How Do We Treat the Holy Temple of God?

“The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine.” (CCC 2290)

Henri de Toulouse-Latrec, “The Hangover”, c. 1888
Henri de Toulouse-Latrec, “The Hangover”, c. 1888 (photo: Public Domain)

On Sunday, Catholics read about Jesus’ emptying of the Temple. The normally non-violent Savior “made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables…”

The pastor’s homily laid out how to apply this lesson. He outlined Christ’s righteous anger, but cautioned that meekness is still the best approach for most humans because of the ease in which one can slip into sinful anger. He pointed out that mixing the marketplace with religion causes things to fall apart, and highlighted a necessary rejuvenation of the Catholic Church’s dedication to poverty of spirit thanks to St. Francis and orders like the Dominicans. And he reminded everyone to not forget that man cannot serve two masters — God must always come first.

Perhaps most importantly, the priest reminded parishioners that God’s holy temple isn’t just the physical building into which people walk. Each human is made by God. He asked us to consider how we treat our own temples.

The admonition to treat our bodies well reminded me sharply of how frequently I’ve gone to Confession for sins against my body. The one that sticks out most in my mind took place on Sept. 22, 2013. It was two days after my 28th birthday, and it was the last time I had more than two drinks in a night.

I’m usually a pretty careful drinker. I started at 21 years old, and would go at least a week between drinks of alcohol. I’d get buzzed, to be sure, but I was never able to not take care of myself or those around me. And over time, the week or so between drinks — enacted to ensure my habit personality wouldn’t become an alcoholic one — turned into an average of a month. Now, I drink so little I suggested that my wife and I have a dry wedding! (She said no, and all of our guests were grateful.)

But four-and-a-half years ago, I crossed a line. I was having a great time at my birthday party, where 50 friends were kind enough to show up and celebrate with me.

That night, in addition to water and dinner, I had two shots and three Long Island Iced Teas. This means that I, a 170-pound man with little alcohol tolerance, drank approximately 18 drinks worth of alcohol in less than six hours. While I didn’t act immorally toward others, and I remember the entire evening, I definitely had more than I should have.

I could barely move the next day. I’d had hangovers before — including the time where accidentally I drank enough small cups of wine to consume a whole bottle, and subsequently slept in the sun because I didn’t pull down my window shade. But nothing was like this. All I did for most of the day was drink water, eat food and suffer. I was barely able to make it to a house party that night, and even that only because a friend offered a ride.

I decided that day to (a) never again be irresponsible with alcohol, and (b) go to Confession for not respecting the body God gave me. I had never before desired to go to Confession over alcohol. But I recognized that I had treated my body — the one temple of God over which I have the most control — in a way that didn’t honor it as a creation of God. Instead of using it well, I couldn’t use it at all.

Most people have committed sin against their body. Masturbation, abortion, attempted suicide, sex outside of marriage, sodomy, drunkenness — the list goes on. By God’s Grace I’ve avoided most of these sins, and it has been a long time since I’ve committed any of them. But the priest’s admonition was an excellent reminder to never become cavalier about the most important temple of all.

And, upon reflection, it’s also probably a good reminder that if we aren’t treating our personal temple well, we will never be able to treat other temples as they deserve. Committing our bodies to God trains us to run the race against the sins that are directed at others — malice, greed, hatred, envy, and that worst one of all, pride.