My wife and I usually go to the Sunday evening Life Teen Mass at our parish church. After communion the youth ministers announce the event planned for the evening along with the meal that is being served. I can always anticipate, like clockwork, my wife (who is a fitness and weight-loss consultant) cringing as they announce that the kids will be served chicken fingers and cokes, pizza and dessert, or something along those lines.
She used to whisper, “Don’t they know they are missing out on an opportunity to teach those kids good nutrition?” Now she just looks at me and rolls her eyes.
I explain to her that they try to make youth ministry enticing and that serving sprouts and herbal tea would not help the cause. But she does have a point. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; fill it with goodness.
Theology of the Body is More Than Sex
I have always been chubby, plump, large-boned…pick a euphemism. As I get older, though, I am taking much better care of my health, eating more whole foods, drinking less alcohol, and exercising more. Initially it was just to lose a little weight, but now I see it more as a way to better treat the body that God gave me.
At the grocery store I no longer buy empty carbohydrates, anything with high-fructose corn syrup, and processed foods if I can help it. These sorts of foods are poison for the body no less than pornography is for the mind. There is a recent article in the New York Times about how food companies work hard to make junk food addictive. I mostly stick to the perimeter of the grocery store where the produce, fish, and meats are for sale.
Most Catholic literature you find that addresses the body is focused on sexuality and sexual morals. This is good. But there is more to the body than sexuality. We have other organs like our hearts and lungs and whole systems like our g.i. tracts. To honor the gifts of these things we have to honor the Giver by treating them with the best of care.
Is Obesity a Mortal Sin?
I can’t answer that. Probably not. But I can tell you that Jesus wants us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This means that we first have to love ourselves, not in any sort of vain way, but real respect and love and appreciation of our existence, including our bodies.
The Catechism describes a mortal sin as one that attacks charity in the heart of man.
Mortal sin is sin whose object is (1)grave matter and which is also committed with (2)full knowledge and (3)deliberate consent.
(1) What could be more grave than choosing or not choosing to poison your own body? (2) There is enough information in the world, especially in America, to know what proper health choices are. (3) I rarely see anyone force feeding other people. Our Mother Church needs to incorporate good bodily health into Her teaching as a supplement to Her moral, spiritual, and intellectual teaching.
Now, I’m not saying that making bad food choices is necessarily uncharitable or that eating a dozen doughnuts on your death bed will send you to Hell, but gluttony is one of the Cardinal Sins. Let us encourage each other in the Cardinal Virtues of Temperance and Fortitude.
But the Body Doesn’t Go To Heaven
No, it doesn’t*. However, if you have more bodily energy and feel better then you can happily do more for the cause of Heaven while on Earth.
Moreover, if we are to use Jesus’ metaphor for all of us being the Body of Christ, then shouldn’t we deepen our appreciation of the body by taking care of our own? From the visible things we understand the invisible.
If the Pope handed you a plant and told you that it was a gift from God, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to make it grow healthy and bloom according to its own nature? Would you give it food made in a lab somewhere that you knew could possibly shorten its life, or would you give it natural sunlight and water and treat it with honor? Then how much more should you treat your own body?
All this being said, I am still on the chunky side. And I am not so insensitive as to not know that people have eating disorders and food addictions and are not perfect. But please use the reply box below to share your story of how you or your parish might be addressing these issues and improving the quality of life and physical health of the Body of Christ.
This needed clarification because of some of the comment threads you will find below. What I am saying here is that when the natural body dies, it is a temporal and spacial lifeless body which gets buried and decays. Most of us have seen this at a funeral. The body with all of its finite limits and flaws is separated from the soul at the moment of death. This does not mean that I do not believe in the resurrection of the body on “the last day,” because I do. In some mysterious way your body will exist again and is re-spirited, reunited to your soul, glorified. Although, I do have difficulty wrapping my mind around what that means exactly or how there can be a “last day,” especially when we say in the Glory Be, “world without end.” Perhaps someone could explain that to me below.