Saturday, October 17, 2009

Theology Of The Body - Part 1

What Is It All About? - The Sincere Gift Of Self

As I wrote the other day, I have been uncomfortable about sexuality, specifically as it relates to judging that of others, also because of my own sexuality, but mostly because I do not really understand God's Plan for our sexuality very well.

I posted a piece a short while ago, largely written by David Warren for the Ottawa Citizen on A culture of Deviance, Far Beyond the Church, which is a small part of my opening up of my own thoughts and my heart to what God might have in mind about our sexuality, and His Plan for it.

Another factor in my rethink, has been the impact of both my own and my wife's health on our sex life, and it has sure not improved it in the physical sense. My body has rebelled against this dearth of physicality in our life, but over time, it has been proving to be a blessing. I have been learning about the disordered nature of some of my own thinking, and of the sexual sin that has crept into my life over the years, and of how I have lusted after my own wife, to my own shock and horror. So, I come to a place of concluding that I cannot judge anyone else's sexuality when my own is so full of sin.

Yet, God is good and His justice is mercy. So, He is leading me on a path to explore, to discover His Plan for me and for others, in love. It is in this personal brokenness that I recently discovered the beautiful Theology of the Body that Pope John Paul II documented from 1979 to 1984, and that many others have looked to for inspiration.

The Theology of the Body is about the purpose of our existence here on planet earth. As such, it is the sum of 129 audiences that Pope John Paul II gave weekly, over a 5 year period early in his pontificate, and which in short essays brought together this teaching.

Although I plan to deal with it in its entirety somehow in coming months, it is summarised in a PDF file that can be downloaded here. The PDF file explains the purpose of the Theology of the Body:
“Man is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, [and he] cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” (Gaudium et Spes 24) We must first know the purpose of our existence and what we were created for if we are to live a fully meaningful life. Pope John Paul II explores the purpose of our existence in his Theology of the Body.
In a previous book, Love and Responsibility, then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla:
stresses the dignity of the person and shows how important it is to live our sexuality in a way which upholds and affirms the other person. Indeed, the true lover will never use another person or treat her as a means to an end.
But, we find out his views on being a person in the Theology of the Body in the next paragraph as it says:
In his Theology of the Body John Paul II digs deep into the meaning of being a human person based on Scripture. As a person with a body and soul, made in the image and likeness of God, we find the meaning of life through finding out what it means to image God and what our bodies have to do with it.
So, how do we display that image we are made in, by how we use the gift of free will that we have been given, and by how we are in communion or relationship with other people. Just as Christians know that God is a relationship of three persons in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so too are we called to be in relationship with others around us.

But John Paul goes beyond relationship to what he calls "communion" with others, and that deepest communion of person that occurs:
when two people freely give themselves to each other and accept one another in love. In fact, true love consists precisely in this mutual self-gift.
I struggled with the profoundness of the word "communion" when I first read this, trying to substitute the word relationship back into it. But, as I pondered what I had read, I realised that I was diminishing what was being said and, worse still, reducing its significance.

Communion can be defined as "an intimate relationship with deep understanding." So, it is more than merely a relationship. I can see in my marriage that my wife has been calling me on to that level of intimacy for years, quite possibly not understanding what it is she is calling me to, or even if she is capable of it herself. I see my wife as a prophet, who quite often speaks truth with humility, that comes to pass, if I am adept enough to grasp it and to do my part to bring it home. So, I have been slowly, like the Ice Age retreat eons ago, moving towards that time and space, to meet her in that place of deep intimacy, and I desire it as much as she does.

If it were as simple as going to the store and buying a pound of it, I would go there right now, or would have gone already, but it is not about addition, it is about subtraction. To achieve communion with the woman that I love, I must let go of my fears and anxieties, and turn to the courage that God has given me, to love myself and her with no conditions, and to truly see who she is in His eyes, and also to see who I am in His eyes. To do this, I have to escape the vortex of this world and all its attachments. I have been working at doing that for some time now, unbeknownst to myself, and I can see that I have made some progress, but that I have a long way to go. Simply put, I am afraid of dropping those things to which I am attached, my anxieties, and fears, my insecurities.

Pope John Paul had this to say:
John Paul II’s other favorite quote from Gaudium et Spes tells us that, “Christ…fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” What does Christ reveal but that, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”? (Jn. 15:13)
I love my wife, but will I lay down my fears and anxieties, fears and anxieties that I have built up over the years of my life, as I have faltered in my daily walk, to achieve that communion with her? If this has been revealed to me, and if I want to be able to call myself a follower of Christ, then I must. Otherwise, my life is a lie.

When I did not know what I know now, I could be excused for doing as I have done, but as love is revealed to me, and as I allow it to consume me, it is like a flowing river that calls out to me to journey on, and to be free. To fight against the current is ultimately futile, and counter productive. Though my rational mind might be able to make excuses for me to continue fighting against the current, loving with less than my whole being, my heart aches to love my wife and others as I have been loved.

As Pope John Paul says:
“Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for
himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience love and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.” (From the encyclical, Redemptor Hominis — “Redeemer of Man”)
But, I like so many others have confused the body's place in all of this, and so Pope John Paul wisely presented the Theology of the Body to clarify that. The body is not just for pleasure or a machine along for the ride in our spiritual wandering. The body is the physical component of the whole person, and brings it all to life, as a smile on the face of the body indicates happiness that is in the heart.

I must stop now, and will take up this summary of the Theology of the Body soon,before digging into the 129 individual audiences that the Pope gave.

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