Fr. Charles Irvin
Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 22-25; John 2:13-25
Many times when we come to Mass the homilies speak of what it means to have a soul. Today, however, I want to reflect on what it means to have a body.
The question I am putting you today is: “What does it mean to have a body, what does a body do for you?” There are many answers, of course, but two principal reasons come to mind. One is that your body locates you; it makes you present to others. A second reason that flowing from that is your body allows you to communicate your inner self to others. We are humans, we are body/spirit beings, we are not angels, those creations of God that do not have human bodies. We do, and our bodies allow us to share our selves with others.
If God is going to be humanly present to us He must take on a human body; if He is going to fully communicate with us, He must do so in our human nature. That’s what the Incarnation is all about – God coming to us in our humanity, which we celebrate at Christmas.
Your body is composed of millions and millions of cells. Who you are is present in each one of those cells. Your body’s cells are all held together by one life-giving spirit, your soul. If your soul leaves your body it loses its integrity, it disintegrates, it decomposes. You are no longer there in your body. The integrity, the truth of you, is lost. With your soul not there anymore your body disintegrates and dies. You are no longer there.
After His resurrection Jesus Christ comes to us in a new body, one that St. Paul refers to as the Mystical Body of Christ. It is filled with a life-giving Spirit, the Holy Spirit. All of the baptized and confirmed, each and every one of us, comprise that Body, a Body filled with one life-giving Spirit or Soul that holds it together and in which Christ is present to us, in which He communicates Himself to us.
We need to pay attention to how important our bodies are in the eyes of God. All too often we watch television advertisements deal with how our bodies look, how attractive we can make them, how we dress them, and how we care for them. Television is in the image industry and so body images occupy much of what the television industry broadcasts to us. They make a lot of money doing that… a whole lot of money.
But how does God regard our bodies? St. Paul gives us the picture. In his First Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul writes:
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy. (1 Cor 3: 16-17)
Today’s Gospel account is all about the abuse of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus was angry, very angry indeed, turning over the moneychangers’ tables, making a whip, driving them, along with the animals they were selling, out of God’s holy Temple. They were provoked and challenged Him, which gave Him the opportunity to speak of the temple of His own body. Indirectly He was also speaking of your body and mine as well. Our bodies are made, in God’s plan, for Him to dwell in so that through us we can bring His presence, power, and love to those around us. Our bodies are temples of His presence.
The figure of the temple applies not just to the Temple in Jerusalem but also to the temple that is the Body of Christ, the Church, as well as to our own bodies. All three are intended by God to bring us His presence. Woe, then, to those who sell out on God’s purposes and intentions. Woe, then, to those who corrupt them and use them for their own purposes, those who attempt to use them for their own gain. God’s holiness cannot be bought and sold without causing Him to act. He will not allow His intentions and purposes to be corrupted and used by us for our own profit, our own gain, our own purposes. Those who attempt to do so will face a cleansing from God.
There are some who characterize the Ten Commandments as merely a series of “Thou shall nots.” Thereupon they look for loopholes just like they look for loopholes in the tax code or in our enacted federal, state, and local laws. For them, it all becomes a game, a “catch me if you can” game. What is moral is merely what is legal, and laws can be manipulated, they think, to suit their own purposes.
Loving God isn’t simply observing a set of laws, rules, and regulations. All of that keeps God at a safe distance and under our control. Human arrogance and pride are often at work in those legalistic approaches to God.
Jesus calls us to rid our hearts and souls of all that we think we can buy and sell. Jesus calls us to cleanse our hearts and souls, God’s temple, God’s place of dwelling within us, and to purify them so that we are filled with the Spirit of God rather than those things for which we have sold Him out for our own gain. “What profit is there,” Jesus asked, “for one to gain the whole world and yet lose his immortal soul?” All of the gospels report this teaching of Jesus, just as they all report His cleansing of the Temple. Evidently the authors of the Gospels regarded this as an extremely important and serious matter. So should we. Selling out on our own beliefs, selling out on God, puts us in serious jeopardy.
Selling yourself short is likewise a tragic thing. It leads into feelings of inferiority. Selling out your honor is a tragic thing. Selling out on God is truly disastrous. It leads to loss of eternal life. But just as Jesus cleansed Jerusalem’s Temple, He can, by the power of His Holy Spirit, cleanse the temple of our souls and restore us to His purpose and dwell within us not only for our own sakes but for the sake of those around us to whom He wishes to bring His presence, His power, and His love.
We must always bear in mind that we are “being redeemed sinners,” that God has sent His Son among us not to condemn us but to save us, particularly to save us from ourselves. Truly He knows human nature; truly He knows not only what we have been, who we are now, but what we can be. He made us to be temples of His love.
“Do you not know that your are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? For the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” How we regard our bodies and what we do with them matters… matters very much in the eyes of God.