Human beings are bodily beings. Their bodies are part of who they are and who they were created by God to be. God does not create human beings as spirits alone, but as unities of both body and spirit. This 'being a body' is important for the Christian vision of the human person because it means that all human beings, regardless of their physical qualities, are created and loved by God. Moreover, this 'being a body' underscores human interrelationships with the world and with time and history. Each human being is unique and irreplaceable. Each human being grows and changes over time. Each human being depends on and acts in and through his or her relationships in the physical world. It is as bodily beings that we come to know God, that we love and learn to discern what is the right thing to do.
The person is a unity of body, mind and spirit. The body is one with the soul in the human person (embodied spirit, inspirited body). 'The body with its feelings, thoughts, urges and longings is a place of divine revelation rather than something to be feared or an object of shame or something less than the mind or spirit' (McClone, 2011, p.4). From a Catholic perspective, human beings hold a unique place in Creation. On the one hand they are material, like animals, because they are physical, bodily beings, bound by time and space on the planet we call Earth. Humans need food, air and water. Human beings need to engage in sexual intercourse in order to keep their species going. Just as an individual would die without food and water, the human species will become extinct without human sexual activity. On the other hand, human beings are eternal because each is created with a rational, spiritual soul that continues to live beyond physical death in this life. What is important for the Catholic perspective on sex and relationship education is to realise that this bodily dimension, and this mental and spiritual dimension cannot be separated from each other. In other words, the human being is a unity of body, mind and spirit.
The body is good. We affirmed above that the human being is good, not in a moral sense, but in the sense that it is good that any particular human exists. The same is true for the body as part of that human being created in the image of God. In other words, because we are created in the image of God as bodily beings, the human body constitutes part of what gives humans their fundamental and equal dignity or worth. The goodness, worth and dignity of the body, of our human flesh, is further affirmed by Catholic belief in the Incarnation. The idea that God chose to become a human being, to enter into the limitations of a specific human body in a specific time and place, gives a profound meaning to our fleshiness. God has chosen to become like us in every way but sin, and in so doing saved us from the limitations of this fleshiness of ours. Through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are freed from death as the ultimate limitation of our bodily existence. Jesus is raised not as a spirit. Jesus is raised with a glorified body. In other words, our very bodiliness is part of our future as much as it is part of our present.
We love with our bodies. 'We are called to love as God loves, in and through our bodies' (West, 2009 p. 26). As we endeavour to love, God, who is goodness, love, and life, is made incarnate and visible in the world (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1991). Most of our encounters with other people are usually in a face to face bodily way. Compare, for example, the experience of walking into a room in which someone is sitting and the experience of walking into an empty room. Now think about walking into a room where there is a computer online with someone at the other end in a chat room. The first impression in the first instance will be far more intense because the physical presence of a body makes us immediately aware that there is a person in the room and draws our attention to him or her. In a world in which so much of our communication is done through technology, often as voiceless words on a screen. It is easy to forget how significant the body is in our communication, until we are indeed confronted by the presence of another, and he or she is confronted with our presence. To be present in the world is to be present in a bodily way. It is in and through our bodies that we relate to the world, sense the world and respond to the world. It is in and through our bodies that we, as images of God, of love, of relationality, of rationality and of justice, make God present in the world. This is all the more potent when it involves touch. Think about the difference between being hit and striking another, and being kissed and caressing another. Physical contact communicates immense meaning. As the saying goes: 'Actions speak louder than words'. So how we act, how we pay attention to our bodies and the bodies of others and how we respond to our bodies and the bodies of others, is vital in influencing how we make present our deepest convictions about the meaning and value of life, love and justice. In no way, then, can we consider the erotic dimension of love simply as a permissible evil or a burden to be tolerated for the good of the family. Rather, it must be seen as gift from God that enriches the relationship of the spouses. As a passion sublimated by a love respectful of the dignity of the other, it becomes a 'pure, unadulterated affirmation' revealing the marvels of which the human heart is capable. In this way, even momentarily, we can feel that 'life has turned out good and happy' (Pope Francis, 2016 Amoris Laetitia).
This means that the body should not be abused or denigrated. Any practice that denies the basic worth or goodness of the body is something that the Catholic perspective has explicitly rejected. An affective maturity means an awareness and mastery of certain bodily, mental, or spiritual urges for some other greater good. Maturity is not a denial of any of these. Seeking purely physical pleasure is, therefore, not an adequate way to think about human flourishing. Similarly, neither is seeking purely spiritual or mental pleasure. The body, and the good things associated with it and dependent upon it remain very important. Saint John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor reminds us that 'the person, by the light of reason and the support of virtue, discovers in the body the anticipatory signs, the expression and the promise of the gift of the self, in conformity with the wise plan of the Creator' (John Paul II, 1993, para. 48).
Respect for the human body is reflected in how we care for ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1991). Thomas Aquinas speaks of how we must have love for our body as a gift from God (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 184.108.40.206). We must befriend our bodies, listen to their wisdom, and realise that they are: . . . our safe and faithful home for our entire lives. We bring them everywhere with us, and they take us to all kinds of inside and outside experiences. We may have names for parts of the body, some facts and information about how they function, where to go for repairs and alterations, but do we truly love and nurture the amazing mystery that our bodies are? Are we aware of the vibrant stories being told inside our bodies and of the dialogue between the inner and outer experience in relation to our whole person? . . . When we begin to believe that the body is in the soul rather than simply that the soul is in the body, and when we come alive to our senses and to our skin, and see them as guides and transmitters of energy and grace, our whole lives can be transformed (O'Leary, 2001 pp. 29-30).