Saturday night, downtown Minneapolis is one big Minnesotan hot dish. You are guaranteed to see all sorts of things, from the bachelorette party walking bar to bar, and “that one girl who just shouldn’t have worn that,” to the 55 year old couple leaving the Orpheum all dressed up, to the mentally ill elderly man trying to feed his dog newspaper.
What would this scene look like in Heaven? What we are is much more than what we can see with our eyes; each body walking the streets has within it a soul. We are more than our blond highlights and our “Semper Fi” tattoo, so how do we embrace the fact that we are both body and soul? The truth is that our body is mortal, but our soul is immortal, and what we do with our body affects our soul. In his encyclical, Deus Caritas est (God is Love), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says that “Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united…Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness.” This being that both body and soul are good and we need both!
We are physical people; we learn through our five senses and do what we can to “feel good.” Our Catholic faith recognizes this, and this is why we can experience God through the smells of incense, the feeling of chrism oil on our heads, and the taste of the Eucharist. What we do with our bodies affects our souls; we drink too much: we affect our soul, we are promiscuous: we affect our souls. Because we are physical beings, the sins of the flesh are sometimes the hardest to gain control of. In reconciliation we use our bodies to speak words out loud so God can purify our souls, and in this sacrament we experience God’s forgiveness in a physical, bodily manner as well as on the level of the soul.
The next time you find yourself critiquing yourself or others based on the state of the body; remember that you are much more than your body: you are an embodied soul, that is, a soul within a body. Go to reconciliation, gain some new perspective. Because a clean soul is so much more beautiful than the perfected body and you may just find that the state of your soul can radiate more beauty than you could ever know.
- Kari Elsen