What importance do our bodies play in our spiritual life? Are they dispensable shells that we occupy until we get to heaven? Discover instead that our bodies are essential to our identities. God has made us body and soul. We are souls with bodies, and we are bodies with souls. The mystery of the Incarnation and our redemption through Christ’s bodily crucifixion and resurrection help to support the importance that God has given our bodies. God wants all of us, so we must live for God in our bodies and our souls.
Our latest chat installment stems from a letter by St Francis de Sales addressed to a woman explaining to her the proper place of our bodies in our spiritual life. Discover with our chatters the importance of our bodies and that we must, as St. Paul instructs, “honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
Mind over Matter, Soul over Body?
Visitation Sister: Question 1: Why do we so easily neglect our souls and focus on our bodies? This first question sort of makes an assumption that I am not sure we agree with, all of us. For me, I am more neglectful of body than soul, but I should take better care of externals too.
Denise: Maybe this changes with our age and what our vocation is?
Ines: Our bodies are very demanding: Hunger, thirst, etc.
Denise: In this letter, St. Francis de Sales is addressing a woman who is begotten with herself! And is counseling this sister how to help.
Visitation Sister: Souls are invisible while bodies are visible, so that might contribute to the choice.
Caroline: Yes, and the press of so many duties to accomplish.
Denise: Do you think this “poor woman” is entering the convent?
Ines: I think the needs of our soul get louder as we get older, perhaps. The emptiness of only satisfying the body becomes more evident. In youth, our bodies are vibrant and ready to go. As we get a little older, wisdom can help us to pay attention to the needs of our invisible soul.
Denise: I do love how St. Francis writes in this letter!
Caroline: It almost sounds like she is very beautiful, and all that attention has turned her head.
Denise: Yes, Caroline, and she seems to be a woman this sister knows that lives apart from the convent.
Visitation Sister: It sounds either like a convent or a boarding place for women. The Sainte-Catherine-du-Mont abbey located in Haute-Savoie, was founded in the 12th or 13th century in the current town of Annecy, but in an isolated valley of Semnoz, the valley of Sainte-Catherine. In 1772, it was closed, and its occupants joined another convent located in the city center. (From Wikipedia)
The (Bodily) Gifts We Have Received
Visitation Sister: Question 2: Why do you think attractiveness or natural physical abilities are something people treat as their own doing, rather than a gift they have received? Why is this spiritually dangerous?
Caroline: We are born with them, so we think they belong to us.
Denise: It is secular thought to raise oneself up as a creator!
Sherry: Hmm... Interesting.
Ines: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”
Sherry: We don’t, Ines.
Ines: “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.”
Denise: Are you? Lol.
Ines: Both quotes from cosmetic industry ads. The culture emphasizes our physical beauty according to artificial, fabricated standards.
Sherry: When I was doing the course “theology of the body,” it was interesting how many women struggled saying “I am a body.” They also struggled a lot with pointing out, what they liked about their bodies.
Ines: We are encouraged to do things to ourselves (products, surgeries, etc.) to achieve the “look” of beauty according to the advertising industry, as if the self is dependent upon our physical beauty.
Sherry: There was one man in the group – when asked if he liked his body – he said “YES.” When asked “What do you like about your body?” He answered, “It functions.”
Caroline: Yes. And it will never satisfy, because beauty, as well as fashion trends, are fleeting.
Sherry: This is such a loaded theme. I do not even know where to start to be honest. How can we honor God with our beauty? The exposure of beauty and the presence of lust are so intertwined often, I find. And when I say “exposure,” I do not mean “nudity.”
Visitation Sister: We honor Him by taking care of this gift.
Denise: Taking care of our body honors the gift God gave us and using our health to be able to help others.
Sherry: Yes, to both. But is not taking care something “I” do? Can it be that it is the same principle as “cooperating with God’s graces”?
Denise: I don’t think in terms of “I am a body.” Have to think about this.
Caroline: Because we are not our bodies.
Sherry: Well, Caroline, I also thought that, but then I read the readings from John Paul 2 – and he says, “We are our bodies.” It really stretched me.
Denise: Sr Susan, your thoughts?
Visitation Sister: We are body and soul, and that is why we will be reunited with our bodies in the Resurrection someday.
Sherry: Apparently – the church defines a “person” — a body and soul together forever.
Ines: Body and soul.
Sherry: I really do not want to cause confusion here. I am referring to the teachings of ‘Theology of the Body.” It has really helped me to heal in some areas around my body issues but also made me understand the gospel and mostly the cross in a better way. I grew up always thinking that the “body is just a shell” – it does not matter. All that matters are my thoughts – so I identified mostly from the neck UP-wards. I think it is almost impossible in our culture to come out with a positive and healthy body image and feeling. As I said. Just my thoughts.
Denise: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples 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 bodies”
Sherry: Yes, the Bible speaks a lot about the body. And it was the body that suffered on the cross – why did I always ignore that so much?
Ines: Descartes did a lot of damage with “I think, therefore I am.” Therefore, only *I* get to determine what or who I am. The fundamental stance of humanism. The schism of body and soul.
Sherry: Yes, Ines, that is actually the background. Exactly that. But I never realized HOW much it has influenced me.
Ines: St. Teresa of Avila helped me to see the truth of Jesus Christ as body and soul on the cross. Catholicism became for me and for many others, I’m sure, about denying the body as evil or unwanted or unholy. Sort of Calvinist, almost.
