By Fr. Glenn Jones
Have you known persons who will only eat the finest foods, drink the finest wines, demand the finest in all things? The very idea of the McDonald’s drive-thru is anathema (though maybe they haven’t experienced their green chile double cheeseburgers. Yummmmm.) But if we constantly eat the finest food and drink, and deny ourselves no luxury, soon those things become one’s standard, and other things taste as sawdust. And so, when the finest becomes the expected rather than a “treat”, soon even the finest loses its specialness and its ability to please, and the search for something better—or even AS satisfying—is of little avail. As the saying goes, where do you go from “up”?
Such was the quandary and the perplexity of the author of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, denying himself no luxury at all, and yet in that gluttony of luxury nonetheless was emptiness: “I bought male and female slaves…I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me…I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, man’s delight. So I became great and surpassed all who were before…And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure…” And yet, true satisfaction eluded him. The narrator continues: “…behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind… “(Ecclesiastes 2:7-11) Because, as he wisely notes, all go down to the dust. We remember the parable of the rich man: “‘I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12:19-20) And who is more foolish than one whom God Himself calls a fool?
There is also a related apparent anathemas of modernity: sexual modesty and chastity. In our day it seems that anything goes—whether type or quantity. In fact, the term “sexual license” has disappeared because virtually nothing is considered excess. One might call it “freedom”, but is it good? Is it beneficial? And, if beneficial (or not), to whom?
Most would agree that sexual intimacy is THE most inter-human physical closeness that humans attain—the “luxury level” of human intimacy. And so, does it not follow that to glut oneself with sexuality as one might do with food thereby “deadens” the specialness of that physical intimacy? And, if one becomes numb to preeminent physical intimacy, is not the expected spiritual intimacy meant to accompany it also bound to be numbed?
If a person is valued only for the pleasure of physicality, then spiritual intimacy becomes disconnected, undesired or even a nuisance … and what a tragedy that is. This is why the bar scene is often termed “a meat market” or “parading the beef”: the physical is all that is desired, the spiritual is disdained. In a “hook up” culture, men and women can become little more than disposable rags: Cheap. Used. Discarded.
The danger of such devaluation is highlighted even in the first pages of the Bible, indicating its perennial presence since antiquity. In the story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, after succumbing to selfishness, realize that they are “naked” and cover themselves with the infamous fig leaves. Thus the inspired authors recognized tragedy in our propensity to exploit the body for pleasure rather than for the permanent, exclusive, physical-spiritual bond for which God created sexual intimacy. Thus, the now often-disdained modesty (covering) is addressed immediately in scripture as vital to a life of holiness and of the true valuation of the other, seeking to minimize sexually exploitive temptations. Thus St. Paul’s adamant: “Shun [sexual] immorality…the immoral man [or woman] sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:18-19)
And yet, consider that last statement.
Does not the very phrases used, such as “hook up” (or even more graphic expressions) indicate exploitation? … a valuing of the physical at the expense of the spiritual? … shunning the true body-soul intimacy that we most desire? Humans flailingly search for the spiritual depth of love, frustrated that they can’t find “THE One”… and yet go looking for diamonds in the mud … for [real] love in all the wrong places.
Anyone of depth knows that true love resides not in the body, but in the soul … and thus physical intimacy is a gift and expression of permanent and binding relationship, reflecting love. This is why scripture says so beautifully in Genesis … later reiterated by Jesus: “Then the man said [of his wife], ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’…Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:23-24)
The body should reflect the soul within … not so much by appearance, but in behavior and attitude. We are called to cherish each person for WHO they are, not WHAT they are … to love spiritually each and all.
Scripture says: “God is spirit…” (John 4:24), and also: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16) Therefore love is spiritual, and the flesh manifests the wholeness … or not … of each spirit. So let us strive to be holy, as He is holy. (cf. Leviticus 11:44)
Let neither gluttony nor lust overcome me, and do not surrender me to a shameless soul. (Sirach 23:6)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.