Have you ever heard someone say, “I wish I had known this when I was younger. This would have
made things so much easier?” This is the usual response parents share after learning about the Theology of the Body for the first time. Their reaction is expected because the truths that are found in this exciting Catholic teaching answer a lot of questions about what it means to be human and to love.
What exactly is the Theology of the Body? In a nutshell, it is a collection of 129 lectures given by Pope John Paul II between September of 1979 and November of 1984. It is a full course of study that unpacks the greatness for which we are created. It is not an explanation of rules and standards that we should follow. Rather, it is a clarification of God’s intent to bring joy and peace to His earthly children through the respect for and the appreciation of the way they are created, body and soul.
The first key teaching from Pope John Paul II explains that the body is united to an immortal soul. The simple truth of this reality can be summed up by saying, “we are more than a body – we are more than our biology.” The body is the visible part of the person while the soul is the invisible part of the person. Using the words of John Paul II, “The body, in fact, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine” (General Audience 2/20/80). Because the body and soul are fully integrated as one nature, both are considered good and deserving of honor. The Theology of the Body dispels the myth that the soul is good and the body is bad. It also reminds us that the human person is more than just a body.
Another wonderful teaching found in the Theology of the Body is that God intentionally created human persons with a gender: male and female. The physical differences between males and females are not accidental. Rather, it is precisely the masculine and feminine differences that make it possible for a husband and wife to give and receive love in a bodily way. Their “sexual complementarity” makes it possible for a man and woman to become a mutual gift to each other. This ability to become a gift is stamped in the beauty and mystery of the body as either male or female.
Finally, the desire to become “gift” is the third truth that Pope John Paul II wanted to tell us about. Becoming gift refers to our ability to be a helpmate - to totally give ourselves in service to the other. And, it implies that what we give is totally received by another. It is a mutual exchange of love as service where nothing is lost or left behind. The Pope said it this way, “... man is the only creature in the visible world that God willed for its own sake...man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself” (General Audience 1/16/80).
These three truths of the Theology of the Body teach us that the body speaks a language. When a person’s body expresses these three truths, it is speaking “honestly” - its language is true. But if a person uses his or her body in a way that contradicts any one of these truths then the body expresses a lie.
There is one more relevant teaching that comes from the Theology of the Body. It is an understanding of the term “language of the body.” This term means that every person’s body communicates that which comes from the inside. In other words, the body speaks for the soul which is the place where we connect with our Creator. If the body speaks a message about these truths, it is speaking honestly. But, if it speaks any message other than these truths, it is lying.
In today’s culture there is a growing movement to have youth deny the truths that they are created as either a male or female, with a body and soul, and an innate desire to become a total gift of self. Society is inviting young adults to deny these fundamental realities and is promoting a campaign of gender neutrality. This movement is enticing our young to use a language of the body that is dishonest. It is asking them to speak a language that is not in agreement with God’s meaning for masculinity and femininity.
Parents need a practical awareness of the Theology of the Body so that they can see how it is being degraded by today’s culture. They need to know how they can share these truths with their children. The end game of this segment is to share the truth about masculinity and femininity with families so that our sons and daughters do not have to say as adults, “I wish I had known that when I was younger. It would have made my life so much better.”
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