They've dressed me, fed me, tied my shoelaces, blessed me, thrown a Frisbee, broken a fall, climbed a tree, embraced friends, scratched my back, flagged down assistance, and a thousand other helpful things. Over the years, I've discovered that I've become rather fond of my hands. They've opened lot of doors for me and are really quite . . .well, handy.
They are my hands. I've had them since the beginning. One owner. And, quite frankly, I'd be pretty annoyed if somebody started interfering with my control over these hands of mine. Does anybody have any right to tell me what to do with my hands? Does the Church? Does God?
Well, before we get to the Church or to God, let's get to my parents. Especially my Mother. How many times in my life did she interfere with me and my hands? "Keep your hands to yourself!" "Don't play with matches." It seems that my authority over my hands does have some limitations. Apparently, my mother exercised the right also to tell her children that fingers don't belong up one's nose. My hands. My nose. It didn't matter. "Take your finger out of your nose." Apparently, disgusting those around you is not a permissible use of your hands. Want to keep your hands dirty and eat with filthy hands? Nope. Yes, they're your hands. But, there are proper ways of taking care of ones hands. You want to eat in this house, you have to wash your hands.
God seemed to have recognized early on the trouble that men could get into with their hands. No offering sacrifices to other gods, no stealing, no taking bribes, no taking an other's spouse, no maiming of oneself, and no killing. For two thousand years or so, the Church has been teaching these same things. We can also add things that we are bound to do with our hands: feed the poor, clothe the naked, care for the sick, give drink to the thirsty, and to welcome the orphan, the widow, and the stranger.
It seems that God gave me these hands, but did so expecting that I would use them according to his will. And, it seems that his will has been articulated through his revealed word and his Church. When the Church teaches me about the right use of my hands, I've never once thought, "Who is the Church to interfere with me and the right use of my hands? They are my hands and nobody should tell me how to use them." I, along with most Catholics, have concluded that the Church has some authority here. My body is given to me by God, but he has certain expectations of how I use this body.
If a new diet phase came down the road in which it was determined the best way to lose weight was to chop off your hands so that you couldn't feed yourself quite so easily, the Church would have something to say about that. Would she give you this advice because she wants to interfere with your control over your hands? No. She would speak because this is the reason the Church is given a teaching mission by Christ. She advises against such an act out of love. Yes, we have hands. But, our hands are given to us as a gift from God and they are to be used in accordance with his Divine Plan. Losing weight might be a noble goal. Cutting off your hands to do it . . . nope.
The idea that one's body is somehow exempt from the life of grace is really an absurdity. To be human is to have flesh. Christ took on flesh to save humanity. The only way in which we are saved is in our flesh. We love God not in the abstract, but in the flesh.
Whenever the Church speaks on areas concerning human sexuality, there is inevitably a protest from some that the Church should not interfere with someone's rights over his or her body. And usually, this protest comes with anger and invective. But, as long as Christians have bodies, the Church is going to talk to us about loving God in our bodies. She will tell us to watch over our lips, lest we curse God or speak uncharitably about our neighbor. She will tell us to watch over our eyes, lest we lust after another man's wife, greedily turn money into our god, or look uncharitably upon others. She will tell us to watch over our ears so that we might listen to the Word of God. And, she will remind us that there are proper ways for us to use our reproductive organs.
What I do find fascinating is the reaction that the Church receives when she teaches on matters of human sexuality. Nobody ever angrily cries out against the Church when, for instance, she tells us that it is wrong to look with hatred on another human being or when she says that we should not use our lips to destroy the good name of our neighbor. Or, there are no angry editorials when the Church says that the human person ought not use his digestive system to drink excessive amounts of alcohol. Yet, these are indeed teachings on the proper use of body parts. Seemingly, it is only when she speaks about matters pertaining to sex that she receives such strong reaction. And not only reaction, but the claim that the Church is interfering with one's rights over one's body.
Jesus came to save me and I have a body. As best I can tell, I have never sinned outside of my body. It is always in my body that I have sinned--in my thoughts, in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do. When I love, it is always in my body. So, part of the Church's mission is to teach us how to love God and our neighbor. That is always going to happen in our bodies. It is why marriages are consummated. Our bodies matter. All of my parishioners . . . they have bodies. The pews in my church are a little bit uncomfortable (at least, I think so). The reason we know that they're uncomfortable is because the people who sit in them all have bodies. Bodies matter. Matter matters.
I baptized three babies today. I poured water over their heads. It was not enough for their parents to think about having the babies baptized. We needed them to bring the baby to church. We needed bodies there. Sacraments require bodies.
If we are spiritually lazy, we are not going to like when the Church says that our bodies have to be at Mass on Sunday. The unchaste are not going to like when the Church says that sexual activity is virtuous only in the context of marriage and when it is open to the possibility of new life. The gluttonous are not going to like it when the Church says that drunkenness is immoral. But, as long as we Christians have bodies, the Church is going to preach to us about how to follow Christ in those bodies.
The Church proclaims that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son who became flesh; took on a body. In him, we too can love God in our flesh. We can love him in our hands, our eyes, our ears, our lips, and in our entire bodies. No aspect of our humanity is left out of this equation. I'm grateful for the Church because she teaches me and helps me learn to love God with all of my humanity. By her faithful teaching, the Church says something that so many in the world want to deny: that our bodies are way more than just our personal property. Our bodies are not ends in themselves. Our bodies--every last cell of them--are made in order to love God perfectly. That is awesome.