I urge you, brothers, and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. (Romans 12:1)
Hmmm. This is unusual. Why not our souls? Why not our hearts?
First, we should try to divest ourselves of our Western mentality of conceiving body and soul as being the lone two components of a human being and somewhat in opposition to and in tension with each other. And secondly, we should think of body the way the Bible sees it, i.e., as being our whole self, considered from the point of view of our interaction with this earth, i.e., our body as us born into and adjusting to this world.
From such a biblical viewpoint, what we should deduct is that the Lord Jesus expects of each one of us to lose our life for his sake to find it. (Matthew 16:25) And, from his vehement, blistering reaction to Peter’s way of reasoning (cf. Matthew 16:23) as well as from the inner struggle which plagued most of the prophet Jeremiah’s life, we ought to conclude that our bodies are precisely what we are urged to offer as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.
Regrettably, we admit that it is not easy to know how to please God by offering him our bodies as a living sacrifice. But there are outstanding ways taught by the saints which can be spiritually very useful to us.
The secret to pleasing God can be translated very simply into a constant search for what his will is, at any moment of our life, according to our state, calling, situation, age, education, means, etcetera. As we set out on this attentive search, we must be naturally and viscerally convinced that nothing, absolutely nothing can happen outside of God’s grandiose, mysterious and, often, painful plan of salvation.
It is a plan that is fully visible to him alone. On this earth, our frail and sin-affected humanity is allowed to view only a tiny fraction of it.
Our search will be successful if we do it armed with wisdom and humility necessary to recognize God’s voice in people, events and situations that involve us directly. Regardless of being favorable or harmful, friendly or hostile, all those people, events, and situations in our life form the setting in which God wants us to operate and in which we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to him.
Now, it would be presumptuous, unrealistic, and foolish to expect the Lord to send an angel to tell us his will. Instead, it is spiritually profitable to remember what Abraham told the rich man who had misread his situation of wealth, comforts and who had ignored the plight of poor Lazarus (cf. Luke 16:19-31). He found himself in intense torments and separated by a great chasm from those people the Lord had placed in his earthly life for him to offer his body as a pleasing sacrifice. Abraham told him that his five brothers still living on this earth had Moses and the prophets to help them discern God’s will. Thus, they had all the guidance and assistance necessary for the task (cf. Luke 16:29).
By comparison, we are much more richly blessed! The people, events and situations that are part of our life’s setting are more than sufficient to lead us to heaven by providing us with many opportunities to offer our bodies as spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God.
We are living in the final times, the times sanctified by the death and resurrection of Christ; besides Moses and the prophets, we have the New Testaments’s readings interpreted by the teaching authority of the Church; we have a generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit at our Baptism and Confirmation; and we have each other bound by the debt of love and by the awesome power of prayer.
Wisdom and humility lead us to be detached from ideas, inclinations, and ways of thinking which, though good, are not aligned with God’s plan for that moment of our life. Jeremiah wanted to be a prophet proclaiming good news to Israel, and filling Israel with hope; but God had planned for him to be despised, ridiculed, unheeded, rejected, and mostly ineffective. Simon Peter, the Rock on which Jesus built his Church, loved the Lord’s Anointed dearly and, because of that love, he wanted to spare him the horrendous sufferings of the cross; yet God had planned for him to see value even in senseless sufferings, in being crushed by the powerful of this world, in pain, in death…
See how hard it is to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice!
We might offer it for a short time when, in grace-filled moments, we offer our self, piece-by-piece: mind, heart, body, soul, good intentions to God. But then, we might take everything back, piece by piece, in reversed order, or start with the piece of ourselves that we need right away for alternate plans.
Hence, the inner struggle goes on because God doesn’t give up on us.
We can be very stubborn; we can be set in our ways (more so as we age) but we will never be at peace for as long as we resist offering our bodies as a living sacrifice pleasing to God so that he may use them however he wishes.
Jeremiah mentioned a fire, God’s fire within that he could not endure (cf. Jeremiah 20:9). This fire ignited and burned again whenever Jeremiah resisted. Through Holy Communion, we strengthen our oneness as the Body of Christ. Will we, then, dare to ask the Lord to place the same fire in our bones so that, at long last, we may offer our bodies in joyful service of our brothers and sisters as a sacrifice pleasing to him?