“Wow! He really sacrificed his body on that play, didn’t he?” we might exclaim while viewing a sports game. Someone is so committed to their professional sport they allow themselves to be hurt. Do we do the same for what we believe? How important is our body to our Christian life and how do we discipline ourselves to demonstrate this commitment. Paul wrote two simple sentences at the beginning of Romans chapter twelve I think are worth some consideration.
Paul opens chapter twelve of his Letter to the Romansr by asking us “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). He asks us to do this through God’s mercy. Perhaps we should ask in the same manner each day in our prayer. Each of us has our own issues with our bodies, either naturally or driven by the constant bombardment of images in our culture. Would you agree that our culture today has a worship of the human body? (short pause, look about the room for some sign of agreement). Commercials about exercise clothing and equipment pepper our early morning and evening media. The fit must stay fit. Commercials about food flood our televisions. Mornings tempt us with lunch ideas, mid-day with supper restaurants, and late at night ‘they’ want us to think of breakfast. Drug companies flood the airwaves with their products telling us the multitude of physical ailments their products relieve and encourage us to talk with our doctors. Images of ‘the beautiful people’ fill our television shows and movies, the footers and side bars of our computers, and saturate the fashion media from Gentleman’s Quarterly to Vanity magazine. Let’s face it, would you rather look at Taylor Swift or Rob Lowe, or would you chose to pin up Gimley the Dwarf or an orc from the Lord of the Rings? A more obvious truth is that we all live somewhere in between both fantasies and most often we are not in the blissful Coca-cola commercial of the former nor the epic battle of the latter.
Each of us in this routine must have something we can offer as prayer and sacrifice. Perhaps the first consideration we should make is how much of this modern worship we take upon ourselves. Health is important, this is true. It is so important that before Jesus forgave sins in the most prominent recollections of the Gospels, he first healed peoples’ physical maladies. We absolutely have a responsibility to remain as healthy as we are able. Exercise and sport are important values in our society. Exercise keeps us able to do the routine physical requirements of life, especially for those of us who work at desks or on factory lines. Sport is as important a social event as it is exercise. Both can begin and end with a simple prayer of promising God this is meant for his worship, that we may acquire the health necessary to carry out the work we offer to him.
This exercise can also interfere with that work we are to give and other gifts and works we are supposed to offer. How often does that late Saturday night game make us late for Sunday worship? Probably closer to home for the many of us with children are those Sunday morning traveling teams that have us playing sport instead of attending mass. Perhaps for those singles here, or those whose children are grown, the morning run or swim takes precedence. Do we allow those to come first, and attending church to renew our communal commitment second?
There are those of us that are overwhelmed by those food commercials. Something gets to us and we find ourselves munching from a box or stirring that bowl of ice cream while watching that media that is driving us to do so. Do any of you see the irony of what you are doing when while eating a bowl of cereal that commercial comes onto the television advertising the cereal? Or does that irony hit you when the weight loss commercial comes on as the spoon reaches your mouth? How much of a sacrifice is it for us, individually and as a whole, to decide dinner was enough for our health, and we need to not eat past those moments at the table? And, referring back to Sunday mornings, how difficult would it be for most of us to meet the pre-Eucharist morning fast, letting our bodies cleanse themselves just that small bit before receiving the Body of Christ within?
Many of us are ill or do have maladies to bear in our lives. Pain is not something our society requires us to live with or through. Much of our medical profession and pharmaceutical company investment is made in the area of pain relief. Cancer is constantly in front of us whether we are personally affected or not, again through the media. We are not inundated with photos of the disabled, the mentally ill, or the aged. We are inundated with those suffering hunger, famine, and disease overseas, as we are asked to share our wealth. How do we bear any of this? October of 2014 saw stories of those one would not accept pain, suffering, and responses by those who would, when an Oregon woman made it her last effort to announce to the world she would commit suicide to avoid a painful death due to brain cancer. We are becoming desensitized to euthanasia, as we have become desensitized to abortion.
A Christian response to this is to do as Christ did. First, for all of us to offer our pain and suffering, at whatever level we suffer, to God for his purpose. Perhaps we will reduce the suffering of souls who have taken their own lives. More immediately, we will surely strengthen our own character through our forbearance. Volunteering in hospitals and clinics may be another choice we have. Some churches run a ‘Shepherds Hope’ clinic for the poor and indigent. Most often, we are probably asked to simply pray for someone who is sick. By doing so we strengthen our commitment and offer them peace in their suffering. This is well demonstrated in the media, in the 2014 movie ‘Heaven is for Real’. The media sometimes works for what we believe.
Each situation we have discussed requires a decision, based on what we believe and by what principles we have decided to live. Each decision is a small mental exercise. Each time we make a decision, we reinforce what we believe. Changing those decisions to match our spiritual goals is not easy. Encouraging others to do so is more difficult, for in our culture, in our hearts, which of us would ask that someone’s suffering continue? Paul asks us to pray in this short paragraph he wrote. “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2) My prayer for you is the same. Good night (day) and may God bless you with the grace to remember to pray in and about all these things.
The Letter to the Romans. The Catholic Study Bible. Senior, D. GenEd. New York; Oxford UP. 1990. Print.