Do you take care of your soul but neglect your body? There are people who behave like that and think they’re more “spiritual” and therefore superior as Christians than those who do care about their physique. They laugh at healthy eating and exercise, or look at it with suspicion as obsessive. And every aesthetic goal provokes in them straightaway disdain. They don’t realize that with all of that we can, and must as far as possible, give glory to God. We can glorify them through our body, and that way offer to Him complete worship. Let’s see why and how:
After relating the creation of the world and of man, soul and body, we read in the book of Genesis: “God looked at everything He had made, and found it very good”. He could have created everything in another way, he could have made us incorporeal as angels. But not, He made us with a body, and He considered it was very good. We have no right to ruin what God has created as good.
He has handed over the whole earth to man, but not as his owner, just as his tenant. We have a responsibility towards all the creation, that has already been damaged in its essence by our sin, but that we can also damage directly with out actions. We have then the duty to take care of and protect all nature. And, in a particular way, our body, our most intimate possession from creation that has been given to us. It’s our portion of land to cultivate with more diligently, the little piece of creation of which we’re more immediately responsible.
The Fifth Commandment
The Fifth Commandment is thou shall not kill. It’s the typical one we all usually think we’re keeping. But, if we’re constantly doing things that damage our body (smoking, drinking excessively, eating too much or too little, eating only ultra-processed food, not being active…), it’s like a slow suicide. We’re not keeping this commandment towards ourselves. And neither towards others if that’s the example we give to them (such as our children). Causing oneself an illness because one does not want to change their lifestyle is very serious. In the case of people with addictions and mental illnesses, the guilt is reduced or cancelled, but the act is still evil in itself and that should be a motivation for recovery.
The soul is greater than the body, but it must be subordinated to God. It’s pointless that the soul rules over the body if it doesn’t do so according to God’s will. That’s why we shouldn’t think we’re super holy because we dominate our body so well (the false self-control of eating disorders), if that’s not what God wants, or even because we’re so close to God in our soul if then this has no impact when it comes to making decisions about the body. The soul must rule over the body as God rules over it. And how’s God’s governing? Love and mercy. Love your body as a work of God and treat it with tenderness. But also with discipline. We can’t give in to pure convenience.
The sins of the flesh
If the flesh didn’t count, there wouldn’t be sins of the flesh and they wouldn’t be as serious as they are. If what you did with your body didn’t matter, God wouldn’t care about that. But the key is that you never act only with your body. Your soul always takes part, and that’s why sinning with your body hurts your soul. You can’t afford to conceive them as independent spheres. The sin is always originated in your soul, which has the faculty of will and therefore of making decisions. The soul is guilty, but the body pays the consequences.
The seven deadly sins
Let’s make the previous point more specific with a meaningful example: gluttony and lust are deadly sins. Of the 7 more distinguished sins, 2, that is, 30%, point to the body (and that if we understand sloth only in a spiritual sense; if we apply it to the body as well, we reach almost 45%). This is not the time to talk about lust, but gluttony fits so well with the topic of this blog. By gluttony I understand excess, shortage or disorder relating to food. Only the first one is usually taken into account, and truth is it’s not taken into account enough yet, as we see when we look at how many many Christian people behave. But the other two facets are completely ignored.
The virtue of temperance is defined in the Catechism (1809) as balance and moderation, so clearly the opposite vice (gluttony) can also be by default. The feeling of moral superiority and high asceticism that one many times experiences with anorexia —non-Christian people too—, by which when we try to recover and eat more this devil insults as as gluttons, is totally wrong. We were living an immoderate imbalance, and we walk towards temperance.
Lastly, as I’ve said, I’d add a third aspect, disorder with food. I mean, not just eating too much or too little, but eating badly. No food is bad in itself, but a diet can be. It’s bad when it’s not —and this is where it’s linked to the definition of gluttony— balanced and moderate. It’s not balanced, for example, when most of the fats we consume are saturated and trans. It’s neither when we restrict whole nutritional groups because we demonize them. It’s not moderate, for example, when we turn ultra-processed food, added sugars, pre-cooked food, etc. into staples of our diet. It’s neither if we only eat a couple of safe options because we’re scared of some foods and have very restrictive ideas about what’s healthy (this is called orthorexia).
The goodness of beauty
I think that by now it’s clear why making an effort to take care of our health is good, and therefore making food and exercise a priority is totally a Christian thing. But, doing it for an aesthetic goal? Surely that’s something only vain and shallow people do… Well, not necessarily. Beauty is good. God is the Supreme Beauty, and all the beauty in the world refers us to Him, and therefore it’s a path of holiness.
Quoting St. John Paul II: “Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life & to dream of the future”. I think that we see this without a doubt when we think about nature and art. A beautiful landscape and a beautiful artwork are worthy of admiration, and we praise its author (God directly in the first case; first the artist and then the One Who has given him that ability in the second). Ten, why despising someone who wants to achieve the same thing in their body?
I must clarify that the beauty we’re talking about is not the standardized beauty of the media and the fashion industry. We’re given twisted models of beauty, perhaps in line with the abandonment of the quest for true beauty in the arts.
The beauty of temples
Churches are built with magnificence and decorated with images, altars are clothed, tabernacles are worked or carved… And what about you, who are Temple of the Holy Spirit and where the Lord comes to dwell every time you receive Him in the Eucharist? It’s true that the most valuable thing is what’s inside: as the chalice and the paten have the most precious materials inside, your soul is the most important thing. But temples are also made beautiful towards the exterior, and that helps the faithful get closer to God. It would be absurd to establish a radical separation, it would be like leaving the work half done. Therefore, if you must choose, choose the soul. If not, choose both.
The body, our barque
Living in our body is our way to fulfill our mission in the world and become saints. “Life is your barque, not your home”, said St. Therese, and we can say the same about this body. But one doesn’t neglect the barque just because they’re using it to get home, on the contrary, they’ll male sure that it’s well all the time. We don’t know how long the journey will be; let’s try that throughout it, in every circumstance, we can employ it to the fullest in whatever we’re asked to do. Let’s not turn the state of our body into an obstacle.
In your diet, in your workouts, in your body care, you can get away from God (by doing things that are bad for you, or by making an end use out of it), or you can give glory to Him by offering everything to Him and giving Him thanks. From now on, look after this body that the Lord has wanted to create for you and had entrusted you with. There’s a reason why holy and healthy are so similar words!