Media CenterCarolyn Woo’s CNS Column: ‘Our Bodies Matter’

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By Carolyn Y. Woo and guest co-author Justin Bartkus
August 2013

In August, the feast of the Assumption celebrates Mary's being taken into heaven, body and soul. This is by the power exerted by her Son's suffering, triumph and ascent into heaven. Where the Son is, Mary is, since Mary's faith and love for him are unsullied by cynicism or bitterness despite piercing sorrow. She believes in his and his Father's promises without pretense or hesitation.

The power that raised Jesus from the dead is what raises Mary above and beyond death. She experiences in her body and spirit the destiny which Jesus experienced, and therefore modeled, in the Ascension: a passage that is not out of the world, but which is into another dimension that mingles everything earthly with everything eternal. Pope Benedict XVI noted this in his homily on the Feast of the Assumption in 2010.

Jesus passes out of sight so that we might not try to hold onto him as he used to be, but rather look for him in the daily gifts and exaltations and sufferings of our own and our collective experiences. Through incarnation, Jesus became human with a body which is neither left behind nor destroyed, and the same goes for Mary. Mary's body conceived and bore the infant baby; her tears watered the earth at Golgotha, her hugging of John under the cross commenced the dead man's Church. These are affairs of the body, and they were not forgotten after the resurrection and ascension.

Nothing that is precious in God's eyes will be lost. And that includes bodies. Our bodies. The ascent of Mary's body into heaven is two things: 1) a dogma cementing her greatness of faith and 2) by means of her glorification, a guarantee that the little and hidden affairs of the body and of all bodies are precious to the Lord. The Assumption, rightly understood, is a guarantee against understanding salvation as otherworldly, disembodied, as a "flight" from all the bodies that yearn for our care and attention.

Catholic Relief Services, our sister Caritas agencies around the world and numerous other Catholic ministries reach out to nourish, heal, shelter and protect the poorest and vulnerable. Daily we see children's bodies which are stunted, bearing the devastating consequence of malnutrition; those ravaged by diseases for lack of access to common medicines; those who are disabled; those cast out by their communities for mental illness or shunned for so many other reasons; those reduced to humiliating subsistence because of war and ethnic cleansing; bodies scarred by torture. Yet these same bodies are also crafted by God, imprinted with His love, and sent forth to be His presence on Earth. In the midst of these stark encounters, we also witness the will of many to live, to thrive, to seek a better future for their children, a chance to use their gifts, to make their lives matter. In the people who serve with us, we meet compassion and generosity, hospitality and embrace, sacrifice and joy.

In this work and in our daily activities, we call to mind Blessed John Paul II’s teachings on the Theology of the Body. Our bodies are made to reveal the nature of God and His intended Kingdom on Earth. As St. Teresa of Avila stated in her poem, we are called to be God’s hands and feet, his body on earth. On that note, she taught, “God gave us faculties for our use; each of them will receive its proper reward. Then do not let us try to charm them to sleep, but permit them to do their work until divinely called to something higher.”

Dr. Woo is president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This article is part of her ongoing monthly column, Our Global Family, written for Catholic News Service.

Read Dr. Woo’s previous columns.