Welcome to TOB Tuesdays Refreshed. Over the next few months we will revisit Katrina’s past blogs followed by Jack Henz’* reflection.
Why Do We Have A Body?
Why do we have a body anyway? I’m so glad you asked. To answer, I’d like to quote a story from an Aussie friend of mine, Dr. Gerard O’Shea. In an article he wrote on God, eros, and religious education (I know, not your most common trio), Gerard begins with the comments of an elderly and well-seasoned Catholic teacher who exclaimed to him in an exasperated tone, “I was always made to feel as if all that mattered was my soul, and that my body was little more than some kind of prison that I had to punish and subdue so that I could leave it behind and become something like an angel. It never really made sense to me. Why did God make us this way if what he really wanted was an angel?”
BINGO! How many of us have felt this same dilemma – If, when I die, only my soul goes to heaven then why expend all this energy trying to chase the “world, the flesh and the devil” out of my body? Yeah, yeah, I get that the Church teaches that all this mess is the result of Adam and Eve eating the “forbidden fruit,” but couldn’t God have works things out a different way? After all, he’s God? What’s the point of it all anyway?
If you’ve ever thought anything close to this, even just once, then congratulations! You were encountering the natural-born philosopher in you, yes you. Whenever you ask “why” questions or want to know the meaning of something, then your irrepressible philosopher is making its voice heard within you; and that is a very good thing. You, me, every person we meet, is made for meaning. We are made to know not only how something works but why it exists.
However, we live in a world that has stripped the body of its meaning. We are taught to be embarrassed about asking such silly questions as why the body exists. Instead, we are wildly applauded, pats on the back all around, for considering the body only in its functional capacities, with the top 3 reasons for having a body being: 1) for the survival of the species; 2) for carrying out the unitive and procreative aspects of sex; and 3) for pleasure and self-gain. Depending on your frame of reference, the order of importance of these three answers can change dramatically or #2 can be left out altogether, apparently without any loss to society or the history of mankind.
While not denying that the body can carry out any of the above activities, St. John Paul II reasons from a very different perspective – the body has a deep and profound meaning as the expression of the person, In the “theology of the body” he says cliply, “Look, a body that expresses the ‘person’!” In other words, if I were to follow you around for 24 hours and watch your body and your actions, I could learn a great deal about you. Just think about it for a moment – if I were to follow you from the moment your alarm went off to the moment you fell asleep (and not just when you climbed into bed because one’s actions in bed are highly revelatory of our person as well), what would I conclude about who you are?
“Look, a body that expresses the ‘person’!”
I encourage you to try this experiment on yourself for one day. At the end of tomorrow, take 5 minutes before bed and review your day and write down what your body revealed about you. Who are you? What do your actions reveal about the kind of person you are? Are you patient? Temperamental? Industrious? Minimalistic? Self-disciplined in eating, exercising, and speech habits? A “go with the flow” kind of person who doesn’t self-exert or rock the boat too much? Are you money driven? Relationship driven? Keep-the-peace driven? Entertainment driven? Ideas driven? Are you a believer in God? In politics? In the good life of comfort and affluence? In helping your neighbor? In “live and let live”? What did your body (and its actions) reveal to you about you?
You might also want to try this experiment on others, although not in a nosy kind of way. Take a break from being tuned into music or podcasts or the radio and instead tune into looking, really looking, at people walking by, at your work colleagues in the lunch room or in a meeting, at a mother and child at the grocery store, at your students during recess, at college kids hanging out on campus. What are their bodies and their actions saying about them, about who they are?
We’ll come back to the meaning of the body and its ability to reveal the person next week. Until then, thanks for joining me this week, and remember…you are a gift!
©by Katrina J. Zeno, MTS
Jack Henz’ Reflection: “A Body Full of Surprises”
Life is full of surprises and so is St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body! I never thought much about my body being a reflection of who I am. Early in my business career, I’d been introduced to the idea of “body language,” and used it rather successfully to “read” potential client’s reactions to my business proposals. But I’d never made the leap from its usefulness in business to my own body being a reflection of me. So after reading Katrina’s Blog, I accepted her challenge. I spent time thinking about my body and observing its actions over the course of a day, and here’s what I saw.As is my custom, I headed out the door early for my pre-dawn walk. This is my “quiet time” with God where I “converse” with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and say rosaries for those in need. Perhaps not so immediately obvious to others, my body during this time expresses the depth of my personal relationship with God and my concern for others.
Soon, though, an older couple on the walking trail stopped and showed me a picture of their new-born grandson. Of course my body erupted with joy. Then, they explained how he was a “miracle” of IVF after all else had failed for their son and his wife. Their news shook me. My body grew tense as I felt distress, tinged with sorrow. I said how sorry I was that their son and daughter-in-law had used IVF as a last-ditch solution. The man agreed and said, “Well, what else could they do?” I responded, “Adoption is a viable alternative.” They quickly excused themselves and went on their way, ending our discussion too abruptly for my comfort. Hmmm…how could I have shown more compassion with my body and my words even while expressing with charity and truth the Church’s position on IVF?
A mile later, a lady walking her dog stopped me and said she was moving this coming weekend. She wanted to thank me for the times I gave her dog a biscuit and for “having her back” while she walked. “Your presence made me feel safe,” she said. What an unexpected affirmation of my body expressing my protective, masculine presence for her. I smiled and wished her well in her move.
After morning Mass, a few friends invited me into a discussion about a priest we all knew, and the conversation quickly devolved into gossiping criticism regarding some of his choices. I excused myself and left the conversation, expressing my disagreement by my silence and absence. Hmmm…I thought, not only does the body express my person through my actions, but sometimes even more powerfully through intentional silence and by refraining from acting.
On the way home a careless driver cut me off as he crossed three lanes (without turn signals) to make a right turn. My body yelled in frustration at the clueless driver, and my annoyed wife kindly reminded me that Patrick Madrid would never have said that. Okay, okay, she was right about my behavior. I could see that not only do I need to work on expressing patience, but even more so on my automatic interior reactions that are clearly reflected in my body language.
After dinner, I was relaxing in my favorite chair totally focused on reading a book. My wife came up and asked me to review a prayer service she had written for her prison ministry. At first, I gave her “the look” that said she was interrupting me and my time. (Gotta work on those immediate reactions that slip out…) Then, I placed the book down and asked her nicely how I could help. In response, she said, “I wasn’t sure at first. Your glance wasn’t engaging but your smile and putting the book down let me know I had your attention.”
BINGO! My wonderful wife had again proved St. John Paul II’s and Katrina’s point – my body does reflect who I am. Throughout the day, I had experienced this truth multiple times, for better and for worse. I’m grateful for this little exercise because it taught me how important it is to remain aware of what my body is expressing about me at all times and how that bodily expression matters. Always.
We invite you to share your own 2-3 line reflection on our JPII Resource Center Facebook page by clicking here.
©by Jack Henz
*Jack Henz is a retired meteorologist and a graduate of the Diocese of Phoenix ‘s Kino Catechetical Institute. Together with his wife Karen, he is a passionate catechist concerning all things Catholic, especially the Theology of the Body.