By Maria Wiering
The other day I fished a plastic sour cream container out of the garbage can. It and its expired contents had been inadvertently tossed during a post-holiday fridge-cleaning frenzy, but I, being the tree-hugger I am, scrubbed it up and added it to the recycling bin.
Mission accomplished, almost.
Much ado has been made in the past few years of the link between environmentalism and the Catholic faith, with Newsweek even calling Pope Benedict XVI the “green pope” after Vatican City went carbon-neutral.
It may come as a surprise for those who think “being green” is new, but the church has always advocated for the care of creation, even before products such as 100-percent-recycled toilet paper were trendy. The Catechism – which turned 20 last year – states that man must have respect for the integrity of creation, and that the use of plants, animals and minerals “cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives.”
With that established, I began to muse about what this means for man, unequivocally God’s best creation. Of course it compels us to care for the sick, the dying, the poor, and love our neighbors as ourselves as Christ taught. But what does it mean for the creation that is our bodies, and, arguably, our best resource?
The Catechism, of course, has an answer: “Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good.”
Many of us realize this around Jan. 1, as we’re setting superhuman goals for the upcoming 12 months. Around Feb. 1, however, we decide we’re maybe OK carrying a few too many extra pounds, or drinking too much soda, or eating too few vegetables. Old habits override newfound temperance, until the next January, when our resolutions sound a lot like the year before.
It is no surprise that losing weight was 2012’s No. 1 New Year’s resolution in America, where 36 percent of adults 20 and older are obese, and another 33 percent are overweight. No. 5 was “staying fit and healthy” and No. 7 was “quit smoking.” According to research published by the University of Scranton, only 8 percent of adults actually kept last year’s top resolution.
We tell ourselves that there’s always next year, as if it will somehow be easier to eradicate bad habits with 12 more months – and potentially a few more pounds – under our belt.
But we would be lying.
Being fit and healthy means optimizing energy to do the things we were created to do, allowing God to use us for as long as he wants to, and being most fully the person God wants us to be. If we can take the Catechism to its logical conclusion, caring for ourselves is honoring God as well as ourselves. That includes regular exercise, proper nutrition and a healthy self-image.
The church does caution against promoting “the cult of the body,” which idolizes physical perfection – something to keep in mind, lest one tends to extremes. However, in this realm, most of us probably don’t. What we do need is a reminder that our life, including our health, is a gift, and we are entrusted with its care.
I think of it this way: If I’m willing to scrub up a plastic cup for the recycling as an act of stewardship, how much more do I owe my body, which St. Paul called a temple of the Holy Spirit? A lot more than that tub of old sour cream.
I’m making 2013 a year to give the Spirit a better place to dwell. And, when the Feb. 1 doldrums hit, I’m going to remind myself that I have a moral obligation.
Copyright (c) Jan. 11, 2013 CatholicReview.org