Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Dear Friends
Today, my last reflection on the theology of the body, so helpful to understand our sexuality, our body as a gift from God and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Thank You for all your comments and kind words how much You needed this and hom much You appreciate it.
Sexual morality boils down to the question of whether the sexual act shows the free, passionate, generous, faithful, life-giving love of God? If not, there are only substitutes. Sexuality divorced from love, from life, from God – just destroys.
One of you, after reading previous episodes – wrote, that what is written about the sexual sphere in the catechisms (think – also John Paul II), is very far from reality for the ordinary person. “Why think of all these theological deductions and morally intricate lines of arguments about life in purity? Why can it not be a simple, understandable and descriptive determination that it is a grave sin … or it is not …”. Well, it is not so simple. If someone is stubborn or wilful, then Catholic teaching on this issue brings to the directory of the acts “prohibited” and “permitted” in the bedroom. But then we get a caricature. Pope John Paul II in his theology of the body avoids such simple answers. He wants to show how it all works. The theology of the body is more the science of man than moral theology. The moral principles regarding sexuality cannot be offered without the full vision of man, above all, without his relationship with God. The intimate sphere has a very deep relationship with God. By its very nature it is to serve love, not only the human but also the divine. This space is sacred, delicate, beautiful, and divine. And therefore constantly threatened by attacks by the evil one. Many of us have our own story of sin or injury in this sphere, (indeed is there anyone who has not?).
But the theology of the body is not a story about an unattainable ideal, it is the story of the salvation of sexuality. Contemporary culture imposes on us a vision of sexuality detached from love, from fertility, from marriage, from God. Everything is brought down to the physiological, the selfish pursuit of maximum pleasure. Therefore the theology of the body has a counter-cultural dimension to it. It is a complete denial of “modern“, “liberated” sex education. As George Weigel once remarked, “To the advocates of the sexual revolution, John Paul’s dramatic combination of body language and God-talk offered a bold challenge: Who takes human sexuality more seriously? Those who imagine sexual love as another contact sport? Or those who think of it as revelatory of the interior life of God?”
The tragedy is when Catholics themselves decide that God is wrong. Then we do not need to set the bar so high. We agree to mediocrity, and decide that purity of heart and the associated beautiful love is an illusion. The fact that we fall in this area, is one thing. But it is not the worst. The most dangerous temptation is that which comes after a fall. This is the temptation to decide that a sin is the norm, giving up the struggle, abandoning the ideal, because “this is today’s world”. Purity is not the aim in itself. It’s about love. There is no more important thing in life. Courage!
Love put to the test or love as an attempt
The Pope considers the words of this prayer as a marriage creed, he sees it as a short-cut to the theology of the body. “You are blessed, O God of our fathers; blessed too is your name for ever and ever. Let the heavens bless you and all things you have made for evermore. You it was who created Adam, you who created Eve his wife to be his help and support; and from these two the human race was born. You it was who said, ‘It is not right that man should be alone; let us make him a helper like him.’ And so I take my sister not for any lustful motive, but I do it in singleness of heart. Be kind enough to have pity on her and on me and bring us to old age together. And together they said, ‘Amen, Amen,’” (Tb 8:5-8).
That is all there is in this book about love which is ‘eros’. Where it is agape? That decision in marriage, which is inscribed in the willingness to share their fate, adhering to the “good and bad fate” and even ready to die! John Paul II writes that love is not only ‘eros’, but also the ethos, that is a decision, a choice of values. Tobit shows that marriage is not a constant Song of Songs. Love is not without risks. Every person entering into marriage, brings with him all his burdens, from the family home, from other relationships. He brings the history of his sins and wounds. These “suitcases” from the past are unpacked after the wedding, sooner or later. Such freed demons can kill love. Perhaps it is so, that the “marriage bed” reveals these various” packages” and instead of connecting the couple more deeply, they tend to part, to move away from each other.
Can it survive?
