Theology of the Body Changed My Life

I was raised in a Catholic home. My parents taught me that sex was reserved for marriage, but that was the extent of the discussion. They never explained why it was reserved for marriage. It was merely a “don’t do this” statement and left at that. I don’t blame them. In fact, the majority of Catholics do not understand the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and the human person. What many don’t know is that Saint John Paul II devoted many of his Wednesday audiences, 129 to be exact, from September 5, 1979 to November 28, 1984 to the topic of human sexuality and the human person. He gave us a roadmap to navigate a culture that has completely lost its understanding and purpose.

When I was 28 years old, I finally started to understand God’s plan for me, including in marriage and sexuality.  I spent a few years, for all intents and purposes, outside of the Church. I would go to Mass at times, but really I worshiping at the altar of self and was living a life of relativism. I thought that I knew better than God. Truth be told, I was miserable, but it took me a few years to break free of the sinful cycle that I had dropped myself into.

Six years ago I met my husband on the online dating website CatholicMatch.com. We had both fallen away from the faith in our Twenties and had decided that we wanted to find our way back, to include marrying a practicing Catholic who wanted to submit to the Church completely. It was not as easy as we thought it would be, and we fell multiple times. Thank God for the Sacrament of Confession! Our parish priest at the time suggested that we attend a Theology of the Body seminar three hours away. He knew that we were on the fast-track to marriage and wanted us to fully understand the Church’s teaching. That seminar changed our lives and brought about our full reversion and obedience to all the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The speaker was Bill Donaghy. He was engaging, funny, and deeply in love with Theology of the Body. It was infectious. I turned to my now husband during the seminar and asked: “Why on earth have we never heard of this before?!” I would have lived my life differently had I known and understood God’s plan and call for my life, including human sexuality and the greatness of the two sexes. So, yes, I am a revert and I am truly thankful to God that he shared the gift of Theology of the Body with my husband and me. It has transformed our relationship, kept us from using contraception in our marriage, and given us the beautiful knowledge of the holiness of sex, as well as the gift of the difference and complementarity of man and woman. It has also deepened our understanding of the great mystery of the Holy Trinity.

What is Theology of the Body?

As I stated above, it is a series of talks that St. John Paul II gave to the Church. Those talks have been compiled into the book, Man and Woman He Created Them. The book is dense and filled with the philosophy of Phenomenology. Unless you have a love of the philosophical, I would suggest reading one of the commentaries on the talks. In fact, the Theology of the Body Institute–which ran the seminar I went to–is an excellent source.

Theology of the Body is meant to explain to the faithful, and the world, the Trinitarian understanding of: the union of one man and one woman, the union of Christ and the Church, as well as the communion and union of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While all three are great mysteries, there is much that we can learn in order to deepen our faith and love of God and humanity. Theology of the Body does provide an in-depth look at human sexuality, but it is also focused on explaining man and woman as they were created in the Genesis account and God’s plan for the sexes. It is also meant to deepen our understanding of our Trinitarian faith.

Why is Theology of the Body Important?

To truly delve into the richness and beauty of Theology of the Body, I would need to write a very long series. I want to cover some of the main points in order to help those who are married, who are thinking about getting married, and even those who are single begin to understand God’s plan for their lives. According to Theology of the Body marriage and human sexuality are no “footnote” in lives (Christopher West), they are of great importance in our daily lives and civilization:

The call to communion inscribed in our sexuality is “the fundamental component of human existence in the world” (TOB 15:5), “the foundation of human life” (Ecclesia in America, John Paul II), and, hence, “the deepest substratum [foundation] of human ethics and culture” (TOB 45:3).

This teaching goes to the very heart of what it means to be human. It is to reach into the deepest reality of what it means to be human in relation to God and other human beings. Our sexuality has far reaching implications in the culture, community, family, and the Church.

The Body is a kind of Sacrament

Many times when we choose to sin, especially sexual sin, we forget exactly what our bodies are, and the unity of the soul and the body. Catholics are not dualists. We profess the oneness of the body and soul. What we do to our bodies profoundly impacts our soul. With that in mind, we can move further and examine how the body is actually a sacrament. What is the definition of a sacrament? At its most basic level, it is simply the making of the invisible visible. An example would be that the Church is the sacrament to the world of Jesus Christ’s promises and the love of the Trinity. By virtue of the Incarnation, God has been made visible through the human flesh that Christ took on for our sake. In the deepest reality of the human person, we cannot understand the spiritual without the body. We cannot know God without the unity of the Incarnation and our own body/soul unity:

The body, in fact, 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)

Since our bodies are united to our souls, it is crucial for us to understand how our lives are a sign to the world of the mystery of God. God reaches us in our bodily reality in order to bring about spiritual realties. Think of the Holy Eucharist. Through a bodily reality, the spiritual is made known to the world, through the Real Presence of Christ. It’s also something that we must keep in mind whenever we choose to sin.

