This Sunday at Mass, believers continue to walk through Saint Mark’s Gospel. Last weekend, the Gospel recounted how the Lord Jesus exorcised a bad spirit in the synagogue of Capernaum. By this action, he was showing his authority over the things of the spirit. This weekend, the Lord leaves the synagogue and begins to heal the physical sicknesses and illnesses of those in the port city.
Is there a connection between the dispelling of demons and the curing the bodily ills?
As human beings made in God’s image, we consist of a body and a soul. Both our bodies and our souls share in the image of God. They both participate in our dignity as human persons and as children of God.
The body should not be diminished or dismissed as some raw matter with no identity, or merely seen as a vehicle that carries our souls around. No, the body shares in our dignity. It must be respected, cared for, and properly esteemed.
Our souls should not be approached as somehow our “true selves,” hidden away in our bodies somewhere. The body is not a foreign component to our personhood, nor is the soul a foreign component to our personhood. Both must be acknowledged, both must be respected, and both must be cared for.
The complementarity of our souls and bodies are reflected in many ways, especially when we love, express delight, give thanks, and suffer. For example, our souls share in the sufferings of our bodies and vice versa. If our body has a high temperature, then our will is weakened and virtue is more difficult. If our souls are clouded with melancholy, then our bodies experiences a weakening of muscle capacity.
We have to be cautious, therefore, not to isolate the soul from the body, or the body from the soul. As Saint Augustine exhorts us: “Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever; and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow.”
As human beings, we are both body and soul. The care that we give ourselves, or receive from others, must consider both these portions of our personhood. And this is the seasoned wisdom that can be discerned from the actions of the Lord Jesus in Capernaum.
The Lord did not solely minister to spiritual realities, as if to say, “Hey, the body isn’t really that essential. Neglect it, manipulate it, disgrace it. It doesn’t matter. The soul is the only thing that really matters!” Such sentiments are completely at odds with the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, who was God-made-flesh.
The honor he gave to the human body by taking up our nature is reflected in the sensitivity and care he gave to the human body, especially as he cured physical diseases and ailments of every kind.
Applying this wisdom, Pope Francis has been critical of the transgender movement, since it redefines a person’s “soul” and treats the body as an accident of our personhood that can be transitioned and changed according to our own will. He teaches: “Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.”
And the opposite is also true. The Lord did not exclusively minister to bodily realities, as if to say, “Hey, the soul isn’t a big deal. Forget about prayer. Don’t worry about virtue. And, bad spirits, whatever! They’re just psychological projections anyway. Just focus on your body.” Such sentiments are again completely at odds with the actions and teachings of Jesus Christ, who showed immense attention and deference to the human soul and all things spiritual.
Applying this wisdom, Pope Saint John Paul II teaches us: “The problem with pornography isn’t that it shows too much of the person, but rather too little.” Namely, the porn industry doesn’t care about a person’s soul. It treats a human being as if it were just a body.
And so, in the Lord’s sequence of events in Capernaum – whose actions will be repeated in others ways and in different places throughout the Lord’s public ministry – we can see his mutual and complementary focus on both the soul and body. He cares for both. He cures and restores both.
In our lives as Christians, therefore, we labor to uphold the delicate balance between body and soul. We are to cherish and respect both portions of our personhood, and seek to bring about an integrity between them. We are to nurture body and soul, and – just as he did in Capernaum – we are called to allow the Lord to heal and care for both.