It’s really hard to pray when we’re sick, isn’t it? Or maybe when even the mildest of headaches takes over, it’s a lot easier to stay in bed, in a nice dark room, than to find our way to Mass. Even praying right where we are at, alone in our rooms, for anything more than, God please let this headache go away, feels heavy. I know for myself that even with a sore throat I start focusing more on my self and that little itching pain, that nuisance I probably can’t just pray away. It’s been really rough these last couple of weeks down here at the Seminary because the flu has been going around, knocking guys out of class, leaving our chapel a little emptier during Mass.
All this illness has me really thinking about how really in the body we are. First, I can laugh at myself here, being the one who nearly pulled a muscle genuflecting before the Tabernacle just the other day. I went to one knee, and on the way back up I felt something twinge; my first liturgical injury! Who knew that praise and worship could be so taxing! But with all this feeling the little inconveniences, and dealing as a community with the illness running through the Seminary and ravaging one guy after another, I think there’s a pretty important lesson to be learned here.
It’s not that we need to suffer to show our love to God. Sure there’s a certain gift God gives us when we are less than comfortable, when we learn what it means to give up something we cherish, or something as simple as a small comfort, for the good of those we care for, or even those we don’t particularly get along with. What I’m taking out of this is that we’re not merely spiritual beings. Nope, we’ve got bodies, and our bodies can praise God with song and dance, suffer with those who are sick, and endure the little pains and terrible injuries that God Himself chose to enter into when He became one of us.
I know it’s easy for me to say so, since I haven’t had to deal with the same flu this time around, but there’s something beautiful going on here. Ok, so that might be stretching it a little bit, but how can we ignore that, as St. Paul cries out to the Corinthians, Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own (1 Corinthians 6:19). So how do we use our bodies to praise God? When we’re sick, do we curse God for giving us a body that can feel? In our healthiest moments, or when we’re feasting with dearest friends and family, or when we’re right in that zone, working out, are we’re thanking God for our health, or for the ways He wants to speak to us about Himself in our pleasure?
Don’t think that Jesus didn’t know how to feel. I’m willing to bet that St. Paul, when he wrote to the Corinthians about how holy their bodies were, had the image emblazoned on his mind of Jesus hanging on the cross, but also of Jesus risen from the dead, wounds still clearly showing in his hands and side. Jesus has a body, and it was treated by his executioners about as harshly as one could be treated, but he never stopped praying to the Father. Even from the cross he cried out to God, knowing He was being heard. And that is the same Body He gives to us, that we worship, that we receive in the Eucharist.
If Jesus let His Body become what it has become for us, if His real and physical self became the greatest gift to us, the very reason for our life, what does that say about our bodies. I hope, I believe, I trust that it means that when I bend my knee and genuflect, even if my muscle feels a little funny, I can praise God in that way; when I open my hands and my arms and lift them up in prayer while we sing out to God, I’m not reaching out to nothing; when I’ve got a headache that just pounds and pounds, it’s not because God is ignoring me; even if I was laying in bed, feverish and coughing through the night, I’ve got to know that God is not going to ignore my frustration and my hope for health.
We don’t just pray with our hearts and our minds. Our body is a prayer. A beautiful prayer, a language that Jesus Himself knows very well.