This Is My Body
Did you ever realize that the same four words that were used by the Lord Jesus to save the world are also used by abortion advocates? "This is my body." Simple words spoken from opposite ends of the universe, with meanings that are directly contrary to each other.
Scripture tells us that on the night before he died to save all people, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "This is my body, which is given up for you." He was pointing to what would happen the next day, when he would give up that same body on the cross. He sacrifices himself so that we may live. He gives up his body so that he can destroy the power of sin and death. As a result, he welcomes us into his life, into his kingdom. He makes us members of his body.
On the other hand, abortion supporters say, "This is my body, so don't interfere with it. It's mine; I can do what I want, even to the point of killing the life within it. All is secondary to my dominion over my body." In fact one abortion supporter has written, "I say their [pro-lifers'] God is worth nothing compared to my body" (Michelle Goldberg, "Rant for Choice," University of Buffalo student newspaper, 1995). This attitude accounts for the ability of a growing number of abortion supporters to admit that the procedure takes a human life and yet to defend its legality anyway.
"This is my body" -- same words, opposite results. Christ gives his body away so others might live. Abortion supporters cling to their own bodies so others might die.
"God did not make death" Scripture tells us, "and he does not delight in the death of the living… But through the devil's envy death entered the world" (Wis. 1:13, 2:24). Notice the envy. Human beings were made in God's very image and likeness, and, since the devil knows he cannot destroy God, he is content to do the closest thing: destroy God's image--that is, human beings.
The devil does this by mocking God. Satan knows his dark kingdom has been robbed of its power (see Heb. 2:14) by the very words our Lord spoke, "This is my body." Therefore, the devil therefore takes particular delight in using those same words against God. It is as though he says to Christ, "You used those words to give life to the world--I will use them to take life away!"
A wise man was once asked, "If you could do anything, what would you do?" He answered, "I would restore words to their original meaning" The word "love" is perhaps most in need of such restoration, for it is the most misused, abused, and confused word in the English language. We use it to indicate vastly different types of good things ("I love ice cream," "I love my dog," "I love my wife," "I love God"). We also hear the word distorted to apply to evils such as adultery, homosexual activity, euthanasia, and even abortion.
We find the authentic meaning of the word "love" in the Word of God. John writes, "By this we know love, that he laid down Ins life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (I John 3:16). In giving his body, Christ teaches the meaning of love: I sacrifice myself for the good of the other person. Abortion teaches the opposite of love: I sacrifice the other person for the good of myself.
Understanding the significance of these four words enables us to answer those who admit that abortion kills a baby and say it should be legal anyway. The abortion controversy is, indeed, deeper than the controversy over when life begins or whether or not abortion destroys a living, human child. The controversy is also over the meaning of our freedom, why we have our bodies, and why we have our lives.
The answers to these questions lie in the mystery of freely giving away our lives, our bodies, ourselves in love to one another and to God. Christ declares, "Do this in memory of me." He calls us to do what he did, and that is precisely how we reverse the dynamic of abortion. Mom and Dad must say to their child, "This is my body, my life, given for you," rather than, "This is my body, my life, so go away!"
It has been said that the false god transforms suffering into violence, while the true God transforms violence into suffering. The false god takes the fear and confusion that can arise from a pregnancy, or from a terminal illness, and uses it to tempt a person to the violence of abortion or euthanasia. The Lord Jesus, on the other hand, teaches us to stand in the midst of the culture of death and to be lightning rods, ready to absorb violence and transform it by the power of love into personal sacrifice and suffering that give life.
Human happiness and fulfillment are never found by pushing other people out of the way. They are found when we push ourselves out of the way. Living the words "This is my body" in a self-giving way enlightens not only the abortion controversy but also the teachings of the Church regarding contraception, divorce, adultery, and many related problems.
As the Holy Father has often pointed out, the human body has its own language. What happens in the body matters, because the human person is not just a spirit. (That is the heresy of Gnosticism.) Good intentions and a "good heart" are not enough. Rather, the Christian recognizes that he is (not merely has) a body, accepts that bodily life, possesses it as a gift which is guarded by self-control and virtue, and then in giving himself away in love allows that aspect of self, which is the body to express that gift.
Therefore, the words "This is my body, given up for you" summarize--in different but related ways--what spouses say to spouses, what parents say to their children, what priests and bishops say to their flocks, and what we all are called to say to each other.
Pope John Paul II says as much in Evangelium Vitae:
"He who had come 'not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many' (Mark 10:45), attains on the cross the heights of love: 'Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends' (John 15:13). And he died for us while we were yet sinners (cf. Rom. 5:8).
"In this way Jesus proclaims that life finds its center, its meaning, and its fulfillment when it is given up. At this point our meditation becomes praise and thanksgiving and at the same time urges us to imitate Christ and follow in his footsteps (cf. 1 Pet. 2:21).
"We too are called to give our lives for our brothers and sisters and thus to realize in the fullness of truth the meaning and destiny of our existence" (EV 51).
"This is my body." It is no accident that the same words are used for such different purposes. A spiritual conflict rages here. We win, in our own lives and in the world, by living these words in self-giving, life-giving love.
Fr. Frank Pavone is the national director of Priests for Life (P.O. Box 141172, Staten Island, New York 10314; phone: 888-PFL-3448; fax: 718-980-6515; e-mail: [email protected] life.org; web: www.priestsforlife.org).
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