Body, Heart and Soul

The respect due to the human body and the Church teaching on cremation.
by Amelie Torre | Source:

Recently I saw an unusual and slightly disturbing photo displayed in the local copies shop. It is a photo taken underwater, showing the body of a young woman dressed in white, submerged and floating. Her face is not visible because it is still hovering on the surface. It is not clear whether she is swimming or drowning, but I immediately thought of Hamlet’s Ophelia, who succumbed to madness and drowned herself. Something similar is happening to the idea of the unity of body and soul in modern culture. Everyone assumes that body and soul can be separated and the results are disastrous; and it is particularly devastating for the woman. And this has come about in a number of subtle ways, culminating in an ultimate disrespect for humanity.

It all begins with a lack of respect for one’s own body. Fashion trends which leave nothing to the imagination have fed the flames of the sexual revolution. Generations have now grown up with this, so that mothers can in no way dissuade their daughters from buying revealing clothes and short skirts. These daughters have seen their own mothers wear these things. Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg. Then the deadly process begins; sex is separated from marriage, and procreation is separated from the conjugal act, because the woman is made to feel that her physical attributes are the sum total of her worth; she is worth her body only. To reveal the body unnecessarily makes the soul extremely vulnerable. Now we have to face the reality of same-sex or other couples ‘renting wombs’ in India and other places so that they can have children. This is absolute slavery; women are being paid some very high sums to bear other people’s children, and they cannot refuse since their own families are destitute. And what of the natural bond that occurs between the physical mother and her child? For the modern mentality, none of this matters because body and soul are separated. It is just like the photo of the woman underwater; the face, the human aspect, is invisible and lost to sight. These women are too desperate to consider the fact that the body cannot be used for simply anything; it is a sacred vessel because it holds the heart and soul of the person. To use someone to bear children for them is nothing less than slavery, a trafficking in human life that shows a very grave disorder in the way people view themselves and others.

Of course when the person is not granted dignity and respect while they are alive, there is even less respect shown after death. More than one freak show of plastic-filled bodies has made its tour in museums throughout the world. Some are choosing ever more bizarre means of burial, such as having one’s ashes placed in an artificial coral reef in Florida, scattered over a public park, or having their remains compressed into something known as a LifeGem, which supposedly would be worn or kept in a private home. The Catholic Church has nothing against cremation, but it does stipulate that the remains of the dead should be buried whenever possible.

Cremation is also a contemporary phenomenon in virtue of the changed circumstances of life. In this regard, ecclesiastical discipline states: "Christian obsequies may be conceded to those who have chosen to have their bodies cremated, provided that such choice was not motivated by anything contrary to Christian doctrine"(369). In relation to such a decision, the faithful should be exhorted not to keep the ashes of the dead in their homes, but to bury them in the usual manner, until God shall raise up those who rest in the earth, and until the sea gives up its dead (cf. Aps 20, 13). (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments: December 2001 “Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy”, no. 254).

The remains of the person deserve respect even after death, since the soul and heart of a human being is expressed through their body. To have one’s body become a museum exhibit after death is not in accordance with the love and respect with which the person was created. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has something to say about this as well: “The Christian is obliged to oppose all forms of "commercialisation of the dead", which exploit the emotions of the faithful in pursuit of unbridled and shameful commercial profit (no. 259).” Now that the Church has proclaimed a year dedicated to St. Paul, it would be well to reflect on these words from 1 Corinthians 19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?...Therefore glorify God in your body.” 

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