Theology of the Body - Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (Part 8)
By Anna Krohn, Catholic Outlook, April 2011
In previous issues, Catholic Outlook published seven parts of its ‘guided tour’ through the vast terrain of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body addresses.
Last month’s article outlined the Pope’s discussion of what marks out the authentic Christian approach to love and sexuality and what distinguishes it from attitudes and actions which disfigure and devalue the true preciousness of the human body and the human person.
The Pope explains that the Christian teachings on marriage, family and interpersonal love are not based on lists of ‘policies’ or a constructed ideology, as many people wrongly assume.
Rather their foundations lie in a global ‘ethos’ built upon a confidence that our bodily life is a God-bestowed gift. We are made this way, says the Pope, so that we can also give ourselves in love with “the freedom of the gift”.
John Paul II finds definitive authority for this symbol of the ‘gift’ in Christ’s words to the Pharisees (discussed in Cycle One of the Pope’s talks) and in Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount (discussed in Cycle Two).
The Pope has to this point established that a true theology of the body recognises that on one hand our bodies and hearts, intellects and eros, are together the original ‘gift’ of God’s image in each person, but on the other that our ability to ‘give’ ourselves in love is historically fractured and disrupted.
To realise the ‘ethos of the gift’ we are dependent upon the life-long reception of the second ‘gift’: that of Jesus Christ’s self-giving love and grace: “The Christian ethos is characterised by a transformation of the human person’s conscience and attitudes, both the man’s and the woman’s, such as to express and realise the value of the body and of sex according to the Creator’s original plan” (TOB 35, 13 August 1981).
In his 50th audience (10 December 1980), Pope John Paul II concludes his exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount and delves more deeply into the way our hearts and lives will be shaped by an authentic living of the theology of the body.
The Pope points out that many cultures, but particularly the Jewish tradition, have attempted to express sexual virtue, godly response and clarity of mind and vision under the image of being ‘pure of heart’.
The Pope seems to be aware that the term ‘sexual purity’ for many people today sounds incredibly outdated. He therefore aims to correct and restore the full biblical and charismatic sense of the word ‘purity’, particularly as that notion touches on sexual attitudes and behaviour.
He points out that authentic purity of heart is not the result of muscular self-sufficiency and stoicism; it is the power and love of God that creates in us a “pure and contrite heart”. Threads of the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament and the rich theology of St Paul illustrate this further.
In the Letter to the Galatians (Gal 5:19-23) St Paul spells out the effects of rejecting ‘purity’. We become ‘fleshly’, we treat our bodies as mere ‘meat’ and our unreformed egos as the centre of our own universe.
The fruit of such rebellion, says St Paul, is in the first place sexual infidelity and abuse: orgies, prostitution and adultery. However, there is also widespread communal and societal destruction: strife, jealousy, envy – a veritable ‘culture of death’.
Purity involves a positive commitment to sexual integrity and also to wide-ranging issues touching social justice, personal dignity and charity. It does not end in the avoiding of sexual sins or immodest behaviour, though it involves these.
Purity is not fussy, timorous, hypocritical and joyless disgust at bodily life and all that goes with it. Rather it engages in the vigorous and yet sensitive building up, healing and love of all that matters about the dignity of the person.
Above all, sexual integrity relies on the love and reverence of God, of ourselves and our neighbour. It also brings delight and goodness, ferocious courage and gentle humility and is “a condition of finding Wisdom” (Sirach).
In Pope John Paul II’s teaching, purity of heart is the Holy Spirit’s integrating and healing answer to a one-sided and disjointing culture (such as our own) which in its own confused way claims to celebrate the body while it “treats the body (and therefore persons) more or less systematically as an object of manipulation” (TOB 59:4).
When we are impure we deny the ‘spousal’ meaning of our bodies and hearts and fog the vision that we “belong to God” (1 Cor 6:9). We knock back the gift of “the indwelling and continuous presence of the Holy Spirit in man – in his soul and in his body.” (TOB 56:2).
The Holy Father insists with St Paul that our bodies are not mere tools to keep clean and functional (as it were), but temples of the Holy Spirit, places of awe, reverence and honour, places of living beauty and holiness. “The Holy Spirit enters into the human body as into his own temple (and) dwells there and works with his spiritual gifts.”
Purity, says Pope John Paul II, is one of the dynamic works of the Holy Spirit by which we are spiritualised – which does not at all mean splitting the body from the soul. Rather it enables each person to become distinctively integrated so that their bodily love becomes Christ-like and “is the glory of the human body before God” (TOB 57:3).
We believe in the resurrection of the body
Pope John Paul II in his Third Cycle of talks brings to the fore and lights up a long-neglected aspect of the traditional Christian mystery which involves the future of our bodily lives – beyond this life. Our entire person through grace will be resurrected, body and soul, mind and heart.
The same Father of the living and Risen Christ will work in us. This includes, says the Pope the “spousal meaning of the body (which will then) encounter with the mystery of the living God, the face-to-face vision of him.”Anna Krohn is a sessional tutor in the Nursing Department at Australian Catholic University and an academic skills adviser at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family.
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