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)
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.