Question 59



We should not take our bodies for granted.  My body is an integral part of my person.  My body and I are one.  We are composites of a material body and an immaterial soul: both are irreplaceable and indispensable.  My soul, when separated at death from the body, is in an unnatural state.  At the end of time there will be the resurrection of the body, and a new, glorified, body will become my new condition. 

It would be wrong to think that my real self is my self-awareness, or consciousness, and that my body is a mere appendage – a box I am trapped in – to which I can do anything I choose, e.g., sterilize, abuse with drugs, alcohol, smoking, obesity, clone, abort.  The body is not something sub-personal, something not to be identified with whom I really am.  What I do to your body, I do to you, e.g., a pat on the back, or a kick in the shins.  What you do to my body, you do to me. 

When we want to consider someone’s well being, we must take his or her body into consideration.  Think of how parents care for their child(ren): food, clothing, housing, exercise, recreation, and hygiene.  Our higher human needs still involve our bodies: the need for hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, well-coordinated movement; our need for affection, companionship. 

By means of our bodies we are present to one another.  We want to see and hear our friends in person, sense their presence, and not just read their letters, hear their phone calls, or recall memories.  By means of our voice, gestures and expression of emotions (body language) we enhance our communication with others. A person with multiple sclerosis has lost much of his ability to do this through his body.  We want to be with our friends.  Spouses want to be with each other.  Parents want to be surrounded by their children.  Even at a ball game, there is a certain thrill in being “part of the crowd.” 

Because God designed us as either male or a female-- a male-bodied person or a female-bodied person -- we are both sexual and fertile.  Adam complements / fulfills Eve, and Eve Adam.  All of this is part of God’s plan when He designed us in His own image and likeness.  We are capable of entering into a communion of persons.  Especially is this the case with spouses.  Because we are fertile as well as sexual, there is a life-giving dimension to this communion of persons.  The spousal act is inseparably love-giving and life-sharing. 

The angels, by contrast, have no bodies.  They are pure spirit-persons, and there are billions of them.  They have no fertility or sexuality.  They do not procreate “baby angels.”  They do not cooperate with God in the procreation of another person who will live forever. 

The highest human act is to love other persons.  Recall the two great commandments.  When we love, we choose to pursue the good, the best interests, of the one we love.  Think of the second great commandment.  When we love, we want to make the total gift of ourselves to the one we love.  Think of the first great commandment.  Making the total gift of self to another means that we reach deeply into the core of our selves, and give that away to the one with whom we want to share a communion of persons. The spousal act is the greatest expression of this gift of self that we have as bodied-persons.  This tolerates no reservations, no conditions, and no keeping one’s options open.  It also means that we accept the total gift of self from the beloved.  For a husband this means accepting his wife just as God made her: feminine, sexual and fertile. 

The celibate and single person make the total gift of self to God and to human beings in a non-genital manner.  This is also the way God makes the total gift of self in the Divine Communion of Persons, which is the archetype of all personal love.  And in heaven, this will be the manner in which all the blessed will make their gift of self-donation. 

While on this Earth, we all need to think about the meaning of our bodies, as male or female, fertile and sexual.  How do we, as bodied persons, advance in human maturity?  How do we learn to grow in our ability to love?  How can we reach more deeply into the inner core of our person and then offer this as our gift to others?   

Contraception is completely at odds with this. The Theology of the Body helps explain to us God’s plan for spousal love, and how contraception / sterilization deform and empty the meaning of this. 

Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB