The “Theology of the Body” is an integrated vision of the human person. The human body has a specific meaning, making visible an invisible reality, and is capable of revealing answers regarding fundamental questions about us and our lives: Is there a real purpose to life and if so, what is it?
- What does it mean that we were created in the image of God?
- Why were we created to be biologically dependent on what the earth produces?
- What does eating say to us about God and his plan for our lives?
- What is the purpose of eating and fasting?
- What exactly is "eating"?
- Is it truly possible to have a healthy appetite?
Each of us was created in the image of God, but created also as a biologically dependent organism. Every human person depends on food and water for nourishment and survival. Scripture reveals to us the centrality of food in God's plan for us and for His Creation (Gen. 9:15; Ex. 16:4; Mt. 25:35). Our Lord prepared food for the Apostles by the shores of the Sea of Galilee (Jn. 21:12), and the Eucharistic feast is "the source and the summit of Christian life" (LG 11). God's Covenent with the Chosen People of Israel obliges them to restrict the foods that they eat out of reverence for YHWH, while fasting and abstaining from foods can express our commitment to a deeper relationship with God.
We also know that food, which is so necessary for survival, is not equally available to everyone. Bl. Pope Paul VI exhorted the world to a greater awareness of this problem: "Today the peoples in hunger are making a dramatic appeal to the peoples blessed with abundance" (PP 3). Pope St. John Paul II urged that the preferential option for the poor "be expressed in worldwide dimensions, embracing the immense numbers of the hungry" (SRS 42), and Pope Benedict XVI taught us that, "‘Feed the hungry’ (cf. Mt 25: 35, 37, 42) is an ethical imperative for the universal Church as she responds to the teachings of her Founder, the Lord Jesus, concerning solidarity and the sharing of goods" (CiV 27).
The abuse of our ingestive faculty has been described in the moral teachings of the Catholic Church at least since St. Thomas Aquinas who recognized gluttony as an "inordinate concupiscence" which, if it distracts us from a Christian life, is a mortal sin. Aquinas focused his attention on the sinfulness of gluttony as a deficiency of personal virtue, but we can look also to the distributive, social question of access to food. When we consider the question in the light both of personal virtue and the communal implications of overconsumption, the grave sinfulness of gluttony becomes clear.
Finally, there is another consideration apart from personal virtue and distributive justice. The purpose of ingestion is the sustenance of our bodies. To eat beyond what is needed to sustain our bodies in good health not only distracts us with inordinate pleasures and withholds food from others who need it for their own survival, but it also compromises our own good health. The dangerous health effects of obesity are well documented by the medical community, and to inflict those dangerous health effects on oneself by overeating is an abuse of our ingestive faculty, a distortion of our embodiedness that alienates us from the plan of Creation and the faculties that were given to us by God for sustenance that our bodies might be useful instruments for the doing of His work. In this way, the Theology of the Body teaches us the grave sinfulness of overeating.
There was a time when men and women had no alternative but to depend on the subjective rhythms of their bodies to know when they were hungry and how much they should eat. Advancements in medical and scientific technologies no longer impose these uncertainties on people. The simple pricking of a finger and measuring the glucose level in a drop of blood before each meal can provide a useful indicator of the need for food. Taking just a little time to chart those levels from day to day can demonstrate patterns and provide a greater accuracy to the estimate of hunger over time. In this way, a person can come to know reliably exactly how much food should be ingested, and when it should be eaten. Spending time monitoring hunger in this way is a way of taking greater responsibility for one's own hunger. It also encourages respect for and acceptance of the total person. This approach, which we might call Natural Ingestion Planning, is more ecologically responsible, and even will save money!
There simply can be no doubt. In light of the Theology of the Body, anyone who is severely overweight is a public sinner.