I have a confession to make. When I was 16 years old, I was already in the convent, working in the department of our publishing house where we typed new manuscripts (on old really large machines...we're talking the 70s before the desktop computer). I typed and proofread Saint John Paul II's General Wednesday audience talks which eventually were published as one book titled The Theology of the Body. Yet, even though I can say I read them (almost 30 years ago now), and a understood them (a bit), and I certainly got a general impression, I couldn't really tell you exactly what Theology of the Body is. But I KNEW about Theology of the Body before most Catholics because it is was through the books we published that contained the talks of John Paul II just as he was delivering them, that Theology of the Body was introduced to the US.
Most people have heard of the Catholic teaching on the Theology of the Body (and know just about as much as I do about it), some have never heard of it before, and others are quite well-versed in it and have integrated it into the way they live their lives. But for the majority of us, Theology of the Body needs unpacking if we are going to understand the tremendous treasure Saint John Paul II has given the Church and the world in his teaching on human sexuality.
The one thing that we all have in common today is that we are faced with a so-called "gender revolution" playing out before us in daily news. On the pages of newspapers and magazines, and in posts on blogs and social media, it is the journalists and politicians who are debating what’s up with gender identities—gay, straight, transgender, pangender—the number and variety of which seem to multiply and mutate by the week.
What does the Church have to contribute to this conversation? Does she need to make up something new for this "new" proliferation of sexual issues that confront us? Is there any relevance in her teachings for us and for our lives where now we live with so many question marks in the area of human sexuality in the education field, morality, theology and marriage?
Here is where Saint John Paul II's genius and holiness is so apparent.
It's no secret that the Catholic Church has a unique set of teachings
on sexuality and marriage, and that those teachings don't match
the expectations or practice of a good many people today.
Approaching those teachings from the vantage point of the Theology of the Body, however, has become a life-changing experience for thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics. The truth is that these teachings of the Church, found in the Theology of the Body, correspond perfectly to the deepest stirrings and desires of the human heart.
What is the theology of the body? It was actually a series of 129 talks given by Pope John Paul II during his Wednesday audiences in St. Peter's Square and the Paul VI Audience Hall between September 5, 1979 and November 28, 1984, the first major teaching of his pontificate.
In Theology of the Body, John Paul II shows how the human body reveals God; the body makes what is spiritual and divine visible.
Pauline Books and Media has made Theology of the Body more accessible through a video series by Fr. Robert Sprott. In this series, individuals and groups will gain a greater appreciation not only of the Sacrament of Matrimony, but a deeper spirit of amazement and adoration of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, an understanding of the call to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, a clearer sense of what it means when you say "I believe in the resurrection of the body," and just what's the matter with birth control. All this and more comes together under the Theology of the Body.
In our video series, Fr. Robert Sprott explores the meaning of marriage, the mystery of human love and sexuality, the resurrection of the body (what does that mean, anyway?), and why these teachings are relevant to the Church and Catholics today.
Sr. Kathryn J Hermes, FSP
"Christ rescued, healed, and renewed our covenant of love and unity with him and with each other."
When I reached my tenth anniversary of marriage, I found myself unfulfilled. I entered into a dark time and I questioned Our Lord: Is this what you created? Why am I not joyful? If you create everything good, and you called me to this vocation, why do I feel empty? What am I missing? I begged him with all my heart and in his great mercy he showed us his wonderful plan for love, sex, and marriage.
We were living in a relationship based in lust but not in love; we were using each other for pleasure and manipulation. We didn’t appreciate the gift of life that God granted to us through his fertility blessing.
On this amazing road to discover God’s great plan for marriage fulfillment, we were led to study and learn Natural Family Planning as well as to begin attending Theology of the Body conferences.
The beauty of the sexual gift as a profound unity of love that we have when we encounter Our Lord through the Holy Eucharist was revealed to us: the Holy Eucharist is for the soul what the sexual unity is for the marriage!
We are called to live Christ’s love for us in our sacramental union as husband and wife. Through that love, and with God’s participation, couples can bring forth a new life. The same vows that we took at the altar on our wedding day—to love each other freely, faithfully, fruitfully, and totally—are renewed each time we encounter each other in one flesh.
