Drawing Attention to Our Bodies

St. Paul today writes: “May I never boast of anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14).  These words make us wonder: Of what do we boast, of what are we proud?  In the Second Reading, some Jewish people who had become Christian were boasting about their physical circumcision, while St. Paul was boasting that his body had suffered for Jesus.

Now that it’s July, we’re beginning our annual Sabbath Summer season, two months when we rest in the Lord, rejuvenate ourselves, spend more time worshipping Him, and more time with family and friends in holy relationships.

During the summer, when we’re outside playing sports or going to the beach, we ask ourselves, based on St. Paul’s teaching: Do we ever boast about our body?  Do we ever try to bring attention to our body?  Are we vain?  In Lent, we talked about the fine line between beauty (which is good) and vanity (which is superficial), and now we continue this meditation.

Let’s go deeper into today’s Reading from Galatians.  St. Paul was refuting Jewish Christians who were trying to force other Christians to adopt Jewish ways, specifically circumcision.  He writes: “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ…  They desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh” (6:12-13).  St. Paul indicates two reasons why these people are forcing others to get circumcised: 1) They ‘want to make a good showing in the flesh…  They desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh,’ in other words, these Jewish people want to look good in front of other Jews by showing how the Jewish people are growing!  St. Paul says that’s wrong: We shouldn’t boast about who gets circumcised; we should boast about who has faith in Jesus.  2) The second reason these people want others to be circumcised is ‘only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.’ They wanted to be accepted by their people, so, by having Christians circumcised, other Jewish people wouldn’t be so hostile (Albert Vanhoye & Peter Williamson, Galatians in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 209-210).

Do we ever do anything only to look good in front of other people?  In terms of our body, being beautiful is good and looking our best is good, too (and thanks to everyone who’s dressing beautifully for Mass!  It reminds us that this is the highlight of our week!), but do we try to get people’s attention?  On the other hand, do we ever hide our faith in public in order to be accepted?  Do we hesitate to make the sign of the Cross while running, at the gym, or while playing sports?

In contrast to these self-focused people, St. Paul writes, “May I never boast of anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (6:14).  (Remember this verse, please.)  This statement is paradoxical, because the cross is a form of torture and execution, but St. Paul is proud of it because of Who was on it, and because of what resulted because of it: redemption.  To understand the Cross, we need to go beyond appearances and see deeper; when it comes to looking good and exercise, we need to go deeper.  The Cross is the foundation of St. Paul’s life; he writes, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20).  This is why he boasts of the Cross, because, through it, God loves and died for him.

Does anyone know Rich Froning?  He won the CrossFit Games four times in a row and was heralded as the fittest man on earth from 2011-14.  In his book, he wrote, “Through my Bible study and prayer time, I found the answer to [my friend’s] question, ‘Why do you do what you do?’  I determined that my purpose was to bring glory to God in everything I do.  CrossFit… would no longer be about me, but a very public way I could go about glorifying God.  My friend Donovan had been kicking around the idea of getting a tattoo with the verse Galatians 2:20…  I told Donovan I thought the tattoo would be a good idea because of the verse’s message.  ‘There’s another verse you need to look at,’ Donovan suggested. ‘Which one?’…  ‘Galatians 6:14,’ he said.  I looked up the verse.  ‘But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…’  That’s it!…  That verse perfectly described how I had come to view CrossFit…  I didn’t want any glory that people might send my way because of my accomplishments…  Instead, I wanted everything I did and said to be a reflection of God, to be a public recognition that my talents and abilities were given to me by Him.  Because without God, I would not have been able to do any of the things I had done in CrossFit.  I had absolutely nothing to brag about—it was all what God had done through me for a purpose He had designed for me” (Rich Froning, First: What It Takes to Win, 128-129).

So, do we boast in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ?  Are we proud in public to be Jesus’ followers?  When we exercise, is it for His glory or ours?  God designed us to be beautiful, but the desire to be beautiful can become warped, when we focus on ourselves without reference to God, and when we become superficial.

St. Paul today says, “From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body” (6:17).  St. Paul, in another letter (2 Cor 10:23-30), tells us that he had been tortured five times with 39 lashes, beaten three times, and stoned once.  His body must have had so many scars that it was ugly.  But, the fact that he bore these wounds for Christ is something of which to boast.

If we’ve gotten old or look old because of our service to other people, then we carry the marks of Jesus on our body—that’s our boast.

We should exercise in ways that are best for us, but draw attention to God.  If you’re a very beautiful person or a good athlete, those gifts are from God; you should praise Him for it and, if people ever compliment you, you should say, “Thank you.  Praise God.”  And use your beauty and athleticism to lead others to Jesus, the way Rich Froning does.

I’ve recently seen some commercials for tee-shirts, which emphasize having short tight sleeves to show biceps—that’s interesting, they want to draw attention to men’s biceps.  Personally, whenever I’ve chosen shirts, I’ve never chosen shirts to show my arms.  Whether they’re big or small, that’s not the point.  I don’t want people staring at my arms.  I don’t hide them, because they are what they are, but I don’t draw attention to them either.

When we see a human body that’s in great form, that’s praiseworthy, but we shouldn’t stare at it or objectify the person, or objectify ourselves.  My body is the way it is, and I’ll try to improve it, but I won’t draw attention to it.  I’m more focused on my soul and on other people.

Fr. Richard Conlin used to be a college golfer, and, a few months ago, played in a father-son golf tournament with his dad.  The goal was to have some quality time with his father, but he knew it was also an opportunity to witness to Jesus, and so, he chose to make the sign of the Cross before every shot.  The sad part was that he wore a sleeveless shirt to show his biceps while making the sign of the Cross.  Just kidding.

This tournament is a good example of the Sabbath Summer: spending quality time with our loved ones, exercising, and most importantly, not drawing attention to ourselves, but boasting of Jesus.

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