This past Sunday, I had the blessing of speaking to 100 natural family planning teachers about St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, which contains profound insights into human sexuality and the human person.
On many occasions I have heard about couples whose relationships were strengthened by practicing NFP and learning about the theology of the body. Since many people will be celebrating St. Valentine’s Day this weekend, I would like to share the basics of the theology of the body with you.
The term “theology of the body” has been used by theologians and scholars to describe the series of teachings on human sexuality that St. John Paul II gave between Sept. 5, 1979 and Nov. 28, 1984. In total, he delivered 129 of these talks, which he later said could be titled “Man and Woman He Created Them.”
At the heart of St. John Paul II’s teaching is the “sacramental view of reality.” With this understanding, we know that the things we see in the physical world have a deeper meaning and purpose that goes beyond the visible. This also includes our bodies.
As the late Holy Father explained, the body “was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial, and thus to be a sign of it.”
In other words, our bodies’ design points to spiritual aspects of our being. For instance, the larger bone structure and faster metabolism of a man indicate that he is designed to protect and provide, while the physique of a woman indicates that she is oriented toward drawing others in and toward nurturing.
Finally, the language of the body during the sexual act communicates the spiritual reality that love between a man and a woman is meant to be free of coercion, full, faithful and fruitful. St. John Paul II draws this teaching from examining man and woman as God created them.
What many of us experience on a day-to-day basis is far different from this kind of integrated and beautiful understanding of human sexuality. The modern secular idea of sexuality reduces it to a sensory experience in which people are treated as objects that can be used for pleasure and cast aside when they no longer satisfy us. The approach is casual and one that ignores the truth, beauty, and goodness of human sexuality. And unfortunately, it is forming the hearts and minds of our children and young people.
The language of the body tells us that relationships are meant to be built upon mutual, faithful self-giving, but our popular culture has reduced relationships to mutual exploitation and connections that can be easily traded for the next pleasure.
On St. Valentine’s Day, the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” will be showing in theaters across the country. It is a prime example of the devastating consequences that come from misusing the gift of sexuality that God gave us.
The movie and the book it is based on tell the story of a recent college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and Christian Grey, a wealthy Seattle-based entrepreneur. I have not and will not read “Fifty Shades of Grey” or watch the movie because they normalize a distorted sexuality that is degrading, violent and anything but romantic.
Not only does “Fifty Shades” contribute to society’s acceptance of violence against women, it also helps promote the idea that mutual physical, emotional and psychological exploitation is acceptable.
These attitudes have led to the explosion in pornography use, both by men and women. Matt Fradd, who runs the website www.theporneffect.com, points out that nearly 90 percent of the top-selling pornographic films contain some form of violent behavior being committed by men against women and the women reacting with pleasure. The lie that this is somehow enjoyable and that people can find satisfaction in behaving in this way must be rejected. If you are struggling with an addiction to pornography, I encourage you to visit his website.
God desires each of us to be loved and to give love, not to victimize one another. This truth is so fundamental to our nature that he designed our bodies to communicate it through our actions. Every person, Catholic or not, should learn about the theology of the body because it offers the antidote to the degraded sexuality the secular culture is promoting and raises people to their true dignity. We must be prepared to be witnesses of the joy that comes from living as true images of God.
For more information about the Theology of the Body, visit, www.tobet.org.