Little by little and with God’s grace my husband was open to this process, and we learned the beauty of the language of the body. We used NFP and cooperated with God’s plan for our marriage. And then we were blessed with a son when I was 37 years old (we already had two daughters) and later with another daughter when I was almost 45!
We live with a profound respect and love for each other, being chaste when it is necessary and united in one intimate relation to strengthen our relationship and express the love between us. Now it isn’t lust that leads us, but it is Love expressed in the dying to our impulses and desires and looking for the best of the other, instead of being guided by selfishness. Only when we deny ourselves can we be a gift to the other. As married couples, we all fulfill our call when we love as Christ loves us. He transforms our intimate sexual encounter into true self-giving acts that reflect him to the world as it permeates our daily lives.
Christ rescued, healed, and renewed our covenant of love and unity with him and with each other in the sacrament of marriage as my husband and I opened our hearts to his call to this vocation as he intended us to live it. Only through his plan we find happiness in our life.
This year we are celebrating our 30th anniversary: praise God!
Claudia and Gustavo P.
"In humans the body expresses, reveals, makes present a person, one meant to love and be loved. This is a contemplation, in love, of love!
Pope John Paul’s approach to the human body reminds me of the restoration of the Sistine Chapel. In some ways it IS the restoration, not of the “Sistine” chapel, but of a healthy, whole, hearty “chapel” or shrine of human nature. Pope John Paul even remarked once that the Sistine Chapel with its scenes of the creation of Adam, the creation of Eve, the fall and the Final Judgment, IS "the chapel of Theology of the Body."
I remember a TV special that showed the art specialists at work in the Sistine chapel. The restorers had to take extreme care in treating the cracked and darkened frescoes. In some cases, a restorer simply patted a swatch of the ceiling with a cotton ball dampened with mineral water, gently touching the surface again and again to remove the layers of soot and dust and allow the brilliant colors to glow again unimpeded.
Pope John Paul took a similar approach with the biblical passages that touch on the mystery of the human body and of man and woman created in God’s image. He did not analyze the texts; he touched them delicately, bringing out the original brilliance that had perhaps become dimmed through sheer familiarity. Everybody knows (or used to know) the story of Adam and Eve—but not the way Pope John Paul expressed it. John Paul’s description of Adam’s transfixed joy at discovering the woman to be “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone!”; the observation that the pair’s being “naked without shame” speaks to something humankind has tragically lost; the simple fact that in humans the body expresses, reveals, makes present a person, one meant to love and be loved: this is not a theological harangue. It is a contemplation, in love, of love!
Michelangelo spent four years on the ceiling frescoes, and Pope John Paul spent five years on his presentation—but he had already spent almost twenty years developing his thought, starting with his experience with college students, helping those young people in 1950’s Poland prepare for marriage (and in many cases, continuing to support the couples through marriage, children and even grandchildren). Those couples, in turn, shared their experiences with astonishing openness. In many ways, Theology of the Body comes from the sacramental lives of those couples, filtered through Pope John Paul’s biblical and theological lens. Through Pope John Paul, those Polish families have taught the entire Church.
Sr Anne Flanagan, FSP
"As a Catholic mother, teaching my sons to reflect God's selfless love for another is the greatest virtue I can instill in them."
Sexuality is an act of giving. My husband and I understand that love is a beautiful gift from God, and with that gift comes great joy and responsibility. The births of each of our three children have further solidified our belief that sexuality is something we must treasure. We're now raising three young boys (ages 6, 4, and 5 months), and we tell them daily to always be grateful for what they have. As they grow up, they're learning to respect the value and dignity of human life, but this idea will translate into their young adulthood as well. We want them to respect themselves as Catholic gentlemen but also understand that all people have an inherent dignity, and that no one should be objectified sexually or otherwise.
God created us all out of profound love, and as a Catholic mother, teaching my sons to reflect God's selfless love for another is the greatest virtue I can instill in them.
St John Paul II believed in young people and offered in the area of human sexuality something very beautiful that brings great joy beyond all that the world could offer.
In our bodies is a call to communion, a call to find ourselves through a sincere gift of ourselves.
Written in our very bodies is the vocation to exist in the other, for the other.
Marriage and the call to holiness in John Paul II's Teaching
The difference between using and loving others