Paul on Paul – 17th January 2021

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year B
1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20

But the body – this is not meant for fornication; it is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. God, who raised the Lord from the dead, will by his power raise us up too. You know, surely, that your bodies are members making up the body of Christ; do you think I can take parts of Christ’s body and join them to the body of a prostitute? Never! But anyone who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.

Keep away from fornication. All the other sins are committed outside the body; but to fornicate is to sin against your own body. Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God. You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for. That is why you should use your body for the glory of God.


In the popular culture, Catholics hold a strange contradictory place – we are sexually repressed, yet, have tons of kids and large families and when a West of Scotland Catholic goes to Ireland every second person they meet is their cousin. As it happens, last time we went to Ireland, my mum did – purely coincidently – run into her cousin at a farm show, but that’s neither here nor there.

What the true Catholic position is that sex is a God-given good – but that it isn’t something that happens apart from us. The warning isn’t against sex per se but using it wrongly or in the wrong circumstances. It is ultimately a lesson in respecting our bodies. God didn’t make us of pure consciousness (like angels), but with bodies too – we must use them “for the glory of God”, as Paul says.

The Gnostics, whom we have discussed briefly before, were of the view that the body (and indeed the material world more generally) was inherently evil – and only the spiritual world could be at all good. This is, of course, incompatible with the Catholic position that God created our bodies in His image and likeness. Our Bodies are how we interact and experience the world and share in God’s goodness.

But like all good things, we can misuse and abuse our body just as we can any physical thing. Paul offers one way, and warns us against it as it is a “sin against our own body”. But we can fail to look after ourselves, fail to exercise or eat to excess. We can indulge in gluttony. We can change our bodies in such a way as to change they way they work. Our mind is also part of our bodies – we have a duty to ourselves and God to look after that too. Particularly during this second/third lockdown – if we know that we need to do more for ourselves or take time for ourselves then we must.

The phrase “Your body is a temple” features in this week’s 2nd Reading. How often have we heard that in isolation? It can become a kind of body-worship idolatry. That is wrong too – taking too much care of our body can be detrimental to it as well, and also perverts God’s intention for it. There is a line to walk between the two.

And that, really, is why that pop culture image of Catholics is funny. The Church, through her sacred scripture, through her Tradition and teachings, and through implores us to walk the line. Do good things – enjoy them even – but to them properly and in the right way. God gave us the world; but we mustn’t give into it.

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