Christ’s Spouse is the Church and Sacramental Marriage is the Mirror of this Trinitarian Reality.

Christ revealed to the world that God is an eternal communion of Trinitarian life-giving love. God is three Persons in one Godhead who offer themselves in self-emptying love. According to the Catechism, “God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange (CCC 221). Our model of love is the Blessed Trinity. In our Baptism, we agree to die to self and live lives in constant conformation to the Holy Trinity.

This conformation and self-emptying love is demonstrated throughout the Spousal imagery of Christ to His Church. He demonstrates His love for His spouse by laying down His life and then he leaves us His Body in the Holy Eucharist. God keeps nothing back from His Spouse. This is also an image of the Sacrament of Marriage. Spouses are called to give of one another totally. This is precisely the moment I began to understand the Church’s teaching on contraception. If Christ gives everything to me and calls me to the same love, then I cannot hold anything back from my husband, and that includes my fertility. If I hold any portion of myself back, then I am clinging to my own selfishness and desire for control.

Marriage is the One-Flesh Union

He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Matthew 19:4-6

The Sacrament of Marriage is conferred by the man and woman in the presence of the hierarchical and visible structure of the Church. I conferred this Sacrament upon my husband and my husband conferred it upon me, not the ministerial priesthood. By virtue of the Sacrament and the conjugal union, we became one flesh. We are united, as Christ is united to the Church. We are called to the same sacrifice of laying down our lives for our spouse.

As ministers of a sacrament [spouses] are called to express the mysterious ‘language’ of their bodies in all truth that properly belongs to it. Through gestures and reactions, through the whole…dynamism of tension and enjoyment—whose direct source is the body in its masculinity and femininity, the body in its action and interaction—through all this man, the person, ‘speaks’…Precisely on the level of this ‘language of the body’…man and woman reciprocally express themselves in the fullest and most profound way made possible for them by…their masculinity and feminity (TOB 123:4)

The “words themselves, ‘I take you as my wife/as my husband’…can only be fulfilled by conjugal intercourse.” Here “we pass to the reality that corresponds to these words”. (TOB 103:3)

Conclusion

I fear that I have not been able to do justice to this profound, beautiful, and holy teaching. I can barely express how Theology of the Body saved my soul and brought my husband and me into a deeper and fuller union with Christ, the Church, and one another. We were saved from making the mistakes of our age in our marriage, mistakes that we were wounded by in our single lives through sin. I haven’t even scratched the surface of this teaching. What I do know, is that if you are married, engaged, cohabiting, struggling with same sex attraction, or single and living a life of dissent or sexual sin, then Theology of the Body is the answer to the deep longing of your heart, as is the Sacrament of Confession. It is in this teaching that you will discover why you are male or female, God’s plan for marriage, the love of the Blessed Trinity, and how Christ loves His Bride, the Church. I pray that God may heal you and bring you joy from Theology of the Body as He has done for me. I now know “why” and while I wish I had known it sooner, I am thankful for the grace and knowledge he gave me just before I entered into the Sacrament of Marriage. God bless.

 

By

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate student theologian with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

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  • jonnybeeski

    Great article. Same for my bride and I, in general. I was a convert, she a cradle Catholic who had a similar formation. We were really struggling and our NFP instructor clued us in on the TOB, and it has made such a profound difference in our lives.

  • noelfitz

    I read this difficult article with interest. I note Theology of the Body “kept us from using contraception in our marriage”. I wonder why most Catholics reject the Church’s teaching on contraception. Is it because they do not grasp Phenomenology?
    I would love to hear if you agree with me, and if not, ‘why’.

  • Constance

    Phenomenology is a very difficult philosophical school, so no, most Catholics do not grasp it. People ignore the Church’s teaching on contraception for the same reasons they ignore it on premarital sex, and now, homosexuality. They don’t understand it and the culture at large provides a quick answer that gives in to our sinful nature. Our culture is saturated by contraception and a majority of women are on some kind of birth control. The Church has not done a good job of explaining her teaching on this, which was part of the point of the article. I always knew the “don’t” but not the “why” and people in our culture need to understand the reasons God has called us to live chaste lives. Once people begin to grasp the deep connection to God on these matters, then they can begin a conversion away from the culture. Theology of the Body can be taught in digestible forms (for the non-theologians and philosophers, which is the majority of the faithful) that provides people with the key to human sexuality and the dignity of the human person. I shared my own story in the hope that someone else will see the fullness of truth.

  • Constance

    Thank you for reading! I am glad TOB has also helped you in your marriage.

  • noelfitz

    Hi Constance,

    thank you so much for your long, thoughtful and profound reply to me. I really appreciate it that you took time from a busy life to reply to me in such detail.

    It would be a pity if a proper understanding of our faith needs a grasp of such a difficult philosophy as phenomenology.

