“The glory of God is man fully alive,” says St. Irenaeus. In those moments when both our body and soul are awakened in unison, there’s a sense that we almost begin to see behind the curtain of fleeting things, into the stage of eternity, and grasp most tangibly the wonder of the life with which God has blessed us.
“The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus be a sign of it.”
And yet both perceptions of the body, ultimately, leave us unsatisfied. Why? In either case - on the one hand, elevating the body, and on the other, denying it - it is the body that is the focus, and the rest of the person falls by the wayside. Pope Saint John Paul II says something illuminating once more: “There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person.” It is this drive to divorce what ought to be inseparable, this failure to behold the wonder that is the entirety of the human person – persons, “towards [whom] the only proper and adequate response is love,” – that causes such a dissonance within ourselves and our society.
What we often fail to truly grasp is that our bodies exist to reveal the person. How staggering to think that those around us only know who we are through our bodies! If my closest friend knows who I am, it is because his ears have heard the words from my mouth; it is because his eyes have borne witness to my actions; it is because our hands have reached out to clasp the other’s. Our interior life remains completely invisible and incomprehensible to others until we translate it through our bodies into the physical realm. Who doesn’t delight in seeing that small quirk of an exasperated smile on a friend’s face after one tells a particularly bad pun? Or in feeling the lingering warmth of a wordless embrace before a long separation? Or in hearing the absent-minded out-of-tune humming of an old friend? Such events aren’t significant because the sensations in themselves are particularly meaningful, but because they reveal the humor, the affection, the personality of an Other. When we allow the body and its appetites to take precedence over the person, we are left empty; when we deny our body entirely, we become unanchored from reality. Only when the body is regarded in the context of the person, with the measure of dignity appropriate to it, does its power properly reveal itself.
And here we come to the point: Corpus Christi – the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. We have a fleshy, bloody, intensely physical Faith: we sit, and stand, and kneel; prostrate ourselves before the altar; anoint heads and hands with oil; sign the cross on ourselves with water; kiss the cross; light candles and incense; consummate marriages through the marital embrace; run beads through our fingers; raise our voices and sing; ring bells; extend hands over bread and wine; consume body and blood. And on and on it goes. Why? Because, “The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine.” Through the Faith, we find peace - the tranquility of order that allows us to glorify God through our body, while also not being enslaved to its appetites. We fast because we were made for more than merely physical goods; we feast because God, in his goodness, has given to us in abundance. The physical reality of our Faith grounds us in our humanity, which God has deemed, "very good."
Just as with any other friend, we come to know Christ through a physical experience with a person. A relationship with Christ is a spiritual thing to be sure, but it is through the tangible medium of listening to our parents passing on the Faith, of seeing our friends witnessing to the Truth, of being moved ourselves by the beauty of the Mass, that we first come to know Him. It is no accident that half of communication is body language. It is no accident that the language of the body is an integral part of our Catholic Faith. And beyond all this, we, the Church, are the Body of Christ. The Church was not meant to be a mere gathering of peoples, a body for its own sake; rather, She exists to reveal the person of Christ as His hands and feet – even as His heart, as St. Thérèse of Lisieux declared she would be.
We are neither puritan nor hedonist – we are Catholic: Just as we reject the belief that the body is evil, so too do we reject the belief that mere bodily pleasure is the aim of life. Rather than repressing our desires for physical goods or allowing ourselves to be enslaved by our hunger for physical comforts, we subordinate and direct those desires towards the good. We’ll never truly understand what it means to live until our body and soul cooperate in harmony - a successful integration of body and soul orients us to the reality that we are made for self-gift. You and I, through our every action, are meant to bring others to an encounter with the person of Christ, and we impoverish the world if we forget this mission.