Aleteia

Here’s a deeper way to see your body as a gift

MIRROR; FACE; LOOK
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If you have body image struggles, it is helpful to view yourself from an eternal perspective.

Mother Teresa would gather the dying and receive their last breath. She would hold the hands of lepers and guide them to the threshold of eternal life. “Your leprosy is unused love,” said French writer Jean Giono. Every person is a sinner and, therefore, as the Church Fathers would say, every person has leprosy, since they have fallen away from their similarity to God, yet deep down a reflection of the divine still remains in them.

“That sin which devours us leaves life little of substance!” writes Bernanos. The ten lepers standing before Christ are the abyss of our lives. They cry out “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:13). And like the Eastern monks who murmur over and over in an incessant respiration of the soul: “Jesus Christ, Son of God the Savior, have pity on me, as I am a sinner,” we, too, must acknowledge our leprosy in order to cry out to the splendor of God. 

But it is very painful to accept one’s own leprosy … And we see this in the difficulty we have in accepting our own body with its lights and shadows. We are more than willing to idolize it at the height of our youth, but we despise it as it wrinkles with old age. We need to be unconditionally faithful to our own body, to treat it like a holy land, open to the promise of resurrection. This body does not belong to us—it is something we have received and, in the end, we will give back to the Earth. But how are we to achieve this state when we are bombarded by the media with its constant fixation on exalting mythical bodies, constricting happiness to a limited concept of psychological well-being?

Restore the inner icon of God instead of worrying about the superfluous

If beauty is not produced through love, it is nothing more than empty packaging, a frozen idol. What will we say to the Lord at the end of our days? “God, I fought so hard to keep in shape and I never had a beer belly”? “I stayed fantastically thin thanks to my personal trainer”? We need to think of our body in all its glory—and misery—as a temple, where the power of God unfolds through our weaknesses. True love stays strong in spite of the vagaries of the body. We will never have the icy beauty of a perfect body, but rather the beauty of the love we live. 

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde imagines a young man who knows he is very handsome, who uses his power of seduction for his purposes of lies, pride, and death. His portrait is the window of his soul and it gradually becomes decrepit and finally covered in leprosy. The young man keeps the portrait hidden in his attic and would sometimes go up to see it, trembling with fear, to see the evil produced in the portrait. At the end of the novel, in a fit of rage, he stabs the portrait and the reversal takes place: the portrait recovers its past beauty and the young man dies with his face marked by violence and hate.

This is the crossroads of our life: we either stab our false double or we take responsibility for our leprosy. But only the path of mercy, where lepers are healed, allows us to eliminate what is tainted in our lives. The path that leads us to our true selves passes through the heart of Christ. How long has it been since our last confession? Let us show ourselves to the priests, who have received the grace to forgive in the name of the Lord, to restore the icon of God in us, so that we may “glorify him and carry him within our very body.”

Father Luc de Bellescize