Sunday, January 25, 2009
We've all done it from time to time, taken a good, hard, long look in the mirror. That isn't meant to be rhetorical. I mean actually looked at our visage as it is reflected back to us, our physical appearance. The reactions to that visage spread out across a wide spectrum from "yeah, baby, I got it goin' on" to a panicked scream. People who don't like what they see have sometimes taken extreme measures to change their bodies, but this does not always change the reflection. Some of these include turning to an eating disorder such as anorexia and bulimia, even plastic surgeries that are not for some medical necessity. Some decide they just want to forget or push away the image. They turn to the bottle or to drugs. Some need constant reinforcement of their worth, and in doing so turn to numerous sexual partners in an effort to constantly stroke their egos. This isn't going to turn into one of those 'hell fire and brimstone' speeches against the evils of the flesh. God knows that I have fallen victim many a time in my own life. Taking control of some of these reactions to the reflection has taken me most of the 47 years that I have looked in the mirror. But maybe it would have all clicked in a bit sooner, and maybe I would have control of my weight and its related concerns, if I had the experience that I had a few days ago at an earlier point. In the past few days I have been re-exposed to an old, famous quotation, and had it more clearly expressed and explained, and I hope that this renewal finally changes my approach to this problem. We have all likely heard the old saying "Your body is your temple", but how many of us have really ever thought much about the meaning behind that saying? The saying comes directly from the Bible. From Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians comes this exhortation: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." For each of the more than two billion Christians on the planet, the message should be clear, but it's amazing how little emphasis we place on these simple but vitally important ideas. We all know that the Holy Spirit of God Himself dwells inside of us. That our bodies have been "bought at a price" refers explicitly to Christ's selfless, sacrificial death on the cross so that our bodies and souls might be saved from death itself and eternal damnation. When we abuse or misuse our bodies with drugs, drink, food, mutilation, sex and other measures we are taking that gift of redemption, throwing it to the ground, and stomping on it. We are supposed to "honor God" with our bodies but we do just the opposite. This idea also goes directly to our treatment of the most innocent, those who depend entirely on us for both their perception of their bodies and the direct treatment of them. It goes to the children to whom we are responsible, from the unborn in the womb to the infants, toddlers, pre-teens and teenagers under our daily care. All of this responsibility goes directly to the struggle that takes place every single day in every single human life everywhere in the world. It is the struggle between good and evil that has taken place since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, and since the snake known as Satan was set against our heels. Satan finds that weakness in each of us and tempts, distracts, suppresses, and amuses us all. For the vast majority of us the instrument that he uses against us is our very own body. Pope John Paul II, perhaps the greatest spiritual leader of our time, spoke directly to many of these issues in his 'Theology of Life' talks and his most famous encyclical 'Humanae Vitae', which is a must-read for every Catholic. There are many avenues we can take to begin overcoming our own personal demons, those things that cause us to turn our temple into a slum. But our efforts will be far more effective if they come within the context of a knowledge that when you fight for your body you are fighting a war against evil. It will not be an easy fight, and it will definitely be a life long fight. You will win some battles and lose some. The harder you fight against evil, the harder it will fight back. But ultimately you will always win, because God is on your side. You just have to be willing to believe in Him, receive Him into your life actively, and He will fight alongside of you. He will help you to put out that final cigarette, lose those fifty pounds, put down that bottle, end that affair, escape that sexual hedonism, accept a healthy body image. And as you win, He will help you to tear down the slum that your body has become. He will help you to work from the base that is already there and is always solid to finally build up the 'Temple of You'.