Sunday, June 19, 2011

Theology of the Body or You teach Catholic teenagers WHAT?!?!

  A couple of weeks ago, in my post about pornography, I mentioned that my wife and I teach Theology of the Body for teens at our parish. It occurred to me at the time, that many readers may not know what TOB is. So I attempted (poorly I suspect, as the teaching is really expansive) to get the basic idea of the teachings in Theology of the Body to fit into this blog post. It was impossible. So I laid a foundation here, and I will be expanding on some of the concepts and how they apply to and affect church teaching as the weeks go on. So without further adieu, my post: Theology of the Body refers to the teachings in 129 talks that Blessed Pope John Paul II delivered during his Wednesday audiences between 1979 and 1984, at the beginning of his pontificate. The teaching centers on the body as the primary vehicle for making visible the invisible (the spiritual and the divine) and being the sign of these things in the visible world. The premise is that, in the way God designed our bodies, they point toward union with another. The meaning of life, is stamped into how are bodies are designed.
God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” Gen. 1:27
And in Genesis 2, the second account of creation, when Adam is seeking a suitable partner he goes through all the animals, and does not find one. Adam realizes that he is alone in the world, that somehow, he is different from these other creatures, and then God creates Eve, and we all know Adam's reaction to this:
the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken." Gen. 2:23
And at that time, the bible goes on to say that:
The man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.” Gen. 2:25
What this says to us is that, in the beginning, Adam and Eve were meant to see each other as an integrated body and spirit, to see the real value of the other person. They were not supposed to feel threatened by the selfish desire of the other, because they did not see each other that way. But in eating from the tree of knowledge, that desire for the good was twisted and they no longer saw each other as the beautiful integrated beings they were. Their perception of each other was split, and instead of seeing the beauty of the spirits that God had given to each of them, they only perceived the physical, seeing each other as a means to satiate their own desires. They then sewed fig leaves into clothing, because out of this revelation, came the suspicion that they needed protection from the selfish desires of the other.
I think it is always interesting to note at this point, that before 'the fall', the only tree that Adam and Eve were not to eat from was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree that led to man thinking he is as wise as God. However, at the end of the story of the fall, God keeps them from eating of the tree of life. So, in the beginning, God's original intention was for us to live forever in a consciousness where we could truly see each others value as beings with a divine soul. But by introducing sin into the world and being tempted by evil, death came into the world, and we were cut off from this consciousness. Truly, isn't that still how sin works today? It is someone or something in this world telling us that God's word is not in our best interest, or that there are ulterior motives, or that 'everybody else is doing it', or that the expectation is not realistic. Whatever the justification, it gives us reason to think that we know better than God, that we have the true knowledge of good and evil. So we deliberately go against His word and cut ourselves off from Him. Sin has not changed much, has it? Or perhaps it is just perpetual.
Theology of the Body, then expands on this as it relates to the 'Nuptial' meaning of the body. What does this teaching in Genesis, tell us about the original intent for our sexuality and our spousal union? Well, to touch on this, we need to think about how seriously the bible takes marriage. The bible starts with a marriage (Adam and Eve), Jesus begins His public ministry at... a wedding. Jesus continually uses comparisons with himself as the 'bridegroom' and the church as the bride, and the bible ends with, the wedding feast of the lamb, where Christ and the church come together in union for all eternity. So it would seem that the spousal union is a pretty important thing in the word of God.
So starting with the teaching from Genesis that we were originally called to a union with each other, not as just physical bodies, but as integrated beings with a divine soul. Theology of the Body starts to give us an idea of God's intent for our sexuality.
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” Gen. 2:24
TOB then expands on this through teachings in the new testament. As I said, Jesus starts his public ministry by performing His first miracle at a wedding feast. Throughout His teachings, Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom to his bride, the church. So Christ puts as a model for our spousal unions, his union with the church. St. Paul verifies this in his letter to the Ephesians, saying that marriage should reflect Christ's love for the church and the way he sacrificed himself, giving himself over for her. Concluding by saying:
So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Eph. 5:28-30
Theology of the Body thus teaches that our marriages should reflect Christ's sacrifice for the church. So if we believe that our sexuality (the design and desires of our bodies) is a gift from God to point us toward union with another, then we learn from the new testament, that the spousal relationship that leads to, is to mirror Christ's relationship with the church. At the very least, this should make clear to us that our sexuality is not to be twisted into ourselves and our selfish 'needs'. As I mentioned in a post a while ago, Christ never asked what was in it for him. “Hey Dad, what's in this for me? I mean, what do I get out of being crucified?” And this understanding gives us a clear definition of lust. Lust is simply using someone or something only for our own gratification.
So TOB tells us that our spousal relationship is to mirror Christ's sacrifice for the church and goes on to say what those qualities are: Free, Total, Faithful and Fruitful. Free in that Christ gave himself voluntarily for his church. Total in that Christ gave all of himself, up to death, for his church. Faithful in that Christ promised he would not leave the church. Fruitful in that Christ's death and resurrection brought life to all who will accept his mercy.
And, if you listen during a Catholic wedding ceremony, these are the exact vows we affirm...
1. “Have you come here freely and without reservation? (Free)
2. “Will you honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?” (Total and Faithful)
3. “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” (Fruitful)
I will be expanding on a lot of themes in the coming weeks based on these concepts and how they explain some of the teachings of the Catholic church. I apologize in advance if I raise anyone's hackles by venturing to explain church teaching. I only hope that any discussion be conducted civilly, but I don't think I have to worry too much about that.
So this is a thumbnail sketch (believe it or not) of what Theology of the Body contains. And yes, my wife and I are crazy enough to teach this to teenage confirmation students for six weeks each fall and spring. The way we came to do so, was actually after we had taken a four week course on TOB ourselves and we looked back on our respective pasts and thought, 'Wow, there is really a need for kids to learn this before they make some of the mistakes we made.' So when our parish was seeking volunteers to learn and administer the 'TOB for Teens' curriculum, we had no least until the night and morning before we taught our first class. But the Deacon and his wife helped us out with that first session, and it went pretty well.
Now don't get me wrong, I am not naive enough to think that by teaching them TOB, these kids will all magically see their classmates as whole integrated persons, not use pornography, and grow to be perfect husbands and wives. (Just the tide of filth that kids are bombarded with every day today makes it clear that it's an uphill battle) But I do think that seeing a married couple that aren't TOO old, and have been frank and honest about some of the mistakes we have made, might make something click for one or two of those kids in the moment when those decisions or options are presented to them.
I know it's trite, and way overused, but if that happens once or twice, then it's really worth it.
Happy Solemnity of the Holy Trinity!
Happy Father's Day to all the dads!
God bless,

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