Giving the Body for Others

I’ve never forgotten what the spiritual writer, Kimberly Hahn, said about the C-section scars on her stomach.  She was saddened by them, but her husband said that maybe the marks would be on her resurrected body, meaning that they’re signs of love, because she bore those wounds for Christ.  She said, “Stretch marks, varicose veins, and then afterbirth—there are so many opportunities to lay down our physical bodies for life”.

[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]

When I look at pictures from years ago, I see how I’ve aged.  A part of me is saddened that I’ve lost something, but a deeper part of me is happy that I’ve been able to lay down my life so that others can live.  Actually, getting old in ministry is worth it, and I’m so thankful that people have spiritually grown.

One of our deepest spiritual needs is to give ourselves to others, because the nature of love is to give of itself and receive of the other.

Here’s the key theological point: When we give of ourselves to each other, we always do so through the body.  St. John Paul II called this the ‘language of the body.’  And there are different ways of doing this: We hug people; we write them emails of affection; we buy gifts; we spend time with and do acts of service for each other.  We always express love through the body.

However, we can either tell a truth or lie with our bodies.  If I make a deal to sell you my car, knowing that it’s got some hidden damage, and then shake your hand, that’s a lie.  Shaking hands in our culture is a sign of goodwill, but I just lied with that sign.  And we can tell truths and lies in a powerful way through our sexuality, because sexuality touches our soul—more on this later.

When parents lose sleep, sacrifice their bodies and their personal dreams for their children, they’re speaking a great truth: their children are their deepest treasures.

God also speaks through the language of the body.  Why did He become man?  One reason is to take on a body.  The second Person of the Trinity united a human nature to Himself so that He could give Himself to us physically.  When Jesus died on the Cross, He was saying with His body, “I love you without reserve.  My love is greater than your sins.”

His love on the Cross was prefigured at the Last Supper, which is today’s Gospel: “While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my Body.’  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it.  He said to them, ‘This is my Blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many’” (Mk 14:22-24).  Let’s consider three truths Jesus was speaking here:

1) When Jesus broke the bread, the disciples understood this language.  It was the Passover language of the father of a family who broke the bread, symbolizing God the Father who gives everything.  It’s also the language of hospitality: When a stranger was welcomed to a home, they would be given food.  But Jesus took this language to the highest level possible, because the food He was giving was Himself (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Volume 2, 129).

2) The phrase ‘Blood of the covenant’ is the language of oneness, and is only used in one other place in the Bible, that is, our First Reading, where Moses slaughters oxen, sprinkling half of the blood on the altar and the other half on the people.  Blood was the sign of life, so, by sprinkling it on the altar, which represented God, and on the people, Moses was saying that God and the people were one.  Now Jesus says, ‘This is my Blood of the covenant,’ meaning we’re one with Him.

3) Being ‘poured out for many’ is the language of reparation: Jesus’ dying to repair our disobedience with His obedience.  We always betray God, but Jesus always loves God faithfully on our behalf.

There are four characteristics to describe Jesus’ love in the Eucharist and on the Cross: free, faithful, total, fruitful.  He gave His body willingly (Cf. Jn 10:18).  It was a faithful love.  Even though we reject Him, He will never reject us (Cf. 2 Tim 2:13).  It was total: He held nothing back (Cf. Jn 15:13).  And it was fruitful because it engendered our salvation (Cf. Jn 12:32).

Does anyone know the one word to describe love that is free, faithful, total, and fruitful?  Marriage.  Many times we’ve talked about the fact that the Bible is a love story, and God wants to marry us, in the sense that we’re completely united to Him.  So there’s a connection between God’s love and marriage/sexuality.

On the day of a wedding, in the questions before the minister and in the exchange of consent, husband and wife commit to loving each other freely, faithfully until death, totally, and fruitfully, meaning they’re open to new life.  And typically, on the night of the wedding, the couple expresses those vows no longer with words, but with their bodies.  When they make love, it’s freely given; it’s faithful until death; it’s total because they hold nothing back; and it’s fruitful, meaning the act is open to new life.

The theologian, Christopher West, tells a story about his father-in-law, who, the day after his wedding, was crying during Mass after receiving Communion.  His wife asked why.  He answered, “For the first time in my life, I understood those words, ‘This is my Body given up for you’” (Christopher West, Marriage and the Eucharist, Track 4).  This is what marital love is meant to express.  When Christian couples express their sexual love for each other, it’s connected to Jesus’ giving of His body in the Eucharist and on the Cross.

