The body is from God
Milena Kindziuk, Piotr Chmielinski
So December has come again, and together with it we have the season Advent – a time of awaiting the extraordinary Birth. God himself becomes man. He becomes one of us. He is like us in every way, except without sins. And if he is man, who actually is he? Our three Advent texts will show man in his three aspects: body, psyche and spirit. Each dimension of our humanity is important, worth of attention and respect. We will begin with the body.
Apparently, Christianity seems to be a religion in which the body is of little importance. What is spiritual, hidden and unseen has been much more stressed. And what about the body? One can fight against it; subdue it so that it does not hinder our way to God. But is it really so? Is our body in truth some necessary evil that we must only tolerate? Reading the Bible we find some texts, which make us look at our body in a positive way. St Paul writes that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in us and whom we have from God. ‘Therefore, glorify God in your body’, the Apostles encourages us in the First Letter to the Corinthians (6:20). If we are to glorify God in our body it means that our body is worthy to be praised. ‘If the Son of God became flesh by the very intention of God the corporeal nature of man has an exclusively positive sense. Human body is good,’ says Fr Miroslaw Pilsniak, OP. So does Fr Stefan Moszoro-Dabrowski from Opus Dei. In his opinion our body is such great good that the Decalogue writes about our taking care of it. ‘The fifth and the sixth commandments clearly state that we are to take care of our bodies and the whole material dimension of life. They also command us to respect our own bodies and other people’s bodies. Let us pay attention to the words that we utter in the Creed every Sunday. We say ‘we believe in the Resurrection of the Body’.
The body is not a bag that should be thrown away. It is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the body should be loved and respected.
The body is for ages
Our ultimate perspective is to have our body forever. When we look at Jesus Christ who is God we can see that he has the same body like ours. ‘God, becoming man, becomes man, indeed. He does not perform a show for us, presenting himself as weak, helpless, he actually is weak,’ says the well-known poet Ernest Bryll. Theologians confirm that truth. ‘Human body is so important that God has accepted it and raised it to a special dignity’, stresses Fr Ksawery Knotz, a Capuchin from Stalowa Wola, who is a chaplain for married couples and also a retreat-giver. ‘Because God became man our matters are his matters. Through his hidden life in Nazareth Jesus showed that every job, even the most hidden one, has sense in God’s eyes when it is an expression of love’, adds Fr Moszoro-Dabrowski.
‘Jesus experienced the needs of human body since he was like us in every way, except without sin. However, he was absolutely free from the needs of his body. Jesus’ body is the ‘place’ of dedication, love and sacrifice. When he travelled all over Palestine, when he proclaimed the Good News, when he washed his disciples’ feet and when he was crucified he suffered very much and he really died on the cross. And today Jesus serves us by giving his body in the mystery of the Eucharist. To make our body a ‘place’ of love and dedication to God and people is the fundamental consequence of the Incarnation’, explains Fr Jozef Augustyn, who is a Jesuit and author of many popular books as well as a known spiritual director and retreat- giver.
The incarnation of God makes him someone close to us. As Bryll put it he is our brother. Consequently, Bryll’s poems tell us so much about the relationship of brotherhood between God and men.
‘We can address Jesus knowing that he understands us since he is one of us’, claims Fr Knotz. That’s why we should accept our bodies. ‘It also involves the acceptance of the sexual sphere of our lives, which is also good because God created it’, adds the Capuchin monk.
If we do not begin praying with our body we will always be mistrustful of the body.
Make-up for Lord God
Corporeality has concrete shapes. It must be connected with some form. As it is in literature or art in which the concern over the form is so basic that it evokes arguments (e.g. the whole discussion about the ugly form of Witkacy) in life, including Christian life, the form has important meaning and sense, including its reference to art. The outstanding Dominican theologian Fr Jacek Salij provides a good explanation, ‘The one who became man likes to show his presence by some visible form.’ He does so through his presence in pictures or sculptures. According to Fr Salij the nature of Christian faith is that ‘it constantly wants to go beyond the border of what is visible and what is invisible.’ John Paul II wrote, ‘Therefore the iconography of Christ involves the whole faith in the reality of the Incarnation and its inexhaustible meaning for the Church and the world. If the Church practices it, it is because she is convinced that the God revealed in Jesus Christ has truly redeemed and sanctified the flesh and the whole sensible world’ (Apostolic letter of 4 December 1987).
Fr Moszoro-Dabrowski focuses on the importance of the form in human life. ‘One should not show disrespect to the form. Our appearance matters a lot. For example, if we go to a job interview we take care of our appearance, conduct, clothes, etc. Those who are in love know how important the form is. It makes a difference if a man who goes on a date has shaved off or if he is punctual. Women do the same: they wear make-up and are elegantly dressed’, says Fr Moszor-Dabrowski. But is it important to God if a girl who comes to church wears make-up? The content of the human heart is important to God. If a girl goes on a date and wears make-up for his boy-friend she expresses her love. The same is with God. If a woman expresses her love for God through her beautiful appearance he will certainly appreciate it. But the condition is that she really does it for God’, stresses the priest from Opus Dei.
