Increasingly, we as a society are not at ease in our own bodies. In the last twenty years, the availability of computers, smart phones, and other “screens” have made it easier than ever to “connect” with others—indeed, to live—in complete physical isolation. At the same time, the abundant availability of information has led to seemingly endless sexual scandals as politicians, businessmen and businesswomen, and, yes, priests and bishops, are shown to have taken advantage of the most vulnerable.
Add to this a global pandemic that locked down the world 2 years ago almost to the day, and is it any wonder that it may at times feel safer to live cut off from other people? Sadly, it’s a world in which so many of us struggle with low self-esteem or body image, with pornography, with gender dysphoria, with contraception, with the habits of isolation we’ve developed (voluntarily or involuntarily) during the pandemic.
Perhaps never before in human history has the importance of the sacraments been so clear. The sacraments, as we saw at the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns, must be partaken of in person—bodily—or not at all. We were able to watch Mass virtually, but we were not able to fully enter into the “source and summit” of our lives: receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. Neither could we substitute virtual experiences for the concrete reality of Confessions, marriage celebrations, or the other sacraments. As difficult as this was, this teaching of the Church, rather than limiting us, frees us to be who we are meant to be (even and especially when this is most difficult to live out): we are called to love and to be loved as gifts to others.
First among these gifts for each of us is our own body. In each of the sacraments—as in our daily life—we give and receive love with our bodies. In fact, we can only receive the gifts of the sacraments because we have been given a body. In other words, by nature of our humanity and by God’s good will, we can only experience love through our body. God created us in His embodied image, and called His creation “very good.”
Yet we know that having a body, existing in the physical world, entails the risk of being objectified. God’s love is such that Jesus took on this risk, was objectified to the point of crucifixion. Even now, the most concrete way we meet Christ is in the Eucharist, when He appears in the form of bread. He comes to us, by all appearances an “object”, opening Himself up to the risk of our disbelief, our ignorance, our carelessness, even our sacrilege. He does this, not because He does not care about the lack of love we may show to Him, but because He wants to show us His love. Through faith, we may grow in the belief that His Body is the center of our lives. As the Church puts it, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our lives.
Though limited to our human nature, and thus our embodied existence, we might consider as we approach this Lenten season to enter into God’s invitation of being more aware of our bodily presence as a present to others. TOBET’s The Body Matters books highlight the importance of this need for bodily presence and the design of persons as created to love—to be gifts.
Perhaps as you guide your own family or embark on a sacrificial Lenten journey, you curtail the use of screen time in favor of giving time to understand the gift of yourself in “the visible world as a body among other bodies” in order to discover the meaning of your “own bodiliness” (TOB 7:1).
How can you achieve that concretely? Learn to be aware of yourself as embodied. You know when you are hungry, tired, angry, happy, thirsty—because of your body. Set aside your phone and computer and enter into the reality of the visible unveiling the visible to you—in your everyday life and in the sacraments this Lent.
Emily Archer is the donor relations manager for TOBET. She enjoys reading, writing, and planning for her future as the grandmotherly owner of a bed and breakfast in the Irish countryside.