Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sacred Bodies

Second Sunday of Lent Year C

Someone suggested that I should volunteer as a Marie Claire model, you know one of those “before” and “after” slimming programme success stories. I’m not sure if I qualify. But if you have seen photographs of me taken just a few years ago, some may be compelled to agree. Four inches around the waist slimmer, forty kilogrammes lighter, does make for a good juxtaposition of past and present. Some have asked me for the secret formula of weight loss and I just simply tell them, “Diabetes. You’ve got to get diabetes!” In today’s gospel reading, we have something more than just an incredible trans-morphing of the body, we encounter the amazing scene of the Transfiguration, a word translated from the original Greek, “metamorphosis”, meaning “changed in form” or “transformed.” It is a scene that does not only allow the viewer to see the difference between past and present, but also provides us a glimpse of what the future would look like.

The scene of the Transfiguration is found in all three Synoptic gospels but here in the Gospel of St Luke, one discovers some significant differences. These differences include a parallel allusion to the scene of the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the only recorded discussion between Jesus and Moses and Elijah concerning the new exodus or Passover, the mention of eight days instead of six, eight being the symbol of Sunday, the Day of the Resurrection, points to one single theme. In the scene of the Transfiguration, we are given a glimpse of what the resurrection would look like.  As we behold the transfigured Christ, as we behold His glory, we are also being transfigured into His likeness. St Paul speaks of the transfiguration of Christians. The Transfiguration not only points to our transformation to His likeness, but it points to our future glory and the ultimate transformation of our physical bodies. The presence of the long dead Moses and Elijah is visible proof of this. Their presence speaks of the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body.

The Transfiguration provides us with a corrective to our present cultural mindset. Deny as we may want, we live in a body conscious culture. Young slim women and muscular men boasting six pack abs adorn the pages of our newspapers and magazines. Millions of dollars are spent developing products to make us look better, whilst less is spent to solve poverty issues and to find cures to presently incurable diseases like HIV, cancer, etc. We have used our innovative genius to create and develop products to clean up, paint up, and fix up. We spend more time worrying about our physical shape rather than on the state of well-being of our soul. Longevity and prolonging the appearance of youth seem to be greater concerns than eternal salvation. Deny as we may try, we do live in a body conscious world.

The Transfiguration reminds us that there is an alternative vision to the human body. Human bodies are not just meant to be physically beautiful. Human bodies are not cheap neither are they valueless. On the contrary, human bodies are precious or more importantly, human bodies are sacred. Many would vehemently reject this last association – how could this body of mine, one which I sometimes loath and detest, the one which seems to cause me affliction and pain, the well spring of temptations of the flesh be seen as sacred? We resist this association between the sacred and what we consider to be profane because we feel that the corporeality of our bodies would stain the pure nature of the divine.

The Incarnation, the Birth, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, has made all human flesh precious and bodies sacred. The eternal Creator looks at the least human person and now not only numbers the hairs of our head – but sanctifies every single cell in our body, every drop of blood in our veins. God looks at the least and sees the eternal Child of God, Jesus – sees the Word made flesh and blood. We are saved in him. In Jesus, God says over the least human being, God gives the word, “This is my Body and Blood,” In the Transfiguration, we come to recognise that Jesus is the Transubstantiation of humanity. The day that we are baptised, something amazing happens to us, not just to our souls but to our entire being, including our bodies.

Very often, we seem to skip this reflection on our true identity and wish to move immediately into the area of morality. What must we do? What is prohibited to us? Morality without considering our fundamental identity is pure moralism. But acting flows from Being. Ethics is a consequence of our identity. Morality springs from our ontological identity, which is this – in baptism, we have become children of God, and we acquire our citizenship in heaven.  The authority of morality, therefore, is not imposed from the outside but comes from inside – it naturally flows from who we are. We do not need posters on our church doors listing out a dress code, if we are fully aware of our identity. We do not only dress for the occasion. We dress to reflect our being, to reflect who we are essentially. We should act in a certain way, because it is in our very nature, our very identity that demands this. Sin is a denial of our identity. Our identity as Children of God, Citizens of Heaven, Temples of the Holy Spirit, therefore, pose various cautions: Be careful where it goes; Be careful what it does; Be careful what it ponders; Be careful what it wears and how it behaves.

A renewed understanding of our bodies should lead us to practice certain virtues. One of these virtues is chastity. Chastity means we keep our bodies pure by abstaining from sexual activity except in the context of a loving and committed relationship of marriage.  Sex is an expression of committed love and a means of fostering that love in the context of marriage. But chastity is more than abstinence. It is consecration. We are made for God, and wholly for Him. Infidelity, fornication, sexual perversion, pornography, masturbation would be an aberration of this, in fact a desecration of the body. We live a lie whenever we violate our bodies. We deny who we really are. If we knew and believe that our bodies are meant to look like that of the Transfigured Christ in today’s gospel, we will live accordingly.  In a world gone mad with distortions of the supreme good, Love, in a society that has reduced sex to a commodity, Christian virtue of chastity calls for great courage, heroic courage.

After the Incarnation, and the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, our bodies, no matter what the blind violence of sinful men and women may indicate, is never again to be seen as something dirty or cheap. At the transfiguration, we are reminded once again that our body is sacred and precious, so precious that God would die for it. Our bodies would never again be our shame or fear. We don’t have to paint it or fix it. All the cosmetic surgeries, all the body tattoos and piercings, all the savoir-faire fashion in the world, will not be able to disguise or hide or enhance the natural beauty that already comes from us being the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We can’t view all of these in any ordinary glass mirror. We can only see a true reflection of ourselves when we gaze upon the cross of Christ, the sacrifice of love which is represented in every Eucharist. At every mass, we are reminded of our true worth. That value can never be bought by any human price. It is a gift from God. You have been bought with the price of Christ’s own body and blood. You are priceless!

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