I’ve been thinking a lot about our second reading for this Sunday’s Mass, from St. Paul’s letter to the the Philippians:

Brothers and sisters:
Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
If I go on living in the flesh,
that means fruitful labor for me.
And I do not know which I shall choose.
I am caught between the two.
I long to depart this life and be with Christ,
for that is far better.
Yet that I remain in the flesh
is more necessary for your benefit.
Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Having come to Mass from the Theology of the Body conference, I immediately thought that it was very fitting, sort of a nice summary of some of the things we’d heard and discussed at the conference.

Obviously, at the beginning, St. Paul makes reference specifically to Christ being “magnified in [his] body.”  Not just in his soul or in his mind or in his letters, but in his body.  We all magnify (or diminish) Christ through our bodies, through our external actions and interactions with others.  Like words, actions really mean something.  We can imitate Christ through our physical actions, or we can fail to do so.  St. Paul intends to spend his life “in the flesh” serving others, being of benefit to others, and engaging in “fruitful labor.”  The word “fruitful” stood out to me, because that is one of the 4 characteristics of God’s love: it is full, free, faithful, and fruitful.  St. Paul wants to give a love that is fruitful, to love as Christ loves, to imitate Christ.

Indeed, St. Paul expresses such a complete giving of himself and entrusting of himself to Christ and Christ’s will that it doesn’t matter to him whether he lives or dies.  It is quite radical!  And yet, all Christians are called to such dedication of self.

One important way we interact physically with God and the Church is through the Sacraments.  Sacraments by nature have everything to do with the material world and physical presence.  This is very clear when it comes to Communion: we can understand Communion as a most intimate and powerful union between Christ’s Body and our bodies.  It is a two-way action: He gives and we receive.  There is such a thing as a spiritual Communion, of course, which is a good thing… but it can never replace the physical reception of Communion.  I think that the importance of physical presence is also  one reason (among others) that the Sacrament of Confession cannot be conducted over the phone or internet or any such thing.  Priest and penitent must be physically close to each other, be able to listen to each other and speak to each other, be “in tune” to each other.  It’s easy to overlook it or take it for granted, but Confession consists of a very close, very strong bond.  I think we can sense that if it were done “virtually” or over the phone, there would be something very important missing.

Through the Sacraments, we partake of God’s own life and love, and receive all that we require to live for Him and for others.  We are nourished and healed by them just as we are by food and medicine.

This reading ends with an exhortation by St. Paul to his fellow Christians: “Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  Again, conduct is an external feature, shown through our bodies.  It is not enough to just say, “I am a Christian.”  If you say that, but your conduct does not show it, then you are lying, you are dishonest.  Likewise, if you receive Communion, but your soul is steeped in mortal sin, or if you go to Confession but have no plans to avoid sinning, you are lying to God and the Church, and those Sacraments are not going to give you grace.  Your inner self and outer self must be in alignment–you must have integrity.  This was another theme throughout the conference: having integrity.  Holiness relies on integrity.  Being fully human relies on integrity–we aren’t body or soul, we are body and soul.  We can’t cleave ourselves in half and be fully ourselves.

Anyway, I have just been very taken by that reading… and both it and the conference have really inspired me to strive harder to give myself fully, freely, faithfully, and fruitfully to God and my fellow man!  I know I will be happier and more myself for it.