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Monday, April 05, 2004

Our Bodies, Ourselves

Our Bodies, Ourselves

At the Last Supper, which we commemorate on Holy Thursday, Jesus Christ held His own resurrected body in His hands. It’s an amazing thing. With the words, “This is my body… This is my blood…” His made Himself present in the breaking of the bread, though none of the apostles would realize it until many days later. If you have ever wondered why our bodies resurrect, this is the place to start your meditations.

Now, we know only three kinds of persons exist: the three uncreated Persons of the Godhead, and the two kinds of created persons – angels and men. In order to understand why we get our bodies back, we first have to understand what it means to be us. What are we? What is a human person? More important, why are we human persons?

The question is kind of interesting because the answers are not as obvious as they appear. One of the first people to deal with the question was a man named Nestorius. He said, “Look, the Church teaches that Jesus is fully human. He has a fully human body and a fully human soul. Therefore, He must have be a fully human person. But, He is the Son of God, so He must be a Divine Person as well.” It seemed pretty logical – according to Nestorius, Jesus was two persons at once. The human person and the divine Son of God, both united in one body, sort of like a split personality, only in a good way.

When Bishop Nestorius proposed this to the Church and began teaching it to his flock, other bishops objected. An ecumenical council of the Church was called to decide the issue. By the end of the council, Nestorius found he was wrong, a heretic. The council agreed that the apostolic teaching was this: there is only one Person in Jesus Christ – while He is fully and completely man, he is not a human person. He is the Divine Person, the Son of God.

Well, that’s quite a poser, isn’t it? How can you be fully man, but not even the teeniest bit a human person? It seems impossible, unless you remember one thing: the Three Persons of the one God are distinguished only by their relations and we human persons are made in His image.

God is pure spirit. He does not have a body. The Three Persons of the Godhead are pure spirit. The angels are made in God’s image in three ways. First, they are pure spirit, like God. Also, they are enormously powerful intellects, so knowledgeable about the results of their own actions that they can see the furthest consequences of everything they choose. Their decisions are irrevocable. In that, they are like God too. Third, each angel is a distinct person.

But we humans, we are not pure spirits. How are we like God? Well, we image Him by the fact that we are persons. We also image Him by the fact that we can generate, we can beget families. God the Father begets the Son, the Father and the Son generate the Spirit. God is a family of persons whose life is love. In fact, the three persons of the Trinity are so closely intertwined in love that each Person can be distinguished from the other two only by their relations to one another. Father begets Son, Father and Son together generate Spirit. If it were not for these relations, there would be no Divine Persons. That’s how important relationship is to being a Divine Person. If relationship is that important for God, it is likely to be pretty important for us as well.

So, what does is it about angels and men that makes us persons? Well, think about what is unique about us. Only angels and men are called to intimate communion with the Three Divine Persons of the Godhead. Only angels and men are called to be part of God’s family. Nothing else is. Birds, ducks, dogs, giraffes – all of these may appear in the new heaven and new earth that comes after the Day of Last Judgement, but none are called to personal intimacy with God. We are persons because we are called to be in communion with the Divine Persons.

Communion means total gift of self. Each Person of the Trinity gives of Himself so fully, that each Person of the Trinity totally interpenetrates the other two Persons. What does that mean? It means that no matter which Person of the Trinity you are thinking of, the other Two Persons are totally contained within Him. Each Divine Person makes Total Gift of Himself to the other Two, each gives Himself totally away to the other Two, holding nothing back.

The angels who rebelled chose to hold something of themselves back. This withholding was enough to prevent them from entering into communion with God. They are called to communion – they are persons – but their personhood can never be the fullness it is meant to be simply and only because they are not in full communion with the First Persons, the Trinity.

God made us a unique composite of body and soul. “Man is a person in the unity of his body and spirit. The body can never be reduced to mere matter. It is a spiritualized body, just as man’s spirit is so closely united to the body that he can be described as an embodied spirit.” So says Pope John Paul II, so say we all.

We are called into total communion with God. Total communion. That means we have to give Him everything we are if we want to be fully human persons. Death is the separation of spirit and body, and death was never what God intended for us. Since we are body and spirit, since body and spirit were meant to be joined forever, we must give Him everything we are. Our bodies are necessary to our personhood because they are part of what we give to God. We get our bodies back at the Day of Last Judgement precisely so we can give ourselves totally away to God, just as Mary gave herself totally to God when Gabriel asked her the question, just as Jesus gave Himself totally to us on the Cross.

And this is why Jesus is not a human person even though He is human in every other respect. His relationship to God is infinitely superior to our own. He is God, after all. He is already totally contained within the other two Persons of the Trinity – something that we will never accomplish. We will be in communion with God in heaven, but never that level of intimate communion that the Son has. He possesses the one Divine Nature, we only share in it. He owns it, through the grace of the sacraments, we only dabble our fingers in it. He is the Divine Person of the Son, we are human persons.

At the Last Supper, the one God who is simultaneously present at every moment of time and space made Himself specially present in His resurrected body when He uttered the words, "This is My Body... This is My Blood." He chose to take a body at the Incarnation and He chooses to keep His human body and human nature even now, because He wants us to understand what a precious gift our body is. Our bodies are part of who we are, and if we did not have them, we would not be everything God intends us to be. He took flesh so we could triumph over the Fall. He held His own resurrected Body in His hands at the Last Supper so we could hold His resurrected bodies in our arms in heaven. With our bodies, we worship Him.

This Triduum, think on these things.

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