmas, when the Son of God took on human flesh, and the Ascension when He ascended back into heaven.
In a series of talks the late Pope John Paul II gave us many reflections on the meaning of having a human body. His central idea was the fact that the human body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible, making visible the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of our world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it. His theology is not only for young adults or married couples, but for people of all ages and vocations since it sums up the true meaning of the human person, body and soul.
Subsequent to His ascension He uses no feet to move among us, or tongues to proclaim His presence. He uses ours. The treasure of God’s personal love has been deposited within us, in our “earthen vessels” as St. Paul puts it. Let us therefore realize (make real) the responsibility God has given us, and be honored thereby. By becoming human and taking on our bodily nature God’s love is made real in how we relate to others and to Him in soul and in body.
The Ascension of Jesus Christ underscores the fact that Christians are charged with the responsibility of implementing His will on earth and sharing His love here on earth as He reigns from heaven. His parting words commissioned His apostles to make disciples of every creature among the nations throughout the earth.
Pope John Paul II’s revolutionary and life-transforming vision counteracts our surrounding societal trends, trends that urge us to view the human body as an object of pleasure or as a machine for production and work. John Paul II portrays a beautiful counter vision that offers us meaning and hope.
The “Theology of the Body” is Pope John Paul II’s integrated vision of the human person – body, soul, and spirit. As he sees it, the physical human body has a specific meaning and is capable of revealing answers regarding fundamental questions about us and our relational lives. In God’s plan, what is the real purpose of our human lives? Why were we created male and female? Does it really matter if we are one gender or another? Why were man and woman, symbolized in Adam and Eve, called to a communion of life from the beginning? What does the union of a man and woman in marriage tell us about God and His plan for our lives?
Reaching way back into Old Testament times we find God revealing Himself as the Bridegroom with Israel seen as His bride. That spousal image was used by Jesus Christ. We should note that Christ’s first miracle took place at a marriage celebration, the wedding feast at Cana when He turned water into wine. The last miracle of Christ before He suffered and died was at another banquet, the Last Supper, which St. John identifies as “The Wedding Feast of the Lamb.” The message is that in giving us His Body and Blood, God the Son is marrying Himself to us. It is in His body and because of His body that God joins us into Himself. Note the direction – we don’t join ourselves into God, it is God who joins us into Himself. It’s His initiative. The ultimate point is that God the Son, in uniting Himself to us and joining us into His body takes us back home with Him to heaven, takes us with Him back home to our Father in heaven.
So what does a body do for us?
First of all, it locates us. Because you have a body you are located and made present. Others can reach you, know you, and love you because you have a body. We can’t love a fantasy. We can’t embrace a fantasy. We can, however, love and embrace another person because we have bodies.
Because we have bodies we can relate to each other.
A body allows us to communicate with one another, to share our thoughts, our vision, our caring and our hearts and minds with one another. Through our bodies we can enter into a bonded union with each other, we can enter into communion with each other.
St. Paul directs us to another reality, another fundamental aspect of the human body, something that he pointed out to the Christians in the seaport city of Corinth with is populace of very sophisticated citizens amongst whom were many who lived immoral lives, lives caught up in various sexual sins, lust, worship of false gods, adulterers, abusers, as well as other types of sins. St. Paul wrote to the Christians living in Corinth (1 Cor 6:17-20) warning them as follows:
But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Because of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, and because the Holy Spirit has been given to you, your body has been made into something holy, a temple in which God wants to abide, in which He wants to live. Many people of our day live lives much like those ancient Corinthians. Many people regard their bodies merely as instruments of pleasure and think their bodies are merely useful. Many people think their bodies have nothing to do with God and believe they can do anything they want with their bodies. Some think they can likewise do anything they want with other people’s bodies. The terrible result of such thinking in seen all around us, see in the trafficking of women, child abuse, and in disgusting sexual crimes against others.
Our belief is that because Jesus Christ ascended into heaven our ultimate destiny is to likewise ascend into heaven. In the Creed, we profess our faith that we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting with God and in God because it is through Christ, and with Christ, and in Christ that we will give God honor and glory forever and ever.
All of this we do because our bodies, by the power of the Holy Spirit, have been glorified in Christ.