    We agree that most women (in the western world) use birth control. This shows most Catholic women reject the teaching of the Church. Is this a problem?

    Is the Church anti-sex, anti-women and anti-marriage? It forbids women from being deacons and deacons from marrying, few married people are canonized, most Church leaders are not allowed marry, are male and the Church has two commandments against sex (6th & 9th) while others have only one.

  • Constance

    Of course women ignoring Church teaching on birth control is problematic. If they do so in full knowledge and willfully disobey they are doing harm to their soul by mortal sin. This is a very serious problem since the Church is in the business of saving souls. Second, birth control is one of the great frauds of our day. Women have died, developed blood clots, infertility, heart issues, cancer, developed depression, and decreased enjoyment of sex because of hormonal birth control. Women have denied themselves a part of what it is to be a woman, and I don’t mean having a ton of babies. I have only one child because my body and God have ordained it to be that way at this time.

    The Church is not anti-woman. To accuse her of such is to accuse God of being anti-woman because the Church is His Bride and she protects His laws. In the Latin Rite deacons are married and in the Eastern Rite priests can marry as long as they do so before becoming a priest. Celibacy in priests is a discipline that many priests prefer as they are much too busy tending to their flock to also give themselves entirely over in marriage.

    As to women priests, that is an impossibility because it is Christ’s desire. Read Henri De Lubac’s The Splendor of the Church to fully understand why the ministerial priesthood is only male. Women are priests by virtue of their Baptism in the common priesthood. They are also partakers in the Divine Offices of Christ as: Priest, Prophet, and King. They cannot be a member of the *ministerial* priesthood because it is impossible for a woman to stand in persona Christi at the altar because God revealed himself as a man. It is impossible for a woman to be as a man. The Catholic Priesthood follows the male Levitical priesthood, so there is nothing new about an only male priesthood. This is not a matter of discipline, it is doctrine and will never change. From a phenomenological point of view, it is quite clear why a woman cannot stand in as Christ. The masculinity and femininity of a person extends to the soul. It is not just a bodily reality. It goes to the very depths of the human person.

    The Church as a whole is referred to as the feminine because she is the Bride of Christ and receptive to His call to conformation and to bring the world to the Blessed Trinity. The Church upholds Mary as the greatest of all of God’s creations and she mothers over all. Women serve in a great many capacities within the Church. I myself am engaged in formal theological study. So, no, she is not anti-woman. In a culture that has attempted to abolish the distinctions between men and women the Church appears to be, but at the very depths of reality, she is right and the world is wrong.

  • noelfitz

    Constance,

    Thank you again for such a detailed and thoughtful reply to me. I am grateful, but a bit guilty for imposing on you. I read your blog and it is brilliant.

    We all must hope in God’s mercy, so perhaps God will not punish for all eternity the majority of Catholics who reject the teaching on birth control.

    The Church is a holy Church made up of unholy people. Weren’t the
    Donatists and the Montanists, schismatics in the early Church, guilty of
    excessive rigorism, while the hierarchy favoured a more lenient approach? I
    would like to believe in a more merciful God. Some deacons in the Latin rite
    may be married, but that does not negate the fact that deacons cannot marry.

    I am a fan of Henri de Lubac and currently trying to read his ‘Catholicism’.

    I do not want to discuss women priests, as this topic is not open for discussion at present.

    You wrote “The Catholic Priesthood follows the male Levitical priesthood”. I am surprised at this. I thought Catholic priests were priests like Melchisedech of old, who was king and priest in a strange and unique way. Jesus was a priest, but not in the Levitical sense. But I am out of my depth here.

    So again may I thank you for your charity and patience in your replies to me? I must also thank CE for allowing this discussion to take place.

    Please remember in your prayers me, and Ireland at this time when the majority voted for same-sex marriage,

  • Constance

    Noel,

    I appreciate your comments. They are very thought-provoking. Yes, Catholic priests are priests of Melchizedek of old (the High Priest). I should have clarified that point first. I deleted the others out of my previous comment. Christ abolished the Levitical priesthood on the Cross. I was thinking of the sacrificial nature of the Mass in relation to Christ, but yes Melchizedek is the primary.

    I will definitely pray for you and Ireland. I was blessed to visit Dublin 10 years ago and it is beautiful. God bless.

  • Woodwind Song

    I wish I had known and been taught this when I was young, I always feel bad when I learn late what I should have learned early. I had so many trials and falls that had it not been for God’s intervention I would certainly have been lost. I now thank God for His mercy, for the Sacrament of Confession and I thank Him because He turned everything around and brought good from it all.

  • noelfitz

    Contance,
    many thanks for your kind and encouraging replies.
    I am here to be encouraged and supported, hence I appreciate your interest. I hesitated before submitting my original post, because I did not want to post anything that was not constructive.

  • Dessy12

    Thank you for this insightful article. If only our priests would be so instructful from the pulpit ! God bless you.

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