We should take care of the body and the soul. The body is from God and it is good
What kind of asceticism
We need to take care of our bodies. Karol Wojtyla was the one who expressed that truth in depth in ‘Love and Responsibility’, which is a particular compendium of Christian theology of the flesh. His cycle of teaching ‘Man and Woman He Created Them’ is an attempt to answer the question concerning masculinity and femininity. As George Weigel says, the Pope’s openness in speaking about the physical aspect of human love is ‘a real time bomb that the Church will have to think over in the next decades of the 21st century.’ Naturally, there is the whole tradition of disrespect, exaggeration of mortification practices, harming the body as if the soul was to benefit from all these practices. ‘One cannot speak about salvation, eliminating the body. We are always corporeal beings. The body is an integral part of our humanity’, Fr Knotz ensures us. The history of the Church speaks about examples of many saints or the Desert Fathers who mortified their flesh. They did so but they did not destroy their flesh. ‘It was not an expression of hatred towards the body but freedom from it. Because today we cultivate an idolatrous cult of the body we can hardly understand the economical, simple and severe style of the monks’ lives’, Fr Augustyn says. ‘The monks often had long lives. Their ascetical way of life did not kill their bodies; on the contrary it served them to function very well. The Desert Fathers did not hurt their bodies as a rule. For example, that was the practice of the medieval flagellators.
As the truth about the kingdom of God and the non-material temple of mystical body is expressed in stone and wood of church buildings so the truth about me as a spiritual man is expressed through my conduct
Love needs corporeality
Therefore, the body is not some mischief and curse but it is God’s gift of love. It is a gift that we receive and that we must treat as a task. ‘In the mystery of the Nativity God reveals to us the truth that he needs human corporeality. Since if love is only limited to spiritual desires, good intentions or emotions, if it is not expressed by physical activities, by serving others with your health and time, strength, endurance and tiredness, such love is only an illusion, some utopia and theory. Love that is deprived of its corporeality will not be noticed at all’, Fr Marek Dziewiecki, a psychologist, theologian and chaplain, writes in his book ‘Cielesnosc, plciowosc, seksualnosc’ [Corporeality, Sex, Sexuality]. The Author stresses that there are three fundamental ways in which our body can show love: presence, diligence and tenderness. To love means to be with the beloved, and this includes physical presence. But presence itself will not do. Love needs concrete words and deeds, activities and involvement for the good of the other person. Finally, tenderness is needed but is should be adjusted to the kind of relationship that exists between given people. ‘So expressions of tenderness should be proportionate to the depth of the relationship built. The strongest relationship on earth is the marital bond. This is the reason why Christ says that a married couple becomes one body. Marital love does not only require the biggest level of mutual presence and diligence but also the biggest level of mutual tenderness’, Fr Dziewiecki writes.
Moreover, we will be corporal beings. The body is an integral part of our humanity.
Prayer by kneeling on one foot
The body plays a very important role in prayer. Prayer is to involve all our humanity, not only our spiritual sphere but also our psychological and physical spheres. It is worth asking the question, ‘how do we treat our bodies while praying?’ In his book entitled ‘Pochwala ciala’ [Praise of the Body] Fr Tomasz Kwiecien, a Dominican and an expert in liturgy, stresses that many men kneel on one foot in church. ‘Looking at such men you think they are speed skaters who have just taken a swing and move forward. People often make the sign of the cross as if they chased a fly away, making chaotic gestures ... The first phase of participation in liturgy is ‘our entrance’ to make gestures and activities: serious and conscious movements to make the sign of the cross, kneeling and standing up, etc. If we cannot concentrate on prayer we can control the position of our body: does it express what I should do at the moment?’
Saint Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order, gave the greatest testimony of a versatile use of the body at prayer. When he prayed he kneeled, stood up, sat down, stretched his hands forming the sign of the cross, bowed, lay prostrate on the floor and shed tears. ‘Our impulse is to come to the chapel, keel and keep praying whereas Dominic made various movements: he stood up and knelt’, writes Fr Kwiecien. He reminds us of the Latin formula ‘Caro salutis est cardo’, which means ‘the body is the hinge of salvation’; the hinge means the fundamental element. According to the Dominican liturgist that phrase summarises the mystery of the Incarnation and shows us that Christianity will be either corporeal or will disappear. ‘If we do not begin using our body we will not understand the mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation. We must realise what proper spirituality means. We are spiritual people – if we really are – and it means to submit to the Holy Spirit. Spirituality is not non-materiality but submission to ‘Paracletos’, which should be expressed in the categories of human body. As the truth about the kingdom of God and the non-material temple of the mystical body is expressed in stone and wood of church buildings so is the truth about me as a spiritual man expressed through my corporeal behaviour’, Fr Kwiecien writes. The truth is confirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (364): ‘The human body shares in the dignity of "the image of God": it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit.’