Bodies and souls

Reflection for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity

Matthew 5,1-12

In the past, when Charities wanted to encourage people to give them money to feed, clothe and shelter the destitute, they often used the expression ‘to keep body and soul together’. It was another way of saying ‘keep them alive’ – because when people lack these necessities of life, they die.

But nowadays, although Charities still talk about the human body’s need of food, clothing, shelter and medicine, they avoid the word ‘Soul’ – its use being largely confined to funerals, where it suggests to most of those present a rather “airy-fairy” idea about something which they don’t believe exists anyway! So (regrettably) the word ‘Soul’ (in its ‘body-and-soul’ sense) has become almost obsolete. 

But St Paul [in First Corinthians 6,19], says that our Bodies are nothing less than Temples of the Holy Spirit: designed by God, working in partnership with our God-given Souls – to enable us to ‘glorify and enjoy Him forever’. 

Thank God, He didn’t design our Bodies to live forever in their present earthly form! We all die. But if death is all we could look forward to, our bodies (without our souls) wouldn’t be worth treating with the care which we and God lavish upon them.

God designs and gives each of us a Body and a Soul, to work in partnership. Our material Body is how our non-material and spiritual Soul lives, grows, develops and expresses itself in our earthly life. 

All Saints Day, 1st November, assures us that God designed us all to become perfect. It’s a gradual process of development, beginning at our Baptism, but which won’t be complete till after our death. 

By contrast, All Souls Day, 2nd November, tells us what, and where, and how we are now: half-, or less than half-finished, creatures who are in the process of being made perfect by Him. 

Fra Angelico, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

We live in a material world. But God has planted in each of us a Soul – like a spiritual Seed – which will, if nurtured and cared for by His Grace, turn us into Saints, and sharers of His perfection. 

Moreover He has prepared for each of us an identifiable, and resurrectible body – enabling us after our death to recognize not only those we have known on earth, but the rest of His Communion who have died, long before or after ourselves, but whom we’ve never had a chance to meet and know.

John Montgomery’s hymn, Palms of glory, raiment bright, (which is all about the Souls of men and the Saints of God), puts it admirably. He wrote:

They were mortal too like us;
Ah! when we like them must die;
May our souls, translated thus,
Triumph, reign and shine on high.

The word “translated” suggests ‘changing something we don’t understand into something we do, (for example, a Norwegian word, or phrase, or book, into an English one, and vice versa). 

So, this ‘translation’ of human beings from imperfect Soul-hood to perfect Saint-hood is one vast, God-inspired and God-perfected process of ‘translating’ or ‘transforming’ us, from mere mortals – who can barely understand ourselves, or one another, let alone God – into Beings who can understand not only ourselves, nor just each other; but can even begin to understand our Creator Himself!

Fr. Francis Gardom

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