“Theology of the Body” (TOB) is the name given to a series of 129 talks that Saint John Paul II gave each week from September 1979 to November 1984. His talks on human love in God’s divine plan were drawn from Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church, but were also rooted in John Paul’s own pastoral experience of encountering the desperate need of men and women to know the truth of God’s love for them.
In a nutshell, Theology of the Body is a biblical reflection on the meaning of human embodiment as male and female from the beginning of Creation in the Garden of Eden, as we are now in history, and how we will be forever in Heaven.
Through TOB, John Paul shows us how we are made in the image and likeness of God–male and female–and proclaims that human sexuality is good, true, and beautiful, while affirming that men and women discover their deepest meaning and fulfillment when they freely choose to exercise their motherhood and fatherhood through marriage or celibacy for the sake of Heaven.
TOB also invites us to ponder the mystery that connects us, and all of Creation with our Creator. This connection is imaged in the physical union of man and woman, the union of Christ and the Church, and the very inner life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It is through the TOB, that Saint John Paul II asks and answers three fundamental human questions: “Who am I?”, “Why am I here?”, and “How do I live a life of true joy?”
It is also through this fundamental Church teaching, that each person is empowered to envision who their Heavenly Father originally created them to be—unique images of His love in the world. And this is how the Theology of the Body and Holy Eucharist work together hand in hand.
For when we are rooted in an understanding of ourselves as unique images of God’s love in the world, and we embrace the reality that the Holy Eucharist truly is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, then we seek out opportunities to be filled with the very lifeblood of God Himself in whose “image and likeness” every man and woman has been created.
And the more frequently we seek to worthily receive God’s graces in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, we continue to grow in our understanding that everything leads to, and flows from, the Mass, and this in turn, deepens our understanding of why the Second Vatican Council called the Holy Eucharist “the source and summit of Christian life.” And it is through this source and summit that we are nourished and strengthened for the journey on the Way of striving for holiness.
Theology of the Body has been a fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church from the very beginning, but these teachings were not called as such until St John Paul II re-proposed these truths in an entirely new way for the world during the twentieth century.
So why this talk about Theology of the Body? Well, recently, I came across the website for joytob–a ministry that focuses upon encouraging and educating couples to understand and live out marriage and family life with joy through St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”
On the website, Damon Owens, Founder and Executive Director of joytob, shared this:
“We all long for love. We all long for the joy of love. There is no greater sign of love than marriage. There is no greater school of love than the family. This is God’s original and enduring plan for us to know and grow in love and joy!”
And a quote from Pope Francis’s The Joy of Love, paragraph 126 is posted there too:
“In marriage, the joy of love needs to be cultivated…Marital joy can be experienced even amid sorrow; it involves accepting that marriage is an inevitable mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures, but always on the path of friendship, which inspires married couples to care for one another: “they help and serve each other”
In my ministry with high schoolers, I constantly am trying to help them see and understand how the world is trying to sell them (and us!) a bill of goods when it comes to what “love” is. The world tells us that love is all about how I feel, whether you make me feel satisfied and fulfilled, and that being “free” (i.e. no commitment) is the best way to ensure that people are best able to stay “in love” and find lasting happiness.
But all of these ideas are actually the opposite of what true love is. For love is all about the good of the other. The total offering of oneself–all of who we are, our entire lives—in a sacred commitment (called a a covenant in Church language) to be present in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, until death do us part—for the good of the other.
This is the Good News—the entire story of Jesus Christ – that He loves each of us SO much, and desires only the best for us that He freely gives His life—every drop of His Precious Blood– so that each one of us may have an abundant life here and for all eternity. “I have come that they may have life to the full.” (John 10:10)
In these last 2 weeks of Lent, I encourage each of you to explore the richness of Jesus’ promises to each of us, as well as our Heavenly Father’s vision of the truth and meaning of what it is to be made in His image and likeness.
For it is our capacity to know and grow in holiness through His love, particularly in reception of the most visible sign of God’s love for us here on earth–the Holy Eucharist, that in the end, we can respond to His call to become unique images of His Father’s love in the world.