As we prepare for the sacred days leading up to Easter, it is interesting to examine what John Paul II's theology of the body can teach us regarding Christ's self-gift on the cross and in the Eucharist. Pope John Paul II says, "Through the fact that the Word of God became flesh, the body entered theology [...] through the main door." The fact that Christ chose to became man adds a new dimension to the significance of our own bodies.
Christ became man for several reasons, including to manifest God's love to us and to be our model of holiness. All that He accomplished could not have been done without a body. Because the body reveals the person, Christ chose to utilize His humanity in order to communicate with us.
All of our bodies manifest our person as well as God. John Paul says, "This is the body: a witness to creation as a fundamental gift and therefore a witness to love as the source from which this same giving springs." How much more powerful was Christ's witness -- He is love! We are all called to be a self-gift. Christ's gift of self was the most tremendous realization of this aspect of our humanity.
In His suffering, Christ was able to redeem us because He is God, but we must not forget that He experienced suffering as a man as well. His sufferings were physical and emotional. It is only because He had a body, however, that He was able to experience this pain.
John Paul said that Christ was a "witness to the irreversible love of the Creator and Father." His love on the cross was total and irrevocable. We see this reflected in His very body language. Jesus' arms were outstretched and He hung naked on the cross. We see this "language of the body" reminding us that Christ held nothing back. He gave everything. His love was freely given, faithful and fruitful (it gave us new life). This is exactly the love to which a married couple is called. Christ modeled it beautifully through his gift of self on the cross.
Steven Kellmeyer in his book, Sex and the Sacred City: Meditations on the Theology of the Body, commented that Christ could have done a "victory dance" after shedding one drop of blood -- that would have been enough to redeem humanity. However, Christ chose to give completely and totally. Mr. Kellmeyer goes on to say that because God desired to espouse Himself to us, He had to ensure that we shared in the same nature. He explains this thought from St. Thomas Aquinas: "If an iron poker is thrust into a hot fire, though it never itself becomes fire, still it begins to glow red-hot, white-hot, with the characteristics of fire. It gives off light and heat. It shares in the nature of the fire. Our God is a consuming fire. When the Son united human nature to Himself in the Incarnation, He plunged human nature into the consuming fire of God." Think about that on Good Friday.
The Crucifixion also assists us in love of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes the Roman Missal, Preface of Christmas I, "We see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see."
Finally, the Eucharist, whose institution we commemorate today, offers us an opportunity to reflect on Christ's spousal love for us. Christ, the bridegroom, is offering His body to His bride. Every time we receive the Eucharist, we are His bride and He gives His body to us. This is the "consummation" of our relationship on earth, and a reminder that we were created for union and communion with God in heaven eternally.
As you pray during the next few days, observe the ways our bodies communicate through the various Catholic liturgies (washing of the feet, venerating the cross, the crucified Christ, etc.). Without the gift of our bodies, we would be unable to communicate our love for God and we would not have a visible manifestation of His tremendous love for us.