Book by professor-priest aims to right theology of the body misinterpretations

New text seeks to help TOB educators, underscores JPII’s link with Aquinas, Vatican II

Roxanne King

From 1979 to 1984 St. John Paul II gave 129 general audience talks on human sexuality and the human person that came to be called the “theology of the body.” Hailed by scholar George Weigel as “one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries,” theology of the body is “original” in that it “goes back to the origins,” asserts Father Angel Perez-Lopez, assistant professor of philosophy and moral theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. A native of Spain but ordained a priest for the Denver Archdiocese, the professor outlines his position in his new book, “Procreation and the Spousal Meaning of the Body: A Thomistic Argument Grounded in Vatican II” (Pickwick Publications). Father Perez-Lopez spoke to the Denver Catholic about the book following a lecture on it at the Cardinal Stafford Library last week. The interview has been edited for clarity and space.

Denver Catholic: Why did you write “Procreation and the Spousal Meaning of the Body: A Thomistic Argument Grounded in Vatican II”?

Father Angel Perez-Lopez: I wrote it because I saw that my philosophical formation in Rome gave me an insight into theology of the body that was not common and that could be helpful to people, both those who teach it at the popular level and those who teach it at the academic level. I wanted to help people to be more faithful to the teachings of St. John Paul II. I felt many people of goodwill end up teaching things that are not accurate—I wanted to go back to a true and authentic interpretation of the teachings of St. John Paul II.

DC: Who is the book for?

FA: The book is meant for teachers. Four different types of teachers can profit from it: those who have a solid catechism formation education, that is, any religious education or marriage prep instructor—Archbishop Samuel Aquila has made it mandatory to teach theology of the body as part of marriage preparation—then, teachers with a bachelor’s degree in theology, then those with a licentiate or doctorate in theology, and, finally, scholars of Karol Wojtyla (St. John Paul II). The first four chapters are for a more academic audience; chapters 5-12 anyone can easily understand.

DC: What is theology of the body?

FA: It is a series of talks St. John Paul II gave to explain the teachings of Pope Paul VI regarding the Church’s position on contraception. (In theology of the body) St. John Paul II offered a scriptural, theological and philosophical justification of Pope Paul VI’s teachings in “Humana Vitae.”

DC: What is the single most important thing the average person should know about theology of the body?

FA: In theology of the body you find a roadmap on how to have a good marriage, not just how to have a valid marriage, but how to have a good one.

DC: How can an understanding of theology of the body help a person?

FA: Theology of the body is an encounter with the beauty and depth of God’s love and salvation for people, which is helpful for all but especially for married people. Christianity is not a philosophy—it is an encounter with God. Through St. John Paul II’s teachings on theology of the body one can have an encounter with God and their life can be transformed.

DC: Is there anything you would like to add?

FA: I would advise married people to get a printed copy of their marriage promises, to reread them often and to live their life in accordance with those promises. (My book explains them in detail.) Doing that would enrich and strengthen their marriage. The marriage promises are the core essence of marriage spirituality.

COMING UP: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.