Redeeming Word and Body

Man has two principal means of communication: the word and the body. The word – spoken, written, sung, whispered – in prose, poetry, song, even emails and texts. The word, by which we convey our thoughts, opinions, feelings, ideas, etc., but, more importantly, by which we communicate ourselves. In oaths, promises, and pledges we give ourselves to something and someone. Without the word, we are isolated and alone.
And the body: standing, kneeling, sitting, walking, running, dancing, smiling, laughing, frowning, weeping, hugging, kissing, embracing. Words are not enough for us. Our bodies speak as well. Whether we realize it or not (sometimes even despite ourselves), we use “body language.” By the body also we communicate our very selves. The Christian martyred in the arena or the soldier jumping on a grenade speaks of self-giving without uttering a word.

In our culture, however, both word and body have lost their ability to speak.
It is not in Supreme Court decisions only that words no longer have meaning. When attorneys general refuse to defend the laws they had sworn to, then oaths mean nothing. When the argument for upending marriage rests on a mere tautology (“Love is Love”), then rational argument is pointless. When “orientation” can mean any direction, then the word is absurd. When we list two “mothers” but no “father” on a birth certificate, then our language is unmoored from reality. We have come a long way from wondering about what the meaning of “is” is.

Likewise the body. An entire nation blithely accepts one man’s insistence that he is really a woman and applauds the mutilation of his body. A Supreme Court Justice has to marshal his legal expertise to explain the obvious: only the male/female union gives us babies. The culture’s acceptance of homosexual activity as normal indicates that we no longer comprehend the simplest language of the human body. Never mind the more common practices (immodest dress, tattoos, sterilization, contraception) that breed the view of the body as a possession rather than a sacred trust.

Of course, there have always been sophists and Gnostics, liars and libertines. But the current reach of this poison surpasses perhaps anything we have seen. It infects our public discourse and our everyday conversations. We have to negotiate the minefield of conversations carefully, lest we take a word for what it actually means.

This crisis of communication damages society in general, but marriage suffers disproportionately. Not only because it is the fundamental cell of society, but also because that sacred union is contracted by words and consummated by bodies. Once vows are words without mooring and the marital embrace means nothing, the entire institution is adrift. No wonder marriage is at the center of battles both secular and ecclesial.

The Nymfios (Christ the Bridegroom)

Our current meaninglessness is a symptom of the fallen world. Sin is the rejection of meaning, of any structure or purpose. It is the grasping for that autonomy that rejects the constraints of objective truth. Salvation from this situation thus comes the same way salvation always comes to us: through the Word made flesh. The eternal Word restores meaning to all words. The Word made flesh redeems the significance of all bodies.

This redemption comes to us, not surprisingly, in nuptial terms. The Word made flesh is the Bridegroom Who has come to restore the original meaning of marriage. Christian marriage thus becomes a place where meaning is redeemed – a society in which words again have meaning and the body significance. In Christian marriage – in all those marriages struggling and stumbling along – we find that vows are not a dead letter but alive. They are lived – imperfectly and clumsily, perhaps, but lived. In Christian marriage, the body is again significant. The body – so inconvenient, greedy, and uncooperative – in marriage again becomes a means of communication, of establishing the one-flesh union.

This faith in the Word made flesh finds its summit in the Eucharist. As Saint Thomas so beautifully puts it, by a word the Word made flesh makes real bread His flesh. By a human word the Body of the Word is present, and by receiving the Body in our human bodies we receive the Word. In the Eucharist, we find healing for our meaningless culture. There we encounter words that possess not just meaning but the power to change. There our bodies realize their significance as we receive the Body of the Word. The Eucharist redeems both word and body.

And the Eucharist is nuptial: at Mass the Bridegroom and Bride become one flesh. In the Eucharist, spouses find instruction and grace to live their vocation. In the words of institution – This is my Body – they hear the voice of the Bridegroom Who confirms and strengthens their own words. In His vow of self-giving they find strength for theirs. In receiving Holy Communion, they receive the Word made flesh Who sanctifies their physical union and sacrifices.

Whatever the political or cultural response may be to the current crisis, the first Catholic movement must be to our Eucharistic Lord, Who alone restores meaning to word and body: greater attention at Mass, more frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament, more devout reception of Holy Communion, more and better time in adoration. These are not an escape from “reality” (as if our culture qualifies), but recourse to the One Redeemer. Such practices call down graces for our struggle and shape us into people who can fill the world with meaning.

Fr. Paul D. Scalia

Fr. Paul D. Scalia

Fr. Paul Scalia is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Va, where he serves as Episcopal Vicar for Clergy. His new book is That Nothing May Be Lost: Reflections on Catholic Doctrine and Devotion.

  • Manfred

    Father Scalia: Historians seem to agree that The Sixties began in the latter part of that decade. Whether they tie it in or not, The Sixties began at the end of the Secolnd Vatican Council. The Modernist victory there held out the promise that: The Church was going to change! Griswold v. Connecticut, relaxing the prohibition on contraceptives, was 1965, and Roe v Wade followed eight years later. The Modernist heresy has destroyed niot only the Church, but the world. We lost.
    What was the Council freeing us from? Traditional Catholic teadhings as the Mother of God shiowed them to be at Fatima. Three peasant children, the oldest was nine, were shown a vision of Hell. When Lucia, the oldest, and the major seer asked the Virgin if she woulld go to Heaven, she was told that she and Jacinta would go to Heaven, but that Francisco, Jacinta’s brother, age 7, would :”have to say many Rosaries.” Some young people in that area had died, including an 18 year old female. When Lucia inquired about her, the Blessed Mother responded “Amelia will be in purgatory until the end of the world.”
    Look at the statristics for the Church in 1865 when it was at Its apogee 47 years after the Fatima Message. and look at the wreckage It is today, fifty years after Vatican II. We have been living through the Third Secret and the worst is yet to come. Yesterday’s TCT had an article on co-habitation, The idea was unimagiable fifty years ago. Look at Obergefell v,. Hodges with which you are very familiar.

