A couple years ago I went to a Theology of the Body (TOB) Congress in Philadelphia. One thing stood out for me: so many people I talked to said that learning about TOB had made their life happier. I recall one man who was an ordinary Catholic guy—I’ll call him Joe from New Jersey. He said that his wife had started listening to talks about TOB and was very enthusiastic about it. He wasn’t too interested at first. His wife, however, would play the CDs when the two of them were in the car. After a while it got him thinking. What really changed his mind was when he noticed that his wife had started to change. She seemed happier, more at peace, more in love with life and—best of all—more in love with him. “There’s something about this TOB thing that I want to learn more about,” he said when he was describing how he grew in his interest for Theology of the Body. Both he and his wife live the principles of TOB, growing gradually through the years, and now help prepare couples for marriage.
Other people at the conference had similar stories. Why? What is it about TOB that can help people to live happier lives? Simply put, it’s what Saint John Paul II called “the law of the gift.” He said that as human beings we face a paradox: the only way we can find self-fulfillment is to stop focusing on ourselves and to pour ourselves out as a gift for others. The pope used deep philosophical language to make this point. Yet it’s not hard to understand. All of us can grasp that if we think only of ourselves, our world shrinks. If we focus outward, instead, on loving God and loving our neighbor, our world expands.
We don’t have to do amazing feats or heroic acts to give to others. Each day brings many opportunities to love in simple ways. For example, I could listen to someone else’s story instead of talking about my own. I could let my friend pick the movie we’ll go to see. I could acknowledge someone’s presence by greeting them warmly instead of passing them by. In all these little ways, we acknowledge that the other person is an image of God and worthy of respect.
Sometimes people think that TOB is only about marriage and sexuality. It does have a lot to do with those topics. But it also involves a much deeper reality: as persons we can have happier relationships with others—whether that other be a spouse, a friend, or a relative—when we give of ourselves. That doesn’t mean we need to let others take advantage of us. Sometimes a purer form of love is to say “no” to another when that person asks for something that would not be good. Good judgment is essential to living the “law of the gift.” We might make mistakes at times. We quickly learn, however, if we try to see each person as the image of God, we will make better judgments and have happier lives.
By Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP