Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Honoring the Body, Within Reason

For most of my life, I've had trouble dealing with gluttony: which is in the list of seven capital sins. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1866) Gluttony involves intense human desires, where the way my body works makes it easy for me to act unreasonably.

One way to deal with gluttony is to decide that the body is bad, and try to be purely 'spiritual.' This is a bad idea. (Catechism, 2515-2516) And I'm getting ahead of myself.

Living in a Material World

The part of the Catechism I'm reading now is about man (humanity), what and who we are. Along the way I've written about American culture and language, a movie, and a unity that we don't quite have yet:
Here's how this part of the Catechism starts. Today's post picks up several paragraphs after #355.
" 'God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.'218 Man occupies a unique place in creation: (I) he is "in the image of God"; (II) in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds; (III) he is created "male and female"; (IV) God established him in his friendship."
(Catechism, 355)
Backing up a bit more, I'm a practicing Catholic, so I have to believe that God created everything: and that what God created is good. (Genesis 1:1-31; Catechism, 337-338) Which isn't the same as believing Bishop Ussher, or hating science: and I've been over that before. (March 14, 2012, January 18, 2012)

The bottom line is that God made the material world, and God doesn't make junk.

Matter and Spirit: One Nature

I'm not nice soul, stuck in a nasty body that's dragging me into sin. I'm a human being, and the specs for this sort of creature say that a human being is a body and soul. Not a soul trapped in a body.
"The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic LANGUAGE when it affirms that 'then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.'229 Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God."
(Catechism, 362)
There's more about body and soul, with emphasis on "and." (Catechism, 362-368) One of the important points is that man isn't two natures, body and spirit, welded together. We're body and spirit, united to form a single nature. (Catechism, 365)

Turns out that, as a practicing Catholic, I'm not allowed to despise my body:
"The human body shares in the dignity of the image of God: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:232
Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.233"
(Catechism, 364)
I'm not supposed to worship my body, either, and that's another topic. (April 15, 2012)

Living in a Good World

Deciding that the world, the physical universe, is "good" wasn't hard for me. For starters, I've been fascinated by the world as far back as I can remember.

I also wasn't dismayed at the idea that the universe seems hostile or indifferent. I grew up in an region where water is a mineral for a significant fraction of the year. I figured that if I didn't have the sense to keep from freezing to death, blaming winter wouldn't help: and blaming God would be daft. Maybe that's why this is one of my favorite bits of poetry:
"A man said to the universe:
'Sir, I exist!'
'However,' replied the universe,
'The fact has not created in me
'A sense of obligation.'
("War is Kind," Stephen Crane (1899), via Project Gutenberg)
I've run into folks who seem to think that God shouldn't exist, because there are places in the universe where we need to use our brains to survive. I don't see it that way: but like I said, I grew up in a place where winter happened.

The point I'm groping for is that I like God's creation: even the parts that could kill me if I'm not sensible. There are some Church teachings that I've had to struggle with. Believing that the world was created by God, and is basically good, isn't one of them

Sin and Virtue

In a way, it might be easier for me to deal with gluttony, if I could convince myself that 'spiritual' was good and 'physical' was bad. I could, in principle, develop an antipathy toward food and every other physical pleasure.

But I'm not going to spend the rest of my life eating barely enough to stay alive. And I'm not going to fume about the evils of steak and potatoes. Not that I'd be tempted to do that. I enjoy being a matter/spirit creature too much.

Another option I have would be to brood about the capital sins. (Catechism, 1866) And venial sins, and every other sort of sin. I could obsess about avoiding sin, and fume about how sinful other folks were: and that doesn't seem like a good idea. At all.

I think a better approach is to focus on virtues. Like the cardinal virtues:
  • Prudence
    • "Disposes practical reason to discern our true good"
    (Catechism, 1806)
  • Justice
    • "The constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor"
    (Catechism, 1807)
  • Fortitude
    • "Ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good"
    (Catechism, 1808)
  • Temperance
    • "Moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods"
    (Catechism, 1809)
Note: "Temperance," Catholic style, is about moderation, balance, and avoiding excess. (Catechism, 2290) Carry Nation, with her Bible and hatchet, are an American phenomenon. I've been over that before, too. (October 5, 2011)

Applying what I've read, it looks like I'm obliged to see my body as good, "and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day." (Catechism, 364) That's going to take quite a lot of work. Decades of overeating and under-exercising have effects that won't be undone quickly or easily. By the way, gluttony isn't the only sin I've had trouble with. And that's another topic. Topics.

Related posts:

1 A list of major points, from Catechism, 362-368. Like I've said before, I've got the teaching authority of "some guy with a blog." I recommend following those links and reading the Catechism yourself.

One reason I make these lists is that it helps me study the material:
  • The human person is
    • Created in the image of God
    • Both corporeal/material and spiritual
      • A unified whole
    • And that's the way God designed us
    (Catechism, 362)
  • In Sacred Scripture "soul" means
    • human life
    • The entire human person
    • The innermost aspect of man
      • That which is of greatest value
      • By which man is most especially in God's image
    • The spiritual principle in man
    • Sometimes the soul is distinguished from the spirit
      (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
      • The Church teaches that this distinction does not introduce a duality into the soul
      • "Spirit" signifies that
        • From creation man is ordered to a supernatural end
        • His soul can gratuitously be raised
          • Beyond all it deserves
          • To communion with God
    • The spiritual tradition of the Church also emphasizes the heart
      • In the biblical sense of
        • The depths of one's being
        • Where the person decides for or against God
    (Catechism, 363, 367, 368)
  • The human body is
    • Part of "the image of God"
    • A human body because it is animated by a spiritual soul
    • Intended to become a temple of the Spirit
      • As part of the whole human person
      • In the body of Christ
      (Catechism, 364)
  • Man is a unity
    • Body and soul
    • Man's "bodily condition" sums up the elements of the material world
    • Through man, the material world may freely praise its Creator
      • Therefore, man
        • May not despise his bodily life
          • Since God
            • Has created it
            • Will raise it up on the last day
        • Is obliged to
          • Regard his body as good
          • Hold it in honor
    (Catechism, 364)
  • The unity of soul and body is very profound
    • "One has to consider the soul to be the 'form' of the body"
    • A human body
      • Is material
      • Is a living human being because of its spiritual soul
    • A human being is
      • Not two natures united
      • A single nature
        • Formed from the union of two natures
    (Catechism, 365)
  • Every spiritual soul is
    • Created immediately/directly by God
      • Not "produced" by the parents
    • Immortal
      • Separated from the body at death
      • Reunited with the body at the final Resurrection
    (Catechism, 366)

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.