Monday, October 10, 2011

Sacramentum Donum Dei: The Beauty and Gift of the Human Body

In John LaBriola's book 'Onward Catholic Soldier' he defines a Sacramental as that which 'sanctifies the ordinary moments in life. God grants his grace to you through sacramentals in relation to the intensity of the faith with which you use them.' The marital embrace between a husband and wife can be an opportunity for mutual sanctification by the self-donation of each others bodies thereby making the act sacramental. In Christopher West's 'Theology of the Body Explained' he states 'The human body is the 'sacrament' of the human person in the sense that it makes the invisible mystery of the person visible....Understanding the sacramentality of the body as such is the key to opening the door to understanding the body not only as something biological but theological.' Our bodies as gifts from an almighty Creator are made to help us grow in holiness and virtue.

As I tend to always apply the Theology of the Body to the life of an athlete or 'bodybuilder' I thought to myself what does this mean to the person wishing to strengthen and enhance the beauty of his/her own body? Where is that sacramental line drawn when a man or woman enters into the weight room? Can the life of temperance and discipline bring our bodies closer to the true meaning of John Paul II's vision of the Theology of the Body? The answer is a resounding yes! Again Christopher West states it this way, 'The more we grow in mastery of ourselves, the more we experience a proper "ethos of seeing". Using JPII it continues saying 'we come to an ever greater awareness of the gratuitous beauty of the human body, of masculinity and femininity.' In other words the more we discipline our own bodies and minds in the proper view of a sacramental the more we will appreciate and admire the creation of man as man and woman as woman. The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2519 states, 'Purity of heart is the precondition of the vision of God. Even now it enables us to see according to God, to accept others as "neighbors"; it lets us perceive the human body - ours and our neighbor's - as a temple of the Holy Spirit, a manifestation of divine beauty.' In a culture where men are assailed constantly by images of women used as a means of self-gratification, purity of heart and mind is something I think all men must strive for. And women, seeing these same images have been guilt-ridden into believing that they are not beautiful or worthwhile unless they give themselves up for the pleasures of men, the purity of heart that women search for is that desire to look in the mirror and know that no matter what the world says, she is a magnificent human being and nobody can take that away from her. The purity of heart that men and women crave can be reached through the discipline of the mind, body and soul.

"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" - 1 Corinthians 3:16. One thing I have always heard is that the choirs of angels are only envious of human beings for one reason: The Holy Eucharist. Our bodies are the sacramental vessels in which the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of God-made-man enters into our souls. You would not want the Church you enter for the Sacrifice of the Mass to be filthy or in need of repair, parishioners pay large amounts of money to keep the parish looking at its best. In the same way, keeping our bodies pure and undefiled through healthy eating habits and an exercise regimen is like helping your Creator tie the ribbon around the gift He gives you.'For this is the Will of God, Your sanctification; that you abstain from immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor..' - 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4.

The union between our souls and our bodies is so intimate that we can participate in the spiritual through the physical and vice versa. "The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature." CCC#365. So, when we pray while we lift, the labor of our hands and muscles are united to that prayer just as with a sacramental. This reminds me of the beauty of incense used during Mass. We use the physical nature of heat and incense to present our prayers to God. We burn the incense so that it may rise to God, we smell the incense to enliven our senses, we see the smoke rising to the heavens, reminding us of the Divine Nature we long for, and we hear the clank of the chain as the priest swings the thurible in order to awaken our ears to the whispers of God. In a similar way we burn our muscles so that they may rise to God, we smell our body working to enliven our senses, we see the sweat falling off of our bodies, reminding us of our mortality, and we hear the clank of steel as we lift reminding us that we are at war. Our bodies truly are one of the sacramentals of our souls. 'We only have to reflect on the excellence and dignity of human nature to feel how base it is to languish in luxury and pamper ourselves in voluptuous ease, and how noble it is to lead a frugal, temperate and well-disciplined life.' - Marcus Cicero 'On Moral Duties'

The human body is the gift that our Creator has given us to worship Him. His only begotten Son took on physical human nature to show us the beauty within and nobility earned simply because we are the children of God. Through our Immaculate Mother the Savior of the world received human nature, may we see her as our example of appreciation of our physical bodies.

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