    • Sheila

      Wow, so much to think about; it can be confusing. I probably should read up on it more, but things move so fast from one tragedy to another I almost feel I lose my breath trying to keep up. May God have mercy on us. If today is the day of salvation, I will live today and make it the best day of my life ever. I can go to holy Mass and receive my Jesus in the Eucharist. Maybe I can get a confession in too. What a great thought. And I can try to do that every day if I am able. Whew.

  • Michael Dowd

    Very good Fr. Scalia. Yours are the words we need to hear at Sunday Mass. This is a certain torpor surrounding the Church here in America. It’s a torpor of indifferentism, the languid voice of the satisfied, the optimism of the ignorant. We need wake up calls like yours–lots of them. We need Pope Francis to lead us spiritually, help us to holiness, show us the road to eternal life. In times such as these having our Pope advocate on issues such as “climate change” and income redistribution is utterly disheartening. Let us pray that Pope Francis get back into the job he was assigned by Christ.

  • Manfred

    Post Script: I meant to write 1965 (in lieu of 1865), statistics,

  • ThirstforTruth

    Father Scalia connects the dots of our faith beautifully in this article. So infrequently we hear a truly Catholic homily anymore. Oh, I don’t mean they are full of heresy but rather they have no ” meat on the bones”. Let us prayer for more Father Scalia’s to be ordained and found in every parish.

  • Sheila

    Excellent, excellent. So much to chew on. I am stuck on the “minefield of conversation”. It gives me a vivid and imaginative picture of all our words and speaking points. Political as well as spiritual. I will be thinking of this during the debates this week. Shall I chuckle or cry?

  • kathleen

    We need good preaching and teaching from the pulpit every week on the Holy Mass and Holy Communion, Confession and Catholic devotions – Liturgy of the Hours and the Rosary. Pray for our priests every day, especially your pastors, that they will do what God wants them to do and say. We all need to be courageous now – anything less will not do. Let us not be ashamed of the Gospel or the Church that Christ established 2,000 years ago.

  • Jill

    Come to California, Father. We need priests who will fearlessly speak the truth. This was so encouraging to me!

  • Alicia

    Father, ” person ” , another word Satan is changing. It means ” human being ” , created in the image of God. Well, there are organizations and groups trying legally to give ” personhood” to animals and nature, and thus the same rights as people.
    In Argentina, an orangutan was given personhood by a judge and writ of habeas corpus. In New Zealand , it was legally given by a judge to a river, a river!!. Here in the US, a judge denied personhood and writ of H.C. to 4 chimps, but commented in the decision that , eventually, they will probably get their way because these groups are determined to win. The group ( forgot its name) has decided to appeal.
    So, animals will be upgraded to the status of persons, or rather, persons will be downgraded to the status of animals.
    The law will say a person is the same as, and has the same rights as an animal. Everyone will act like animals, because that’s what they legally are !
    I wonder, what of responsibilities ? We have them, animals don’t. That is not even considered in their agenda.
    I read this article yesterday in Aletea and it scared the daylights out of me.
    This week everybody is freaking out about the killing of a lion ( true, very sad ),, but not about the killing of millions of babies, and the laws for assisted ” dignified deaths ” (suicide ) of old people, and sick people because they are no longer productive and useful to society.
    An animal has more dignity and rights than our grandparents, sick people, and defenseless babies. !!! The personhood law will get passed. Satan will see to that.
    Father, we need the church, the pope, our cardenals to start a crusade for millions of daily rosaries by all Catholics in the churches, before or after mass, before classes in all Catholic schools, in every Catholic home.
    I can’t stop thinking about tge article

    • Richard A

      “Person” does not mean “human being.” The Holy Spirit is a person, Michael the archangel and Lucifer are persons, I think (subject to correction) that Flipper and Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer are persons (the last is a fictitious person). None of these are human beings.

      The fact remains, human beings, and associations of human beings, have rights and places in society that beasts do not, and our laws, already in sad shape, will be in a sadder shape if they are changed to pretend they do. Like same-sex marriage, these are circles that cannot be squared.

  • Alicia

    Sorry, didn’t finish my comment.
    Thank you father for your article. It should be published in all the churche’s bulletins.
    Thank you. God bless you.

  • monica

    What a wonderful article! Thank you, Father. Jesus is using you to call us to Himself. He is the Answer and He will keep our thinking straight and keep us safe if we come to Him and trust in Him. Over and over I am seeing this — people who can see clearly through the twisted logic and see the depravity all around us for what it is – these are people who frequent the Sacraments, spend good amounts of time in Adoration and stay close to Jesus. Jesus really is the Great Communicator – in Word and Body! Thank you, thank you, Father, for writing this article.

  • Erica Walter

    Very good piece. Do you side with those who believe that government should get out of the marriage/license businesss entirely and leave it to the churchs and synagogues? The issue has many facets, but at the bottom, it’s the children who suffer. How many special needs orphans currently have no homes because Boston Catholic Adoption Services wouldn’t adopt to gay couple?. And re gay adoption: thousands of boys who will never ever experience a mother; the thouands of girls who will never experience a father. They will grow up always wondering, always incomplete inside. On some level, this issue has little to do with marriage rights, but the denial of any importance of the female sex vs. male sex. I think the goal is a type of androgyny where we’ll all become the same. Femininity? Masculinity? Old fashioned words that no longer have no meaning. Babies? That’s what we have in vitro clinics for. And when that comes about, true happiness will be a thing of the past.