The dignity of our human body

By Fr. Roy Cimagala

ONCE again, we celebrate this very wonderful Solemnity of the Assumption of our Lady to heaven (August 15), reminding us that like her, we too are meant to be both body and soul in our definitive state of life, hopefully in heaven, at the end of time.

Let’s remember that man is always a unity of body and soul. He is not just pure body nor pure spiritual soul. And as our Catechism teaches us, the body, properly animated by the spiritual soul, shares in the dignity of the “image of God.” (cfr. CCC 364)

This is how the Catechism explains it: “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. Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity.”

The Catechism further teaches that, “Through his very bodily condition he (man) sums up in himself the elements of the material world…He is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.” (CCC 362 ff.)

Our attitude toward the body and the material world, I am afraid, has suffered a dangerous mutation, a radical reversal of God’s designs for them. We seem to be falling into two extremes.

One is to consider the body as completely evil, as when the distinction between the body and the soul becomes exaggerated that they by nature become hostile to each other. This mindset is prevalent among those who may be regarded as ‘too spiritual’ in their life.

The other extreme, the more common one, is to consider the body as completely good, with no more need for spiritual animation and direction. This is the case of a variety of people—the hedonists, the naturalists, etc.

We need to understand that our body is organically linked to our spiritual and the supernatural character of our life. While distinct, it cannot be separated from our integral human nature and condition, from our beginning and end, and from the plan and purpose God our Father and Creator has for us.

Given that dignity of our human body, we have to make sure that our piety and our devotion to God and everything related to him has to involve both the body and soul. It has to involve our whole person. It just cannot be purely spiritual or purely material. It just cannot be only a matter of knowing the doctrine, quite cerebral in approach, without some external manifestations, or of practicing all sorts of devotional exercises, without knowing the doctrine of faith.

If piety has to be authentic and consistent in all circumstances, then it has to be lived both in our spiritual soul whose main faculties are our intellect and will, and in our material body whose link to our soul, the principle of life, are the emotions and passions, the memory and the imagination, our temperament and psychological state, etc.

When piety is limited to one or the other essential element of our being, to either our spiritual soul or the material body, then it cannot be consistent. It cannot hold out against that anomaly for long. It sooner or later will fall into the tricks of hypocrisy and self-deception.