Sherry: For me the Catholic teaching was a saving grace – compared to my Protestant teaching.
Ines: A different sort of focus on the body… either we indulge our bodies and passions, or we try to separate them from our soul as somehow evil.I’m glad to hear that, Sherry. Growing up Catholic, there were many mixed messages and certainly watered-down teachings.
Caroline: Yes, and isn’t that why the Creed is so careful to say that Jesus has an actual body?
Sherry: I think – this is where we come back – to “being a holy temple.” Oh, Caroline, this is interesting. What do you mean by that? Do you mean the focus on the physical suffering in the Creed? Suffered under Pontius Pilate.
Ines: He redeemed our bodies as well as our souls, perhaps?
Sherry: I think we are going away from our core question. But it is so interesting. Yes, he DID redeem our bodies. And the bodies will resurrect. So mind blowing.
Caroline: Yes to all of that!
Visitation Sister: So much develops as we chat here – real theology!
Sherry: Yes, and thanks for giving space, Sister.
Caroline: We have been together so long, inspiring each other.
Sherry: True, Caroline.
Denise: We just celebrated Corpus Christi, The solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
Sherry: The “body of Christ.” Oh my. Makes me feel dizzy – it has so many angles to look at.
A Holy Disposition
Visitation Sister: The next question goes in a different direction: Why is our disposition before starting something (especially prayer) so important?
Caroline: Attitude is everything.
Sherry: The disposition is important, because we have a tendency to do things “for our own.” But when we stop – and dedicate our action to GOD – it becomes something that contributes to “thy kingdom come.” It is like the fish and the loaves – we dedicate it to GOD – and He makes it big and worthy. If we do not stop and dedicate our action to God. It is like “eating the fish and the loaves” – having missed out – on making our action part of the redemptive work in the world.
Denise: John 6:54-57: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
Caroline: Oh! And the Romans thought that meant cannibalism, something we’re still having to explain.
Sherry: And, Denise and Caroline, it is almost painful. Not to answer to both of you. We HAVE to talk about this one day: The body of Christ.
Caroline: We do!
Sherry: Oh. You mean now?
Visitation Sister: Yes, go with this flow. Let the Spirit finish, I think!
Denise: Typed replies come in their own order it seems, but the Spirit is guiding us.
Sherry: We are the body of Christ – and we “consume” the body of Christ.”
Caroline: And because we partake of the one body, we are united.
Sherry: Yes, Caroline. That is the one part I try so hard to tell my Protestant brothers and sisters. The body of Jesus suffered for us, so how can we think that we should not suffer as His body, I wonder? Why did Jesus need a human body?
Caroline: We are told that all suffering is bad.
Sherry: What? Who says that, Caroline? I mean, I do not want to “glorify” suffering – but if we are not willing to accept it, then I wonder how can we be in His likeness too?
Caroline: Oh, society at large.
Sherry: Yes, society teaches us that we should not suffer. You are right.
Denise: I don’t think he “needed” it, but in order to dwell among us, and to sacrifice.
Sherry: I think so too, Denise. And also, He became human — a human is a person – as we said. Body and soul together forever. Not an angel. They are only souls. But do not have a body.
Denise: We suffer here because of original sin.
Sherry: Yes, I just read yesterday that every suffering goes back to original sin. If we look close enough. Ladies, what do you think about this statement: “What I do to my body, I do to my soul”?
Visitation Sister: Jesus came to be like us in all but sin.
Sherry: You are right, Sister, and I heard that many times. But I somehow managed to ignore that He has chosen to be a “body person” – a true human. I think, deep down – I still thought- He was God in a “human costume” – but He took on human nature – and that included a body.
Caroline: That’s a bold statement, Sherry.
Sherry: I agree, Caroline. But could it be true?
Caroline: Yes, I think it is true.
Sherry: There is so much mystery involved too. And I find that the mysteries of the Rosary can help a lot too – to understand better – the humanness of our Lord.
Sherry: Wow. You are much faster than me Caroline. It took me several months to come to this conclusion.
Caroline: I have your good example to follow.
Sherry: There are so many things in our world that show that deep down people believe that “it does not matter what we do to our bodies” – abortion, same sex lifestyle (not simply attraction, but lifestyle), sex outside of marriage, etc. I like it when it says that the Eucharist is “body, blood, soul and divinity” – it shows that they come together – we receive them as ONE – not just the SOUL.
Caroline: Some science is still teaching that we are mammals acting on instinct.
Sherry: Well, that is a wrong understanding of a “human soul.” We have “human souls” not “animal souls” – different creation – an animal is an animal. A human is – but at the same time becomes.
Visitation Sister: Well, we won’t finish all tonight, but the diversion was very good.
Caroline: Yes, I’m just repeating now.
Sherry: Thanks for letting us “talk” Sister.
Denise: Chat went quickly. Thank you, Sister.
Sherry: Blessings, everyone.
Caroline: We do go off topic in interesting directions.
The Importance of Prayer
Visitation Sister: Definitely very important! Our homework: In a world driven so by utility/productivity/efficiency, how could we share the importance of prayer, which to some degree is the exact opposite of those things?
Caroline: By taking the time for prayer throughout the day.
Denise: Good! Thank you for this assignment Sr.
Sherry: Great assignment.
If you liked the chat above, check out the Living Jesus Chat Room of the Visitation Sisters. Join us at 7:30 p.m. ET each Sunday!