The Feast Day for St. John Paul II is on October 22. Much has been written about his life and papacy. Although it is impossible to do justice to the first major teaching he undertook as pope, I hope this short article inspires some to seek to become much more familiar with Theology of the Body. I believe it will be one of St. John Paul II’s greatest legacies.
In its original release, Theology of the Body included one hundred and twenty nine talks, delivered between September 1979 and November 1984. Why did he write it? For one big reason, his entire papacy was devoted to bringing hope to a world in desperate need of hope. In Theology of the Body, he shares incredible insight to anyone who wishes to live a much fuller life.
His life experiences revealed to him that the culture has very little use for the idea that the visible body reveals the invisible person. But he says what we do with our bodies profoundly affects our souls and to ignore that greatly distances us from being more fully human. Today even more than when he released Theology of the Body the prevailing belief is that if God exists, God doesn’t really care what we do with our bodies. God is principally concerned that we respect each other as persons. St. John Paul II says that falls woefully short in exploring the very gift of God – love.
Theology of the Body completely affirms the goodness of sexuality. It clearly discloses that sex is not a dirty little word or limited to a bodily need and or function. God and sex can and should be spoken in the same sentence. God is the author of love and love is what drives a person to give, whether in marriage or in celibacy.
St. John Paul II believed that the nature of things is indispensable to understanding love and marriage. The problem with understanding how our world perceives marriage has a significant amount to do with an erroneous grasp of human nature. When one’s vision of humanity likens us to a mechanical machine that just happened to evolve then yes the body has no meaning, and what we do with it has no inner meaning and so marriage can’t possibly be comprehended in its truest form. St. John Paul II says the human body in its deepest nature was formed by God, it has spousal meaning, and the meaning for marriage flows from the nature of man and woman, male and female, created in the image of God.
He illuminates something that clearly needs to be understood if one is to understand love at a deeper level, each and every one of us is called to be a gift, a gift to one another and a gift to God and that this giving and receiving requires real presence. This life altering reality is becoming even more challenging in a world becoming more and more gender neutral, not to mention virtual.
When one begins to comprehend and sense the truths of Theology of Body, the Sacrament of Marriage comes much more into focus and its ordained purpose can be seen as a divine order of creation. For the invisible realities are made visible through the physical world. Why is this important? Because everything in the created order points to God. Once a person understands and accepts this, it changes the complexion of things. For everything we see and touch and do has something to do with the sacred. We need to touch it all aware of our connectedness to God, for it comes from God and reveals God in some way.
The beauty of Theology of the Body is it goes a long way in helping us discover the biggest why’s of life. Mysticism is the why behind everything – why we’re human, why we’re made, why we are female and male, and unless we know the real why we don’t know how to be fully human. Theology of the Body explores all these whys. Theology of the Body is a unique vehicle to call us back on the path to fuller humanness.
Stay tuned, sometime this next year, St. Thomas the Apostle will be offering multi-week presentations on Theology of the Body.