Yes, it can, if there will be a common voice. And it will not even be primarily a marriage dialogue, but first a joint turning to God for help – prayer. The common prayer of Tobias and Sarah ends with “Amen” spoken by each of them. This is the “moment of purification“, in which they will need to ‘give up’ and persevere in their test. This should not be understood as banal. When we have a crisis, are we just to pray together and that’s it? Everything can be trivialized. The thing is, that marriage is a sacrament in which God gives power. Humanly, when the couple body) discover the full truth about themselves, they can experience deep disappointment.
To get through this, you have to rely on the love of God, this LOVE is “the beginning”, the “source of grace”. Of course, the key is that both of them – together – know that they want it. That both will say “Amen” to God and to each other. “The spouses in the Song of Songs in their hot words confess to each other their human love. Newly weds from the Book of Tobit ask God about it so they can meet the love” (John Paul II ).
John Paul II did not hesitate to declare that “body language” of spouses is the liturgy, it is the language of the ministers of the sacrament of marriage. This sacrament is not happening just in front of the altar. He continues – it is celebrated through life together, and in a unique way by tenderness, caressing, loving union. Christopher West observes: “We can even look at the marriage bed as the altar”. Exaggeration? John Paul II does not use nearly as strong a term, but he is sure that the marriage “body language” is sacred to reaching God.
So where is the sin?
From this vision of love follows certain rules of morality. Ultimately boiling down to the question of whether the sexual act truly shows the free, passionate and generous, faithful, creative (fertile) love of God? If not, then we have a substitute, a fake love, probably with sin. Can masturbation be an image of God’s love? Pornography? Adultery? Premarital sex? Homosexual acts? The answer is inherently obvious. The issue is whether intentionally obscure sexual intercourse of spouses may be an image of full, creative love of God? It cannot! For centuries, people combined to practice in this area, but they knew they were doing something wrong. They understood that respect for the procreative function of sex is an important element of morality. Even Sigmund Freud believed that “a common feature of all perversions is that they have abandoned the goal of breeding“. When sex is deprived of its consequences, inevitably we lose the moral compass.
Gandhi wrote that contraception is “a reward for debauchery. It makes men and women reckless. The man sufficiently to humiliate the woman of his desire, and in contraception promoted as a matter of faith will humiliate her even more. “ I recall in this, two non-Christian authorities, to show that it is not a ‘Catholic obsession’. John Paul II indicates that the theology of the body is justification for the teaching of Paul VI‘s encyclical “Humanae Vitae“. We cannot mark its content only as a moral opposition to artificial contraception. The use of the natural regulation of conception, that is, respect for the natural rhythms of fertility, is not just a matter of “technical” (choose one or another effective method), it is about a vision of love, a certain philosophy, and actually spirituality of marriage. The marriage act only on certain day’s leads to the emergence of life.
If the spouses for various reasons do not want more children, they live together in days of “sterility”. This requires self-control. As pointed out by John Paul II, that self-control is necessary for the development of love in marriage. Periodic abstinence serves to excite (connected with the body) it does not overshadow emotions (the reaction of person to person on a deeper level than physiology). In this way one can sometimes “trip up”.
According to the Pope, of great help are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the gift of worship (devotion). Purity will never be the result only of our efforts. It must be the fruit of grace. We must mentally and spiritually “let God” in our bodies, and believe that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This results in purity of heart, a love that gives more satisfaction than … refrain from comparisons. These four lessons certainly leave us hungry.
I hope that my words will encourage further personal research. It was of the prayer composed by spouses who inspired me to discover the theology of the body. I know that they themselves are trying to live like that, in love. I believe that this is possible. Amen.
Conjugal prayer inspired by the theology of the body
“Lord, let me experience You in the love of my spouse, let me to hear You in his words, let me feel Your gentleness in his gentle gesture, touch, caress. I want to feel your closeness, Your presence, to worship You our Lord, in my spouse. Lord, let my spouse also experience Your love, help me to show him my love for him, so that he can feel that You love him. Let our married life become a fulfilment of Your holy will. We ask You to help us make present in our love Your boundless love, teach us how to contribute for the sake of a loved one, how to become fully open for love’s gift and to accept that gift. Take our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh, the hearts that listen and feel together, which accept their weaknesses and defects, which forgive and show mercy. Amen”
With love, friendship and prayers – Fr Marcin