Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Dear Friends
I promised You I will try to explain the phenomenon of the theology of the body. As it is on the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI Encyclical Letter – ‘Humanae Vitae’, which showed now, that it was again a prophecy given by The Holy Spirit to us, even if a prophet (Pope Paul VI) was so much persecuted for that, as all the prophets. So it is a very appropriate time for some light on the teaching to show and to explain a very famous teaching of St. John Paul II about sexuality. A priest speaking about “these matters” always runs the risk of smiles. It’s hard but I know many, really a lot of married couples who say that this theology of the body works in their married lives, and their witness has convinced me that it is important to address this on the time of the significant anniversary and of Lent, when we are called by Jesus to repent, which literally means – to change our thinking. So, let’s be open for a challenge.
Forgotten theology of the body
The theology of the body arises in the context of spiritual warfare that takes place in our contemporary culture. The case of human love, sex, and marriage is one of the major battlefields of the struggle. If the new evangelization is the response of the Church to modern secularism, it must also include married life and the family. St. John Paul II realised this. His theology of the body is a form of evangelization. It is a concrete proposal of a healing, positive outlook on human sexuality. It can be neither understood nor accepted without faith, without the Gospel, without Christ: ultimately without personal conversion. Karol Wojtyla already understood the great importance of these issues as a young university chaplain, then as bishop, academic researcher and finally as Pope St. John Paul II. He was aided by a young engaged man, by spouses and by families: as a priest, but also as a friend or even a brother. In the book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” he wrote: ‘As a young priest I learned to love human love. This is one of those basic issues on which I focused my priesthood, my proclamations in the pulpit, in the confessional ministry, as well as using the written word.’ The most mature fruit of this ‘love of love’ is the theology of the body. For 5 years (1979-1984), Pope St. John Paul II delivered 130 Wednesday catecheses devoted to this topic at the weekly Papal Audience. They were later collected in the volume “Male and Female He created them ‘.
The theology of the body is thoroughly biblical teaching. This is an extensive reflection around just a few biblical texts. John Paul II, was aware of how much sex is stripped of mystery today, of the sacred, of dignity, reduced to biology, technology seeking pleasure. In the face of this he sought guidance and inspiration in the Word of God. He tried to see into the mind of God on these matters. He tried to show how God sees sexuality and love. If He, God, invented it himself, he should know how it works, how it works well, best even.
So far, we have had a lot of confusion. I was a bit surprised that in the preparatory document for the Synod of the Family which happened a few years ago (Instrumentum Laboris) there was no reference to the theology of the body. Why did it ignore the teaching of the Pope, who was named after his canonization, the Pope of the Family? I do not know the answer. Perhaps this ‘bomb’ is still waiting to explode. This is what I am writing here for you – My Beloved Ones – it is only a theory, but sometimes the most practical thing is a good theory. ‘Love is not teachable, and yet nothing is as very teachable as love’ – wrote St. Pope St. John Paul II. I am confident that he will bless me from Heaven as I now write to You, and he blesses You reading this and other texts, and those who will pass the news on.
Therefore – when the Pharisees came to Jesus asking about the possibility of divorce, Jesus referred them to ‘the beginning’ – ‘Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning made them male and female and He Said: This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes joined to his wife, and the two become one flesh? They are no longer two, therefore, but one flesh. So then, what God has united, human beings must not divide.’ [Matthew 19: 4-6]. For St. John Paul II, Jesus’ answer is the starting point for the beginning of reflection: he wants us to begin with the recognition of the creation of human beings as male and female.
So often we turn to God and the Church with questions about whether something is allowed or not allowed – ‘is kissing a sin?’ – ask some teenagers. Today’s teenagers ask for much more. Spouses inquire about divorce, contraception, or ‘in vitro’. The error of this approach lies in the fact that we ask what is right, about what is prohibited and what is permitted. We omit the question about the truth, about the essence of things. The Pope puts it in a different way. He looks at other issues: ‘What is the truth about sex and love? Why are humans a man or a woman? Why do we covet each other?’ The answer of the biologist, or sex therapist is not enough. It is the necessary theology of truth about man as a creature of God, the most perfect and most beloved creature of God that provides the answer. Faith gives us a light. In the light of faith we can make good choices in matters of sexuality and love. All rules, in which we hear: ‘you shall not’, come from the result of the great Christian’s ‘YES’ for love, for physicality, for sexuality. If we do not hear this ‘YES’, then bans on this or that are perceived as an attack on freedom or happiness.
ADAM AND EVE, ORIGINAL VERSION
The truth about creation in the Bible is written in simple form, in ancient, mythical stories. The Book of Genesis is not a lecture, it is a collection of short stories. Today, scientists arrogate to themselves sometimes (wrongly!) the right of the only true knowledge about the world and man. The Bible in simple words expresses a deeper wisdom than scientific truths. The Bible shows man in relation to his source and his ultimate target – to God. I would add that the wisdom of faith is not in contradiction to scientific knowledge. These two kinds of knowledge (scientific and religious) are complementary.
We have to move for a moment to paradise to look at the first couple – Adam and Eve. Let us leave aside considerations, such as the description of creation and the theory of evolution. What is important is that Adam and Eve are people like us. Each of us is either an ‘Adam’ or an ‘Eve’. The first human couple is a symbol of our ‘beginning’. In the language of information technology, Adam and Eve are the image of the original software: the ‘program’, which God introduced in masculinity and femininity, that is in truly human sexuality. The Pope notes that the original experience of Adam and Eve is permanently at the root of all human experiences. The biblical story is economical with words, but it helps to read the original plan of God. Since one of its essential elements is freedom, this is why there was (and still is) the potential for its damage. We can say that a ‘virus’ appeared in the original, flawless program, the sin that destroyed the plan of God, poisoned gender relations, with a devilish deception and deregulated the delicate mechanism of sexual attraction which served only love and life.
The fall of Adam and Eve caused this virus in God’s program, but it did not completely destroy it. So it was necessary to repair it, by the birth of Jesus Christ, the incarnate God. Thanks to Him, by His grace, a return to the ‘beginning’ was possible, indeed something even greater than our original innocence in the life of grace, the blessed restoration and rereading of the original ‘program’ of sexuality. Of course, there is still an important element of freedom, and the devil does not sleep. This causes, in the constant exposure to the soft, intimate sphere of man’s persistent human desire, new mutations of the virus based on pride, selfishness and lust. Our relationship with Christ is the most effective ‘anti-virus’. That is why marriage is blessed as a Sacrament – graced with the faithful and fruitful presence of Christ. Human love between a man and a woman is implanted in the vine of Jesus’ presence, power, and love.
So, please pray for me and those who humbled themselves to read this and meditate as well, to think and be challenge. And – to the next weekend for the second part of this special thought.
With love, friendship and prayers – Fr Marcin