But there are other ways to express this love.  All day long, couples give their bodies for each other when they serve each other.  Here’s a short story video about marital love:

That’s the kind of love we’re meant to give!  If we start understanding the nature of love, and the different ways we can express it, especially that the highest and most fulfilling form of love is laying down our lives so that others can live (Cf. Jn 15:13), we’ll start understanding the nature of sexuality and the Eucharist, because they’re both about fully giving of our bodies.

First, with regard to sexuality, our society has conditioned us to think that sex is about pleasure, but the Bible teaches it’s much deeper.  Think about these phrases: “I want to have coffee with you.  I want to play tennis with you.  I want to have sex with you.”  No big deal.  But, think about these words, “I want to have a baby with you.”  If someone were to say that to us that means they want to be committed for life, to be there in the bad times, they love us so much that they want another one of us.  What God is telling us is that sex is marital by definition; it should never be separated from marriage, where it should be free, faithful, total, and fruitful.  To separate it from marriage is to lie with our bodies, which is why it’s a sin.

Even in marriage, a couple can have non-marital sex, when, for instance, one uses the other, or when they contracept—that’s not what sexuality was designed to be.  Contraception says with our bodies: ‘I want you, but not your fertility.  Let’s put a barrier between ourselves (that’s not total love).  I should take the birth control pill because I need to suppress my fertility.  I want the pleasure, but not the responsibility.’  There are more reasons I can give, and I will cover other issues in the future, but today we’re laying the groundwork for understanding the language of the body.

For years, when dating couples have asked me how far is too far, I say, “Don’t do anything that says you’re married.  I want you two to focus on discerning marriage, showing affection, being romantic.  If you go further than that, you’re saying something with your body that you can’t mean.  She’s not your wife.  You haven’t promised to love until death, to raise children with her.”

For people in homosexual relationships, I say, “Your love for each other is real.  You care for each other—that’s wonderful.  But sex belongs in marriage where it can be fruitful.  Sex is not just for two people who love each other.  Sex is also about openness to life.”  You’d be surprised how many people in homosexual relationships with whom I’ve talked accept this.

Yet we may object, “But, Father, they’re being denied love!”  Think about what you’re saying.  Do you actually think people will be denied happiness if they don’t have sex?  “But, Father, you’re telling them not to have sex.”  No.  I’m not the one telling; Jesus is telling us what the nature of sex is, and this applies to all people, single and married, heterosexual and homosexual.  And He’s not forcing anyone.  He’s just teaching us that non-marital sex cannot lead to the happiness for which we’re designed.  It can give pleasure, and it will bond people, but it will hit a painful limit for our souls.

When God asked me to be celibate, I didn’t know if I would be happy, because I was raised in our culture like everyone else.  I didn’t understand that God could fill me to the point that I just want to be with Him.  So, I do understand your questions.  Just keep on thinking about this: Can people find the happiness for which God designed us without sex?  Is that possible?

This brings us to the second point: The love Jesus gives us in the Eucharist.  Dr. Gregory Bottaro, in our consecration book, writes, “It takes a special kind of madness to conceive something so outrageous as to become food for one’s beloved.  It also takes Divine Power to be able to accomplish such a task.  This is the madness of the love of God.  He longs for union with us so deeply and doesn’t want to wait for us to pass from this life to the next that he turns himself into our food that we may consume him and consummate our love with him” (Dr. Gregory Bottaro & Jennifer Settle, Consecration to Jesus Through Saint Joseph, 113).

The Eucharist is the sign of how precious we are to Jesus!  He loves us so much that He offers us His own body.  Whenever we talk about sexual sins, a part of us can feel discouraged about our sins.  I know what that’s like, to feel ashamed.  But Jesus is saying to us, “In spite of any sins, you are so good that I want you to come to Me, first in Confession, then in the Eucharist!”

Jesus wants to give Himself to us, and we want to give ourselves to Him, because that’s the nature of love.  What could we do with our bodies, to express our love for Him?  Come to Mass, genuflect more lovingly, prostrate ourselves, spend time with Him in adoration?  We end now with this one-minute clip of The Passion of the Christ, where Jesus has just been arrested, is in jail and alone, awaiting His trial, but our Mother Mary seeks Him out and does the best she can to be close to Him.  Notice the language of her body.

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