The Dignity of the Human Body
Monday August 15, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of the Assumption
Reading I (Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab)
Reading II (1 Corinthians 15:20-27)
Gospel (St. Luke 1:39-56)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul speaks to the Corinthians about death and the reality that death has been overcome in Christ. That is precisely what we celebrate today. We see in our Blessed Mother that in her Immaculate Conception she is free of sin, and that in her Divine Maternity she is without concupiscence, that is, the desires and passions of the flesh, and now in her Assumption she has overcome death. When we look at what happened in the Garden of Eden, it brought sin, it brought concupiscence, and it brought death; and we see in these areas of our Blessed Mother’s life that she has completely overcome everything the devil brought into the world by trapping our first parents into sin. So we have, then, not only death being conquered in a human person, but what we see for ourselves and what is so important to understand – especially for this society – is the dignity of the human body. Our Lady shares already in the Resurrection, and she shares already in the glorification in heaven. The Assumption means that she was taken body and soul by her Son into heaven. She has crushed in this way the head of Satan.
But we too, being members of the Mystical Body of Christ, are to share in the crushing of the head of Satan. He was there trying to devour her Child. Well, since we are members of the Mystical Body, and she who gave birth to the head gave birth to the whole body as well, we are the ones right now that Satan is trying to destroy. Tragically, he is doing a pretty good job of it. All you need to do is look around and you see these people who do not recognize their dignity. They not only do not recognize the dignity of their body; they do not even recognize the dignity of their soul. Consequently, there is no understanding of the dignity of who they are as human persons. So we are running around these days with people putting tattoos all over their bodies, we have people putting pinholes all over their bodies, we have the drugs, we have the alcohol problems, we have all these different things that go on, and the lust, of course, that is completely rampant in our society.
The human body has become an object. It is not longer recognized as an integral part of the person and the expression of the person, but rather it is seen merely as an object. What more would the devil want – because the human body is the only thing in physical creation that can express physically what it means to be an image of God. The dignity that the human body has is quite extraordinary. At the same time, the human body is the weak link in our entire makeup. Saint Francis, remember, called it Brother Donkey because it has its own desires and demands, and if you try to rein them in it is pretty stubborn and screams at you. We know the weaknesses of the flesh, but the point is that we need to strive to overcome those weaknesses. We need to be able to recognize that we can glorify God even now in and through our human body, and it needs to begin with the recognition of the dignity of the body.
All we have to do, again, is listen to what was in the readings. We hear about a woman who is about to give birth. Here is a human woman carrying in her human body a Child Who is God, Who has taken a human body to Himself (a whole human nature, for that matter), and He is about to be given birth. And it was with that human body that He saved humanity, by suffering and going to the Cross.
The human body is not something that can be rejected, it is not something evil, it is not something worthless, but it must be recognized as an integral part of the person. Our body, Brother Donkey sitting right here in this pew, is going to share in the glory of God – provided, of course, that we are in the state of grace when we die. If our bodies are going to be able to go to heaven, if they are going to be raised from the dead to share in the glory of eternity, then why would we think that somehow they are just objects now? It means, obviously, that not only do we have to present ourselves in a modest manner, but we cannot be looking at others in an immodest or impure way and we cannot be destroying our bodies by doing things that are foolish and sinful to them.
We need to make sure we are upholding the dignity of the human body because today Our Lady’s human body along with her soul was taken to heaven. That is the feast we celebrate. She is a merely human person. Jesus is God. Mary is one of us entirely; she is not God at all. Therefore, in a merely human person death has been overcome and in a merely human person the glory of eternity has been revealed. Our Lady is the foreshadowing of what we are called to. Being our mother, she is going to lead us by the hand to show us the way, and so she is. She shows us not only the way to heaven, but she shows us what it means to have the dignity of the children of God and what the dignity of the human person is really all about. So we look at this feast and then we look at our society and the degradation of humanity and especially of the human body and we see complete contraries: Our Lady’s glorification in heaven and our society’s degradation of the human body on earth. We need to recognize the true dignity God has given to us and live according to that dignity so that we will be prepared both body and soul to share in that glory for eternity.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.