If the body is gift, what kind of gift does a person give who is giving his or her body? God’s word answers this question, both explicitly and by way of example – e.g., in the Bible stories of gifts, such as the gift of the widow’s mite; the gifts of the Magi; and the gift of the wine from Christ at the wedding feast at Cana. The ultimate biblical paradigms of gift are the Father’s gift of His only Son to all mankind, the Son’s giving of His tortured and crucified body to redeem everyone, and the Son’s gift of Himself – body, blood, soul, divinit – in the Eucahrist.
What kind of gifts were these? The widow gave all she had. The Magi, non-Jews, brought royal gifts (gold); gifts signifying divinity (frankincense); and gifts signifying humanity (myrhh). The wine at Cana was the best wine. God the Father’s gift of His Son was a divine gift and the Son’s gift of His body was that of a perfect lamb, without spot, without defect, without blemish. In giving His body, on Calvary and in the Eucharist, the Son gave His entire self. Accordingly, the human body as gift should be the best body possible, which includes, among other things, the healthiest body possible – in the words of the Mass, as much as possible the body should be a holy unblemished sacrifice.
Following to its logical ends, the aspect of body as symbolic in accord with the teachings of John Paul also leads to the conclusion that the body that best symbolizes love and gift is the most healthy body possible. Similarly, a consideration of the other Theology-of-The-Body aspects of the body – the body as free/fallen and the body as redeemed – leads to the conclusion that a person who accepts that the body has these aspects will seek, via free choices, the best possible body, the healthiest body possible.
An appreciation of this role of the healthy body in achieving the goals of the Theology of the Body goes beyond merely worldly considerations and self-centered reasons for seeking and maintaining a healthy body. In summary, the goal of a person seeking to live the principles of the Theology of the Body is one’s own eternal happiness with God and the same happiness for others. It is an implicit corollary of John Paul’s teaching that this is best achieved when a person’s seeks a healthy body for oneself and for others.
Choosing what is necessary for a healthy body – nutrition, diet, hygiene, detoxing, cleansing, safety, and exercise – enhances a person’s ability to make the gift of the body to one’s spouse, to others, and to God. The Catechism states: “Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good.” 36 The best-body-possible concept has implications for each of us personally, for a spouse, for other family members, for co-workers, and even for the entire community.
For St. Paul, the practice of the virtue of temperance results in a healthy body. He wrote about this in terms of “self-control,” a fruit of the Spirit which is opposed to “works of the flesh.” 37 In First Thessalonians he said “for this is the will of God…that each of you know how to control his own body 38 and in Galatians he mentions, and condemns, drinking bouts and orgies, works of the flesh that result in an unhealthy body 39. For St. Paul this self-control is to be exercised because the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit 40 and because “your bodies are members of Christ.”41
John Paul refers to “carnal sins” directed to “the sensual enjoyment connected with the flesh”42. He makes the point that when St. Paul speaks of self-control, he is not speaking simply of purity:
“…when he [St. Paul] contrasts these works [of the flesh] with the fruit of the Spirit, he does not speak directly of purity, but names only self-control, enkrateia. This control can be recognized as a virtue which concerns continence in the area of all the desires of the senses, especially in the sexual sphere. It is in opposition to fornication, impurity, and licentiousness, and also to drunkenness and carousing. It could be admitted that Pauline self-control contains what is expressed in the term “continence” or ”temperance,” which corresponds to the Latin term temperantia.” 43
Temperantia includes virtuous actions directed to bodily health, namely moderation in food and drink, and sobriety. The Catechism recognizes the connection between self-control and a healthy body. According to the Catechism, the “virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess, the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine.”44
The body is redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice of His own body; but the body is made healthy (or unhealthy) by the free actions and choices of a redeemed person. The redeemed person in turn, choosing health for the body, gives the best gift possible to others and returns the best possible gift to God. As John Paul says, the Christian person must make these choices:
“Christ has imprinted new dignity on the human body – on the body of every man and every woman, since in Christ the human body has been admitted, together with the soul, to union with the Person of the Son-Word…the fact that the human body becomes in Jesus Christ the body of God-man obtains for this reason in every man, a new supernatural elevation. Every Christian must take this into account in his behavior with regard to his own body and, of course with regard to the other’s body.” 45
The bare outlines of the Theology of the Healthy Body discussed here, when done in detail and fleshed out, will stem from a discussion of, an exposition of, and a response to these points and issues:
1. The nuptial body as gift is the best gift when the body is a healthy body
2. A healthy body excels at symbolic signification and sacramental action
3. A person, although the body is fallen, chooses best (most in conformity and union with the will of God) when a goal of the person is a healthy body
4. In many cases, the message of redemption is expressed well and delivered by a person of healthy body
5. The possibility of having a glorified, perfect body in eternity impacts the pursuit of health now
6. The meaning and impact of the earthly reality of an unhealthy body, even when a person has sought to have a healthy body
7. A person’s respect for, appreciation of, and promotion of the health of the bodies of others
8. The implications of the four Theology-of-the-Body aspects of the body for relationships with others (both spouses and non-spouses) and with community and society in general and how such relationships can be spiritually optimized when persons bodies are healthy or when they at least seek this.
9. The implications of these considerations for a healthy environment.
10. The healthy bodies of preborn children and their mothers.
11. The uniqueness and unrepeatability of each person.
A further far-in-the-future issue is: what about an “unhealthy” body, a sick body, a body in pain, a broken body, a body unhealthy through no free act of the person? This raises the issue of pain and suffering. One wiser than your author can perhaps explain how the Theology Of The Healthy Body impacts the field of Theodicy, and the so-called “problem of evil.”
In each of a variety of relationships – self-to-God; self-to-spouse; self-to-other; self-to-community – all are called to glorify God. Each person is to recognize, admit, and be thankful for the status as creature of a loving giving Creator and to glorify the Creator by free choices and actions. And, as St. Paul says, each Catholic is to “glorify God in your body.”46 A healthy body makes possible gloria in excelsis, glory in the highest.
36. Catechism 2288.
37. Gal. 5: 22-23.
38. 1 Thess. 4:3-5.
39. Gal. 5:21.
40. 1 Cor. 6:19.
41. 1 Cor. 6:15.
42. TB 195.
43. TB 199.
44. Catechism 2290.
45. TB 207
46. 1 Cor.6:20.