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Posts Tagged ‘Body’

tree

Yeah, it’s a little late in the day.  Earth Day will be over by the time many readers get to this.  Sorry to be so late…but life does tend to get busy, as you undoubtedly know.

I want to start with a quick reflection on biodegradable urns, which seem to have become popular of late.  My understanding is that these allow the ashes of the deceased to be mixed with seeds and planted in the ground so that, basically, our loved ones’ graves are marked with trees instead of headstones.

The rationale goes something like this: “If you become a tree, at least you’re giving back to the earth.  What good is your body if it’s just rotting in a casket?”

Can we say this perspective is understandable?  Sure.  But I would like to present another perspective for consideration.

We have all dealt with the death of loved ones at some time or other.  As we mourn their passing, we remember them as unique individuals, of the times we enjoyed with them, etc.  When you think about it, don’t your loved ones mean more to you, even in death, than material to be used as fertilizer?

tombstone

It is good for us to bury our dead.  It fulfills an emotional need that humans have to know that they can always come to a certain spot and say, “George (hypothetical name) is here.”  Whether we visit George’s tombstone every year on his birthday, bring flowers to lay on his grave, etc., we bear witness to a vitally important element of the human experience: When our fellow human beings die, our relationship with them goes on.  It changes, but it somehow abides.

Okay…I know this all probably sounds very anti-environmental, catering to human neediness rather than promoting good stewardship of our planet.  But this is not the case at all…and that’s precisely where I intend to bring my faith into this discussion.

We human beings are both physical and spiritual creatures.  So we can ask, “What is it our connection with the material world?”

The answer: Our bodies.

Resurrection

Christian belief in the Resurrection could hardly be any more affirmative of the body’s dignity and importance.  Jesus Christ, as true God and true man, rose bodily (see my post “Jesus’ Resurrected Body — What’s the Difference?” for more on this: https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/jesus-resurrected-body-whats-the-difference/) after having undergone death and burial.

As Christians, we bury our dead in the earth in coffins because this is our way of following Christ, Who endured bodily death before rising again.  This is a witness to the expectancy of our own resurrection, which will come at the end of time.

It is true that we will be raised to a whole new life — in fact, a whole new kind of life.  We are born into the natural world, but we are destined for the supernatural.

But does this mean that the material world doesn’t matter, or that we should neglect it?  Emphatically not.  Anyone who knows, for example, of our recent Pope Benedict XVI’s many addresses on the Christian responsibility to exercise good stewardship over creation will see this for the falsehood that it is.

Here is what the Catechism has to say about it:

The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation. (CCC 2415) (italics mine)

But the way to do this is not by allowing ourselves to be absorbed into the earth, thus in some sense forfeiting our humanity.  Rather, we must exercise the stewardship that God entrusted to Adam in Eden with a view to the coming of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1).

That said, I should return to my comment about humanity being made for something higher than this world.  This does not mean that we are destined to forever leave the earth behind.  Rather, the world we currently know becomes — to borrow an analogy that Peter Kreeft uses in his great book “Love is Stronger Than Death” — as the womb becomes for us after we are born.  It is still a part of our world, but it is just that — a part of something much, much bigger.

Kreeft cites an interesting passage from C.S. Lewis’ book “Miracles” in the fourth chapter of his book.  I’d like to close with that:

… Come out, look back, and then you will see … this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. … Offer her neither worship nor contempt.  Meet her and know her.  If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch.  But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed.  The “vanity” to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence.  She will be cured, but cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilized.  We shall still be able to recognize our old enemy, friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself.  And that will be a merry meeting.

All images from Wikipedia

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Before I conclude my ruminations on “The Dark Knight Rises,” I wanted to spend some time explaining the Catholic understanding of the relationship between the body and the soul.  We’ll just be skimming the surface, but it will be enough for the topic we’re dealing with.

René_Descartes

Actually, it’s probably a good idea to start with what the body/soul relationship is not.  A common misconception — one that, while having existed in some form or other for thousands of years, was really codified in the West by seventeenth-century French philosopher René Descartes — is the “ghost in the machine” view, which essentially says is that only the soul is the real person, whereas the body is just a shell.  Death, in this context, is merely the soul’s escape from the body, which can be cast off like used clothing.

Sleepy Hollow

And that’s one of the more generous conceptions of the body that are out there.  There are older gnostic philosophies that see the body — and with it, the material world — as evil, illusory, and to be shunned.

Unfortunately, there have been forms of Puritanism that have tried to infuse Christianity with similar conceptions of the body.

But from a Catholic viewpoint, this is far from the truth.  As a human being, your body is more than just a “shell.”  It is, in fact, you.

True, the body is not the whole of the human person — man has a spiritual as well as a physical component.  But the uniqueness of the human being among all living beings God created is that we are a blend of both the physical and the spiritual.  We are neither pure matter like animals and inanimate objects, nor pure spirits like the angels.

It is true that the soul is separated from the body at death.  But we have to remember that this is not man’s natural state.  It is a consequence of original sin.

As Christians, we believe that the soul is redeemed in Baptism.  The body, however, is not yet redeemed; it must go through natural death.

But this is not because the body does not share in redemption.  Indeed, at the end of time every human being will share in the resurrection of the body…

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2 — NIV).

This discussion opens up a host of other possible discussions about the nature of the soul, eternal life, etc.  But again, I’m just providing a snapshot of the subject to prepare for the final installment of my “Batman” commentaries (which will deal with a proper understanding of ultimate hope and how it relates to this world).

I still intend to have that available by tomorrow night.  But as always, if things change, I’ll let you know.  Thanks for reading.

Images from Wikipedia

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