Perhaps you have heard the following quote, often attributed, potentially inaccurately, to C.S. Lewis: “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Regardless of where this concept came from, it is not necessarily original in substance, but it is worth developing a deeper understanding of what it means.
It is true that our individual essence, being, or the thing which animates us, is our soul. Our soul is the innermost part of us that makes us who we are. It lives on eternally after our body has given out, which is why our care for it is of the utmost importance. In all situations and decisions, our priority ought to always be to do what is best for our eternal soul and for the souls of those around us. Care for our soul means praying, receiving the Sacraments, and growing in virtue while avoiding sin. However, just because care of the soul should take precedence over other things does not mean that the body should be ignored.
Jesus is the Word of God Incarnate, or the Word of God made flesh. He is God, who is pure spirit, but He took on a body, like ours, so that we might better relate to Him. Because of this, our bodies were elevated to a higher level, and glorified by Him taking on flesh. In other words, because of Jesus’ human presence, our bodies extend beyond our souls, providing even more ways in which we can bring glory to our Creator through our use of the gift of flesh.
St. Paul tells us, “[D]o you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20). How much do we really think about glorifying God in our bodies and how do we do it? If we recognize that each of our bodies are, in fact, a gift, and that Jesus elevated that gift by taking it on Himself, it should help to form our perspective on how we might use it to glorify God.
Of course, there are the obvious ways of caring for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit that we carry about day after day. We can eat healthy foods and nourish our bodies in order that they might be more functional and energetic, while being vigilant that we don’t fall into the sin of gluttony. We can get enough rest, so that we might live out our vocations well. If we are ill or have limitations in our bodies, we can take the prescribed medicines or procedures to help with healing or maintenance. We ought to keep sexual activity within the boundaries of sacred and holy matrimony, where the two are one flesh, so as to not allow ourselves to fall into the sin of lust, perverting the gift of our bodily union with our spouse.
St. Paul, in his wisdom, gives us some other subtle (and some not so subtle) insights into our human flesh and how it might be used to gain eternal salvation:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air; But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. – 1 Cor 9:24-27
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – 2 Tim 4:7
It is not a coincidence that Paul uses metaphors conveying athleticism, endurance, and physical strength to get his point across regarding the unity of the body and the soul in helping us to achieve our end goal of eternal salvation. In keeping our bodies healthy and strong, we are strengthening yet another tool given to us by our Creator to bring about our greatest good. So, do we use our bodies as they were intended for our good, or do we fall into the sin of sloth, allowing our laziness to come between the unity of our bodies and souls? I want to emphasize that this is not about vanity or individual ability, but rather about giving glory to God with the physical abilities and limitations he has given each of us individually.
Despite bad elbows, knees, and backs, there are always other ways we can glorify God with our bodies. For example, as I sit here writing this, I have chosen, with my free will, to give up other activities to do so. I am sitting with my physical body and using my hands and eyes to look up scripture and type a reflection. My prayer is that this brings glory to God and helps to lead myself and others to Heaven. Similarly, I use my body to do my household chores. When I do so without complaint, in the hope of living out my vocation of service, it glorifies God and gives dignity to the work He has chosen for me to do – providing a Christian example for my husband and children. When you do anything in your physical body, whatever it is, do you do it with the intention of giving God the glory He deserves, having given you the gifts you use to carry out that work?
I will leave you with a final thought regarding the care of our bodies. When you receive the Eucharist, you receive the Lord Jesus Christ in His body, blood, soul, and divinity into your own body, making you a living tabernacle. Jesus is physically in you. With this fact in mind, how does it change the way you view your body? Anything containing Jesus is not worthy of desecration or mistreatment, rather it is worthy of all good and righteous treatment. Instead of making the distinction that you are a soul and have a body, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that you are both your soul and your body (CCC 362-366). The body is not isolated from the soul, rather, it is very much a participant in your salvation. Jesus suffered and died in His flesh, so that your own flesh might help you to join Him forever in paradise.
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