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Body, Soul, and Sacrifice

Published: April 30, 2020   

The Church's Scripture and Tradition make clear that mankind is composed of body and soul. This undergirds some of the Church’s most fundamental teaching. For example, the catechism makes clear that death itself is a separation of the body from the soul (CCC 366). Also, there are corporal (bodily) works of mercy as well as spiritual(soul related) works of mercy.

Just as it is clear from Scripture and Tradition that mankind is composed of body and soul, so it is clear that the soul is nobler than the body. Our Lord Himself makes this clear when teaching about sacrifice and self-denial in a willingness to give up the goods of this temporary life for the sake of preserving one's soul (Mark 8:34-38). No earthly good (, clothing, wealth for the body's comfort) is worth losing the soul/

This is based on the principle of the gradation of being, which simply means that reality consists of higher goods and lower goods. It is a more serious thing to run over your neighbor’s dog named “Patch” than it is to run over a patch of your neighbor’s grass. It is a more serious thing still to accidentally run over the neighbor himself. This is because a dog is a higher form of good than grass and a man is a higher form of good than both.

What is true of different beings is also true of the parts of mankind. The soul is a higher good than the body because the body is material, and thus temporary. Material things aren’t bad. They just aren’t eternal. They decay. Immaterial or spiritual goods, however, are higher goods precisely because they are eternal.

This is also where the Church’s teaching on sacrifice becomes clear. The body is disciplined with fasting and other sacrifices not because it is bad, but because the soul is better and bodily sacrifices are good for the soul. The body is deprived and the soul is strengthened deliberately because the soul is a higher good than the body. It was ultimately the sacrifice of something so precious as the Venerable Body of our Lord that would lead to the redemption of our souls and the resurrection of our own bodies.

As Christ offered his body as a sacrifice, we too must make sacrifices. Although this reflection is late for Lent, it fits quite well amidst the coronavirus as we can offer our imperfect sufferings as a sacrifice to be united with the perfect sacrifice of Christ. The movement of the Christian life is modelled after the life of our Lord. We move from the sacrifice of Good Friday to Easter Sunday and Easter Season. As St. Paul wrote, “If we suffer with Him, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). May the sacrifices we offer in this momentary life of suffering be offered with an eye toward the hopeful day when we will reign with him having victory even over death.

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