, , , , , , , , , , ,

By Fr Robert Barron (wordonfire.org)

Medieval scholars said that the human being was a kind of microcosm, since he bore within himself the spiritual and the physical. Through his body, man reached down to the lower elements and was one with the animals and minerals, but through his mind, he reached upwards to God and the angels.

We know instinctively how right this is. On the one hand, we can explore the intricacies of mathematics and geometry. We can soar with Mozart and Shakespeare. We can design high-level computers and machines that can move through the galaxy. We can enter into the depth and silence of prayer, becoming as much like the angels as possible. In so many ways, we strain upward to our home among the spirits.

On the other hand, we are, like it or not, animals. We need food and drink. We get too hot and too cold. We experience instincts and emotions that often get the better of us. We revel in the sheer pleasure of the senses and the thrill of being touched. We love to run, to exercise our muscles. We exult in the rough and tumble of very physical competition and play.

This is our glory – we combine the best of both worlds – but it is also our agony, the source of much of our sadness and conflict, for it entails that we are a hybrid, a half-breed, something of a metaphysical mongrel. We bring together two qualities that are at odds with each other. The spirit strains against the body, and the body strains against the spirit. Sometimes the spirit commands and the body refuses to obey; sometimes the body makes demands that the spirit cannot or will not accommodate. This tension is one of the faces of sin. It is the result of the dislocation between ourselves and God.

The harmony of the spiritual and the physical seems to be what God savors and intends. The spirit commanding the body, but the body also informing the spirit. There is a proper hierarchy between them, but it must never become a tyranny. The demands and goods of the body must always be respected and must even, to some degree, shape the life of the spirit. We were made as embodied spirits, or if you prefer, as spiritualized bodies. And we will be saved as spirit-body composites.