The Human Body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit
As we come to the end of the Church’s liturgical calendar in November, we reflect upon the last things and our calling to new life in the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul, we hear in today’s liturgy, says to the Church in Corinth, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
In the Creed, we profess that the Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life.” Without the Spirit, without the “breath of life” that God has blown into us, as he did with the first human (Genesis 2:7), none of us would be a living being. While every person has the Spirit within him or her by virtue of being alive, the Spirit comes to dwell within us in a particular way in Baptism and Confirmation.
Having been baptized into the mystery of Trinitarian life, we are God’s temple in a special way. We are sanctuaries of God’s presence. Thus, Saint Paul cautions that the body “is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body . . . Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:13, 20).
When we live faithfully, glorifying God, our actions represent the actions of the divine king within the kingdom, which has begun in our world. This is not always easy, but no matter what the struggles of the flesh, God’s grace is sufficient for us.
That the human body is a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells obliges us to treat the body with respect. This realization also gives us hope, transforming the fear that often comes when we confront the inevitable reality – all life begins, grows, matures, declines and ends in death no matter how great the skills of doctors and nurses.
Death is universal – we are only sojourners here. Some believe that death is simply “the end,” but our Catholic understanding provides the perspective within which we can see our lives in relation to the Author of life who breathed his Spirit within us. Death does not have the final word. Life in God’s Spirit continues even after the body dies.
In a sign of our faith, we bring our beloved dead to the Church, to the place where they received new life in baptism, for the final farewell. We are poignantly reminded in the funeral Mass that “life is changed, not ended.” By the power of Christ’s love, all things are made new, overwhelming the darkness as death is transformed to life. It does not all end in oblivion – there is instead a transition and transformation of our being.
At the conclusion of the funeral Mass, the priest incenses the casket. This is a visible reminder that in life the body was a temple of the Holy Spirit. The body is then taken to the cemetery for interment in anticipation of the day when God will raise our bodies and glorify them by the power of his Spirit to be with him forever.
Catholic cemeteries provide a ministry in the Church that recognizes the uniquely Christian understanding of death. Archdiocesan cemeteries, under the direction of the Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Washington, and parish cemeteries, many of them of considerable antiquity, provide holy ground where our departed are placed as they await the resurrection of the body by the Lord of Life.
Not only do these cemeteries provide resting places for our loved ones, they also offer solace and healing in mind and spirit to those who mourn. Here are sacred places where we remember our departed, recall their goodness to us and ask the Lord’s blessing on them. As we pray for them, we do so in the fullness of hope that we too, temples of the Holy Spirit by God’s grace, shall follow in their steps.