Many of our parishioners may have heard of Saint John Paul II’s teaching on the Theology of the Body. If we were to ask them what that means, what would they say? I am guessing that many would say, “Oh, that’s about chastity, right?” Or, “I think that’s for married people.”
Well, that is partly true. But, John Paul II also wrote at the end of this four-year long series on the meaning of our being created as man and woman, the sacrament of marriage, celibacy for the kingdom, and purity. For example, “One must immediately observe, in fact, that the term ‘theology of the body’ goes far beyond the content of the reflections presented here” (TOB 133:1).
This is a key point and one that actually helps us counter an idea floating around in society, the idea that the body is just some stuff we have or live in, something I can do whatever I want with, bend and alter and cut and enhance. No, I am my body. If someone punched me, would I say, “Hey, why did you punch my body?” No, I think I’d say, among other things, “Hey why did you punch me?” This body that you can see and touch reveals a deeper invisible mystery. It reveals me.
Now that this point is clear, we turn to focus on a line in the first reading. It helps us understand the revelatory power of the body in a new light. It says, “Remember death and decay, and cease from sin!” (Sir 28:6b). How does that connect to what we just said? We said that the body reveals a deeper mystery. So then, what does my own decay reveal? Decay evokes some pretty gross images.
But we could think of it this way. We could look at our multiplying sunspots, wrinkles, and our aches and pains. For the younger ones in the pews, we could ask about that scraped knee or broken bone. What deeper mystery does this tell us?
We first considered how our culture sells us this lie that body is just stuff, a possession, a burden, or a prison. This very same culture attempts to mask this lie when it promotes endless cosmetic improvements and fixes. We are not casting judgement on anyone today. We are simply asking them to pause and look past what our culture says and look to the wisdom of scripture. When I see my own “death and decay” in the words of Sirach, he invites us to look to the deepest cause of this unfortunate state. Ultimately, it is sin, that original sin and at times also our own personal sins. When we see our aging bodies or when we get a broken bone, scripture urges us to learn the deeper lesson, that our lives our limited, that death will come.
But this is not all that it teaches. It tells us to cease from sin, which is true death. This implies choosing life and furthermore, that we are made for the truest and everlasting life. John Paul II also writes:
“Although, due to sin, bodily death has become man’s lot and access to the tree of Life…was denied to him…nevertheless, when the living God enters his covenant with man…he continually renews in this covenant the very reality of Life, reveals again its prospects, and in some way opens up again the access to the tree of Life.”
This covenant is marked by God’s untiring forgiveness, which is the point that prevails over today’s readings.
When we think of our own death and mortality, it should also soften the heart and lead us to forgive, to let go of our neighbor’s throat even when we think that he deserves it. Forgiveness is a letting go, but before that, it is a letting in. Letting in the love of God.
Think of when we don’t forgive. We feel hardened. We are closed to gifts. Imagine a person that was hurt by someone else. If the victim in this case does not forgive, he begins to become hardened. He ceases to be able to love. Hatred allows no room for love. We become isolated from the offender, but then from others, as well. This begins to dry up our hearts and our lives because we are not made for isolation.
As we read in St. Paul, “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:7-8). We are made for communion.
Communion of persons: this means that I am fully myself in communion with another. First, we speak of communion with God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, perfectly one in three, and second, in God, we speak of communion with our neighbor. Loving is not only doing good to others and, in the case of today, forgiving others. It may start there, but it is perfected in communion when I can say all that is mine is yours and all that is yours is mine. This is heaven.
So, this means I am not made to lord it over and hold others at bay. I am called to enter into the power of God’s redeeming love and let that love transform my own heart and give that same love to my neighbor. I am called to be God’s ambassador. I can think of how God’s patient and demanding and unwavering love has transformed me. He doesn’t let any of us stay where we are, but he doesn’t force us to move or change. His love invites and even urges.
When we forgive, then, we are giving a face to that same merciful, patient, and demanding love. This is true power because it is the power to say that evil will not win.
Let us ask the Lord for a deeper experience of his own mercy towards us so that we may be transformed into a more transparent and living image of this love.
To download a PDF version of this homily, click here: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Steven Costello was ordained a priest with the Legionaries of Christ on December 12, 2011. Prior to entering the seminary, he majored in Music Education at the University of Central Florida. His main instrument is trombone and he particularly enjoys Mahler’s Symphonies. He is currently in the revision process of his doctoral dissertation through the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC. The topic is the human person in light of the heart of Christ. He has participated in both the TOB I: Head & Heart Immersion and TOB & Art: The Way of Beauty courses and served as chaplain for TOB I. In August, he began his role as chaplain at Divine Mercy University in Arlington, VA.