“Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God…. Therefore, honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
It was late November, and my class, Grade 5-1, was putting on a skit about the first Thanksgiving. Between my lateral lisp and my crippling stage fright, I was clearly not suited to a speaking role. But my teacher Sister Gemma, who believed in me, had cast me as a Pilgrim girl who got to deliver a pivotal line of dialogue.
At the very moment in the play when the newly arrived wayfarers first set eyes on the Native Americans, I was to step forward and ask, “Who art thou?”
I rehearsed my line a thousand times. I studied my cue. I worked on my diction. I was as ready as I’d ever be.
On the day of the final practice, Grade 5-1 was in high spirits. In fact, Sister Gemma was having a bit of a time keeping its exuberance in check.
The run-through began. The curtain opened. The Mayflower dropped anchor, my fellow travelers and I disembarked, and I self-consciously stepped forward to deliver my line. But before I could speak, my classmate Mary Ellen strode forth from a group of tackily feathered Native Americans, pointed at me, and jubilantly ad-libbed, “Hey! Look at the fat Pilgrim!”
I was shocked. I had never thought of myself as “fat,” although my mom would sometimes lovingly refer to me as “chubby.” Even so, it hadn’t occurred to me that my weight was anything other than a characteristic like my black hair or my brown eyes. But Mary Ellen’s words triggered a different way of thinking about myself, and there was no going back. I had allowed someone else to dictate the worth of my body, and sad to say, it wouldn’t be the last time.
In his “Theology of the Body,” Pope St. John Paul II says, “The body, in fact, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it.”
It might not be the first thing on your mind when you’re throwing back holiday eggnog, but the human body is one of God’s greatest gifts. Holding fast to this truth can keep us from succumbing to the views of a society that does not recognize the body’s inherent value.
We are all called to be Christ to one another. It’s a – no pun intended – one-size-fits-all dictum. But what if you’re painfully aware of the stretch marks that extend from here to Kansas? What if you’re preoccupied with ye olde Friar Tuck-type paunch? How can we manifest God’s presence when we are so dissatisfied with our bodies?
It is a difficult mission in our culture. In his encyclical letter “Deus Caritas Est,” Pope Benedict XVI says “The contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness.”
How can we heal a negative view of our physical bodies? Dr. John Acquaviva, author of “Improving Your Body Image Through Catholic Teaching,” recommends “expressing gratitude for what we have, for life itself, and for a body to live that life.”
During this season of thanksgiving, why not strive for a greater appreciation for the gift of our bodies? It is our physical bodies that enable us to partake, not only in our holiday feasts, but in the glorious banquet at the altar where we celebrate Eucharistic thanksgiving.
And it doesn’t matter if we don’t meet the cultural standards of physical beauty. St. Catharine of Siena tells us that even the imperfections of our bodies are precious to Our Lord, “for God is in love with all those things and He might weep when they are gone.”
“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14).
“The Catholic Storyteller” is a monthly column by Celeste Behe, a parishioner of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Hellertown. Find her online at www.CelesteBehe.com.