We’re nothing. That is, we come from nothing. We’re made of the stuff the universe is made of, which itself was made from nothing.
We become something by swimming against the tide. We remain nothing by drifting along with the tide. Sticks and dead leaves follow the current; stones are passively shaped by it. The current itself is pulled along by gravity and other forces acting on water.
The stuff of which our bodies are made is not us. It’s inanimate stuff that does what it does by nature. A cell is generated, it dies, we shed it; whether hair, or nails, or dead skin. This isn’t to say our bodies are not ourselves; they are part of ourselves. But the stuff of which we’re made is only “our body” insofar as it’s matter informed by our souls; that is, only insofar as it’s alive.
To live, we must swim against the current of our nature, our desires, cravings, pleasures — not mindlessly obey the laws of nature, but mindfully obey the laws that are above nature.
Christ was alive in that he subordinated himself to his parents, when they should have been subordinated to him. He was alive in that he fasted for forty days and, when tempted, declined honors and riches and bread. He was alive in that he never sinned, and never sought to preserve his bodily life. He wasn’t a molecule passively obeying the laws of physics, or an animal his bodily instincts. He acted against instinct and self-preservation, comfort and pleasure, embracing suffering, injury and death — because in his mind there was something higher.
He subjected the physical good to the spiritual good.
This is what we’re instructed to do during Lent, but it’s only a more intense application of a principle we should live by all the time: The body is to be subject to the spirit, not the other way around. For the mind to be subject to the body is easy, it’s effortless. It’s nothing more than a dog does when it barks or scratches itself. But to resist the body and its cravings and demands is to rise above the body, and to put the body in its place, in subjection to the spirit.
There are times for giving the body what it needs and wants, but it’s for the spirit to decide when those times are. Prudence, temperance and fortitude are spiritual, not physical.