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Theology of the Body revisited

Group discussion at weekend workshop
Group discussion at weekend workshop

In November 2008 Christopher West presented a seminar in Trinidad entitled “Created and Redeemed” in which he sought to explain the catechesis developed by Blessed Pope John Paul II known as the Theology of the Body (TOB). Twelve hundred persons attended the weekend seminar which was sponsored by the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission and since that time the AFLC has continued to present opportunities for further reflection and understanding of this crucial teaching which seeks to enlighten modern men and women on the goodness and beauty of God’s plan from the beginning when “God created man in his own image…male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). According to John Paul II it is in the spousal union that man and woman most closely image God’s Trinitarian love. (John Paul II. Man and Woman He Created Them – A Theology of the Body. Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2006: 9:3)

In an ongoing effort to train persons to lead study groups of this important teaching the AFLC conducted two weekend workshops in March (19-20) and April (9-10), at the Seminary at Mount St Benedict. Some 35 persons gathered to view again the Created and Redeemed DVDs followed by a theological, philosophical and psychological exploration of the talks. Group discussion and plenary sessions followed, in which the relevance of this teaching to our lives and a way forward to bring this good news to the wider community was explored.

Msgr Gordon makes his presentation
Msgr Gordon makes his presentation

Msgr Jason Gordon in facilitating the second weekend workshop challenged participants to reconsider our world view or cosmology and also our view of what is man. He proposed we are very influenced by the popular world view of God as a stern disciplinarian who created the world and has left it to its own devices. Further, philosophers such as Nietzsche, Freud and Marx who support the ideas that man can only succeed in life through his “will to power”, or through asserting his own self, the “id” or through the “class struggle” have influenced our anthropology.

Msgr Gordon contrasted these views to those that JPII has put forward in the TOB, which is nothing more than what the Church has always believed — that God is a loving Father who created the world out of his infinite love. Before the creation of the world, posited Msgr Gordon, the Trinity existed in a love relationship. He suggested that the Father said to the Son: Son I want to make you a bride, the Church. She will be glorious and holy without spot or wrinkle. The Son accepted this gift from the Father with his assurance that he would love this bride with all of his love and would stop at nothing to show his love for his bride. The Holy Spirit gave the assurance to help with the project of making the bride holy and glorious. And so God emptied God’s self and in that space God created the world and everything in it as a home for the man and woman who were the last and the highest order of all of God’s creation.

The whole of creation therefore is a gift, a gift from the Father to the Son who loved us from the beginning and who loves us still with a love that is always dynamic. When God had created it all He saw that it was very good. And man and woman being the pinnacle of God’s creation are themselves a gift to each other and are immersed in their original state in the mystery hidden in their hearts — “innocence, grace, love and justice…in this dimension, a primordial sacrament is constituted, understood as a sign that efficaciously transmits in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden in God from eternity. And this is the mystery of Truth and Love, the mystery of divine life, in which man really participates.”  (TOB 19:4)

Part of our world view has been to reduce the body to an erotic object for man’s pleasure so it is rather startling to hear Pope John Paul II speak about the theology of the body.

Drastically impaired

But John Paul II states that when Christ took on a human body, the body entered theology through the front door. He further states that the body, “and only the body is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.” (TOB 19:4)

Group discussion at weekend workshop
Group discussion at weekend workshop

When the Pharisees asked Jesus whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife and to give her a writ of dismissal as Moses had done, Jesus would reply that: “In the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8). The beginning as God intended and as it existed originally was drastically impaired when our first parents chose to disobey God. Instead of trusting God as a loving Father they fell for the serpent’s suggestion that God was really trying to keep something back from them, in other words God was a tyrant. By opting to believe the lie they broke the entire harmony God had created from the beginning. All the children of Adam and Eve have been affected by their disobedience. We have all inherited original sin which causes concupiscence in all of us. But this sorry state is not the end of the story. The part that we know very well is that Jesus came into the world to redeem us and that he died on the cross to save us from our sin. What we do not understand or live quite so well is the meaning of our baptism. Too often we baptise babies without first ensuring that the family has been adequately evangelised. Baptism thus becomes just a ritual rather than the transforming nuptial bath through which we become members of the Church, the bride of Christ, and thus commit ourselves to take on the mission of Christ – to love as Christ loves – to be other Christs in the world.

Msgr. Gordon reminded us that the resolutions of the Synod were the evangelisation of the family, the school and the parish. It is his opinion that the Theology of the Body is one of the best tools presently at our disposal to effect this evangelisation of the family which will impact on the other two institutions.

Nature of marriage

The Church has always seen the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, as the foundation of society. This is obviously not something that the Church invented; rather it is founded, as all her doctrines are, on the word of God as we find it in the first chapters of Genesis. Even though we are no longer in that original state of innocence, through our baptism we can participate in the life of Christ and be filled with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live a love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful. These are the qualities of Christ’s love for the Church and these are the qualities that Catholic couples with the help of grace, can and should strive to grow in their marriages. Husbands and wives are called to a mutual submission to each other. Wives submit to your husbands as Christ submits to the Church and husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church and lays down his life for her.

How can Catholic men and women come to understand their most high calling to the vocation of the sacrament of matrimony? How does one impart to our young men the true nature of marriage where they are called to uphold and guard the honour of their wives? How does one impart to young women that they are invited to be the recipient of their husband’s love but that it takes time for him to learn how to love her truly and selflessly. She is to be his helpmate in assisting him to reach this goal. It will take a great deal of compassion and forgiveness along the journey from both of them to finally attain the great unity to which they are called. This unity is the essential sacrament or sign that the world so desperately needs today, a unity where children are welcomed, nurtured, cherished and educated in the faith. A unity which can encompass others as well and be a real sign of God’s love in the world; where the homeless can find a place of shelter; the broken-hearted can find acceptance and healing; and the poor can find a helping hand. In so many way couples who strive to live out their sacrament can be true leaven in society. Integral human development takes place in the family that understands and strives to live these truths. Out of such families comes forth the next generation of young people poised to build up the kingdom of God, to take our beloved country back from the brink, back from the culture of death into a new era, a new civilisation of love. This may seem to be completely counter-cultural and therein lies the exciting challenge for those who are being prepared to bring this teaching on the TOB to the wider community: with the help of the Holy Spirit to help others to see.

For more information on sessions of the Theology of the Body and the purchase of Created and Redeemed DVDs, please contact the AFLC office  phone: 672 4280/299 1047 Susan Henry

Article appeared in Catholic News May 22, 2011

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