The gift and language of the body
Men and women discover the call to love written in their very bodies. The human person is a unity of soul and body, and the body shares in the dignity of the image of God.7 The body reveals or “expresses the person.”8 It expresses in a visible way one’s invisible soul and manifests one’s masculine or feminine identity.
Pope St. John Paul II often referred to the “spousal meaning of the body.”9 He taught that the body, in its masculinity or femininity, is inscribed with its own language—a language of gift and of communion of persons. Our bodies tell us that we come from another. We are not self- made or fundamentally isolated. Instead, we are each a son or daughter. We are in relation to others from the beginning of our existence, first to our mother and father, and through them to the entire human family. Our bodies also tell us that we are “for” another, that we have the capacity for fruitful communion with another, in particular with a person of the opposite sex if called to marriage. Written in our bodies is a call to spousal, fruitful love. This call is realized in marriage as well as in celibacy or virginity for the sake of the Kingdom (e.g., priestly celibacy and consecrated life). In giving ourselves in love, we fulfill the meaning of our existence: “man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”10
Because of the beautiful meaning and dignity communicated by our bodies—which communicate our very selves—our bodies should be treated with the greatest respect. We, and therefore our bodies, are not meant to be used but loved. As Karol Wojtyła (St. John Paul II) taught, the opposite of love is not hate but rather using a person, as if he or she were an object.11 To love others is to recognize them as the gift they are, to seek what is truly good and best for them, and never to use them and thereby objectify them as something less than persons. The body, then, is not raw, biological matter open to manipulation but is rather inseparable from who we are.12 As Pope Francis has emphasized, “Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.”13
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