Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time: Temples of God
A number of years ago, I came upon three very disappointed young ladies in our Life Teen Program. They were just freshmen and had been looking forward to the Homecoming Dance, their first big high school dance. Well, the dance was not what they expected. They were crowded into a room that was hot and sweaty. And they were shocked at the way that some of the other girls were dancing. Let us just say that the dancing was suggestive to the point of being immoral. I was going to talk to them about their upset, when I heard one of the girl’s say, “I don’t dance like that. My body is a Temple of God. I don’t treat my body like that.” I kept moving on. The young lady, now in her 20's had a firm hold of what it means to be a follower of Christ. She also understood today’s second reading from Paul’s First Letter to Corinth.
Corinth was the ancient equivalent of Sin City. Most of the people of the pagan world engaged in blatant immorality, but some of the worst were those in Corinth. They even had their own saying to justify their behavior. No, it was not, “What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth.” It was, “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food.” It was like saying, “You have no choice: you gotta eat, and you have no choice: you’ve got to behave immorally.” Paul tells them and us that we are so much better than that. Our bodies belong to the Lord. We are members of the Body of Christ. We are far more than animals with nothing but animal instincts. We share in the Body of Christ. He goes on to use a very important phrase: our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit. If we are immoral, we are sinning against our own bodies, sinning against our union with Christ.
That is a beautiful concept: we are Temples of the Holy Spirit.
That is why we avoid immorality, particularly sexual immorality. It is not a matter of some sort of Catholic no no, rules that a person might not understand but does his or her best to follow. This whole area of morality is far more important than that. It goes to the heart of whom we are. We are Christ and He is ours. So, we do our best to fight off our temptations because we are united to Christ. He flows through us. We are not animals. We are so much better than that.
Let us take a mental tour of Rome, specifically the most beautiful chapel in the world, the Sistine chapel. The chapel is beautiful not because on its architecture, it is rather plain that way. It is beautiful because of the artwork inside it. Here in this relatively small building attached to St. Peters Basilica in the Vatican complex in Rome, we come upon frescos by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perrugino, and others. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors gaze up at the ceiling at Michelangelo’s depiction of creation and the first sections of the Bible. The cardinals who meet in conclave to pick a new pope also do so under these magnificent frescos. The paintings are often shocking to people who depict Catholics as sexually inhibited prudes. The frescos are, as you know, nudes. They emphasize the beauty of the human body with God himself as the source of this beauty. In the frescos, the creation of man begins with God touching Adam’s hand and concludes with the creation of Eve. Adam needed Eve and Eve needed Adam to overcome the loneliness of the human condition. They needed to give themselves totally to each other. And here is the message behind these frescos: the only way that we can find ourselves is by giving ourselves away. We are made in the image of God. God is a Trinity of Love, Father, Son and Spirit, forming a community of self-giving love for all eternity. We are created in the image of this love, in the image of God. When Adam and Eve gave themselves to each other, they felt no shame. They could be naked. Shame came when they began to use each other.
St. John Paul II spoke about this in the lectures that make up the Theology of the Body. He said that human happiness depends on self-giving, not self-assertion. That is the difference between love and lust. Love makes a gift of oneself to another for his or her good. Lust is taking from another for personal pleasure. For us Catholics, sexual morality is more than self-control. It is self-mastery. For us sexual morality is the mastery of the desire that allows us to give ourselves to another in a way that affirms the other. Married love is the human reality that best images the commitment, the intensity and the passion of Christ’s love for the Church, for
whom He laid down His Life.
Now back to Corinth and to ourselves. Using others to fulfill selfish wants is no different than the sexuality of animals. It is imposed, instinctive and merely physical. We are far more noble than that. We have been created for love, love freely given and freely received, love which is based on a commitment for life. In this light, St. John Paul II speaks about chastity not as a matter of what we cannot do, but as a virtue that frees us to love another person as a person, not an object. That is why we speak about the chaste love of husbands and wives for each other. The married give their deepest selves totally to each other, entrusting their emotional center to each other. You here who are married are free to love each other as Christ loves us.
Let’s reflect again on Paul’s message to the Corinthians, and us. “Do you not know that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price, the Body of Christ on the cross. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”
This is not the way of the world. But we are called to holiness, to be separated from the world. Sexual morality itself is one of the many ways that we express this holiness. It takes a lot of determination and courage to be a Catholic. It takes determination and courage to love.