By Clemens Pater
We are not angels.
As human beings we have a body, flesh and blood, and an immortal soul. Our bodies and souls are created in the first moment of our life, at conception. Our souls will live forever. Our bodies will decay at death, but ‘rise again’ at the Last Day.
Each of us - as a unity of body and soul - are unique and ‘one of a kind.’ As unrepeatable individuals, we do no reincarnate into some other person or being: this body ‘goes with’ this soul forever. And our souls are each unique and individual. We are not part of some great universal soul.
The body is good, but it is often weak. One thing that differentiates us from animals is that we have a rational soul. We can reason; make decisions. We can rule our bodies. We do not have to be slaves to our senses. We can say no to lust. We can say ‘not now’ to hunger and thirst. We can decide to postpone our rest and relaxation in order to keep working toward a greater good.
The body is good. It is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. We are “stewards” of our bodies. We have a responsibility to take care of them. Our bodily functions have a purpose that God intended. We must eat to nourish and sustain ourselves. At the same time, we must guard against gluttony, or drunkenness which incapacitates our reason. Our acts of sexual intimacy are reserved for a man and woman who have entered into marriage. The procreative act is ordered toward the procreation of children and must be open to children. The sexual appetite is not for self-gratification, the objectification of people as in pornography, fornication, or adultery.
Even after death the body is treated with reverence. It is blessed with holy water and incense. It is reverently buried, preferably in holy ground, a Catholic cemetery.
In the Order of Christian Funerals, there is an Appendix which indicates the requirements for funerals rites for, and the final disposition of, those who have been cremated. The ashes must be permanently interred and marked. They may never be scattered or left in the home.
While cremation is allowed, Mother Church teaches that she always prefers the burial of the corporeal body (Code of Canon Law, no. 1176.3).
“The body of a deceased loved one forcefully brings to mind the mystery of life and death and our belief that our human bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and destined for future glory at the resurrection of the dead.”
“This is the body once washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the bread of life. This is the body whose hands clothed the poor and embraced the sorrowing. The human body is so inextricably associated with the human person that it is hard to think of a human person apart from his or her body” (Order of Christian Funerals, nos. 412-413).
Jesus Christ, in the mystery of the Incarnation, took on a human body. As true God, He is a Divine Person, but He has a human nature and a divine nature. In this way Jesus lifted up our human nature. In the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (GS), we read, “Since human nature, as He [Christ] assumed it, was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity” (GS no. 22).
Jesus entered into human history to save us, but also to teach us how to live our lives most fully. He revealed that we have an eternal destiny. “Christ, … fully reveals man to man himself, and makes his supreme calling clear” (GS no. 22). An older catechism similarly taught that we are meant “to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” By means of the theological virtue of faith, first given in Baptism, the human person is made capable of perceiving the most profound truths.
We must ask ourselves in light of our Baptism, of our relationship with Jesus Christ, and the life of grace, “Am I living up to my calling as a follower of Christ, as a son or daughter of the Heavenly Father?”
How am I using well what God gave me – my body and my soul? Do I use my human reason to master my selfish inclinations? Do I make sacrifices for others out of love? Do I work in a way which is just and honest; in a way that glorifies God, rather than accomplishing merely worldly goals?
When Jesus was beginning His public ministry (Mk 1:21ff.) the Gospel says that people were astonished, for He spoke with authority (v. 22). How do we speak? Do we speak with charity? Do we always speak in accord with the Truth? Are we credible and trustworthy such that those who hear us and watch us are encouraged and inspired by the way we conduct ourselves?
Human persons are made in the image and likeness of God, and destined for Heaven. We glorify the Heavenly Father when we imitate His Son, and when we act, prompted by the Holy Spirit, in obedience to our rational soul enlightened by the Gospel and assisted by Supernatural Grace.
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Psalm 8 (excerpt)
O Lord, our God, how wonderful Your name in all the earth!
For when I see the heavens, the works of Your hands: the moon and the stars which You have founded.
What is man that You are mindful of him? Or the son of man that You care for them?
You have made him a little less than the angels, You have crowned him with glory and honor:
And have set him over the works of Your hands.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 2)
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason!
How infinite in faculty!
In form and moving how express and admirable!
In action how like an angel!
In apprehension how like a god!
The beauty of the world!
The paragon of animals!
And yet, ….”