“You’re Only Human”
We never quite get over adolescence. We are either too fat or too skinny, and we forever obsess over countless other physical details. (Google ads exploit our bodily insecurities, often with amusing results. The data collectors may correctly determine that a user needs to lose belly fat, for example. But when the ads relentlessly depict senior ladies, and a user is a man, it undermines confidence in the algorithm’s reputation for omniscience.) Let’s be attentive to our health. But there should be limits in our war against the flesh. The way we wage this war reveals our view of our humanity.
We often use clichés in conversation. Their original meanings, however, are often long forgotten. Years ago, when we felt a little depressed, we used to say we have “the blues.” But the cliché grew out of the drug culture when opium users felt “the blues” until their next fix.
Some clichés have even more sinister beginnings. “Hocus pocus,” for example, originated as a Reformation insult to the words of the institution of the Blessed Eucharist at Mass: Hoc est Corpus meum—“This is my Body.” So the root of the phrase is blasphemous. It dismisses the Real Presence and popularizes a long-forgotten anti-Catholic smear: “I don’t believe in that hocus pocus.”
A common cliché, “You’re only human,” harbors unintended meanings as well. The expression is similar to Alexander Pope’s observation: “To err is human; to forgive divine.” Of course, we usually use the phrase to console someone who regrets an error or a sin. However, we should be attentive to important distinctions regarding God and man, and not allow clumsy clichés to distort our thinking.
We would never say of Jesus: “You’re only human.” It sounds insulting! Jesus, born of Mary, is the Son of God with two natures: human and divine. He has the fullness of humanity. In Jesus, God and man are reconciled, with humanity purified and elevated. He is not “only human.” We dare not disparage the human nature of Jesus Christ.
It is also demeaning to say of Mary, “She is only human.” Catholics do not revere Mary as a goddess or consider her equal with her Divine Son. We honor Mary because she is the Mother of God (Theotokos), the Holy Mother of Jesus Christ. Mary’s Immaculate Conception—and perfect obedience to God’s will—explains our aversion to describing her as “only human.”
But untainted by sin, Mary was not a kind of wonder woman. At times, she was replete with every human emotion—but always without fault or malice. When the angel Gabriel revealed to her that she would bear a son, she asked, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” (Lk. 1:34) Confused when she lost Jesus in the Temple, her question to Him was forthright. “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” (Lk. 2:48) At the foot of the Cross, the Crucifixion of Jesus pierces her immaculate heart with the prophesized sword of sorrow. What resonates with us is the exaltation of Mary’s humanity in grace. With St. Elizabeth, we rejoice: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Lk.1:42)
The Church infallibly asserts that Mary was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. In her humanity, untouched by sin—both Original sin and personal—Mary is revealed as “fully alive” and glorifies God. The poet William Wordsworth was theologically precise in his poem about Mary: “Woman! above all women glorified, Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” Mary’s Assumption unveils the crown jewel of our dignity as human beings redeemed in Christ.
Unlike Mary, we carry the effects of Original sin as well as the sins we commit. Sin wounds and distorts human nature. But our baptism into the Mystical Body of Christ redeems us. Jesus not only restores our humanity, but His Incarnation—to Satan’s chagrin (cf. Wis. 2:24: “…through the devil’s envy death entered the world”)—also elevates us with a dignity higher than that of the angels. The dogma of Mary’s Assumption into heaven reveals our ultimate destiny when purified of all sin: the resurrection of our body on the last day. In Jesus, we are not “only human”!
The Devil hates the body that bore Jesus, he hates the Incarnation, he hates the Resurrection, he hates the body of Mary assumed into heaven. He hates our bodies, and he wants us to hate ourselves as well. Our humanity—and all of God’s good creation—offends the Devil’s pride. The Devil delights when we despoil our body or hold it in contempt.
The early Church Father, St. Irenaeus, taught: “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.” Our encounter with the living God brings life to man and reflects God’s glory. The Blessed Eucharist—the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus—perfects human nature. The vision of God in heaven with our glorified bodies in union with the Mystical Body of Christ is our destiny. Although we regret our sins and struggle against entrenched sinful inclinations, we should never apologize for our humanity.
The phrase, “You’re only human,” jostles Catholic sensibilities—or it should. God loves us. We are his handiwork. We are sons in the Son, and our humanity gives glory to God. Our bodies, as He created them, give glory to God. So do not be ashamed of your body. Care for it, with God’s grace tame its sinful impulses, never desecrate or mutilate it, and always rejoice in His loving creation.
Mary’s glorious Assumption into heaven body and soul affirms the eternal dignity of human nature. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
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