Friday, January 30, 2009

My discovery of TOB

Here is a post that dates to 2005 and the days after Pope John Paul's death, when I was reflecting on the amazing contribution he made to the Church with the Theology of the Body:

I think that one of John Paul's greatest "legacies" will be his Theology of the Body. This was no ivory-tower theology worked out in the chaste mind of a celibate loner. Karol Wojtyla had a wide network of friends and students. Most of these were married (Wojtyla had celebrated the Wedding Masses for them!), and their priest-friend became their confidant. The Pope's Theology of the Body came from those conversations and from Wojtyla's pastoral assistance to these very real, normal, 20th century families.
I first encountered Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body when it was presented to the world in his general audience talks, beginning in 1979. I was a brand-new sister, just one year in vows, when these talks began. At the time, we had a few minutes of Church news (with reading of Church documents) every day after breakfast, and the Pope's talks pretty much filled the slot for years. I was struck from the outset, somewhat as the people in Jesus' day were: "Here is a completely new teaching, in a spirit of authority!" It was new, even though rooted strongly in the tradition of the Church. No one before John Paul had ever made the connections he made between the Creation accounts in Genesis, Trinitarian theology, and the "nuptial meaning of the body," made to be gift. That to be a person is not simply being self-aware (a dangerously limiting definition that many take for granted), or capable of relating to others: to be a person means to be a GIFT; to be in mutual gift is to love. Talk about the meaning of life! And since the Pope identifies the Holy Spirit as the "Person-Gift" in the Trinity, then you have the highest affirmation of our human bodied condition.
As a woman, I found it extremely affirming. Remember, this was still a time when women's liberation seemed to assume that women had to "match" men in every possible way. But now there was a strong, affirming, positive and utterly beautiful teaching that put the discussion into entirely different terms. The Church's "instinctive" rejection of artificial contraception made perfect sense in this context (not that the wisdom of Church teaching in this area hasn't been proven again and again even by the direction society has taken in the last almost 40 years since Humanae Vitae, the document which awkwardly, but rightly, affirmed the Church's stance).
So the Theology of the Body has pretty formed my interpretive key for things related to women's issues, marriage and celibacy. And I am always mystified by Catholics (and here I mean the well-informed ones) who do not even bother to take the Pope's message seriously. What's with them? Do they not want to believe that the wider culture needs to be evangelized? Do they not want to hear an alternative voice in these areas so linked to our human experience of happiness and fulfillment? Once I went to a catechetical conference at which one of the workshops was devoted to moral issues. The speaker, a priest, could have been on Planned Parenthood's payroll. Isn't it enough for Planned Parenthood to be using its multi-million dollar (if not billion dollar) budget to spread that message? Doesn't the world--heck, don't our catechists--deserve to hear something else, something that just may be inspired by the Gospel?
Theology of the Body is perhaps the first theological approach to making the Trinity more than an abstract, if holy, doctrine. In the Theology of the Body, the Trinity becomes the full vision of our vocation as persons. We are called to live Trinitarian life in a human key. And for the first time in theology, our bodies have something very essential to do with our human imaging of the Trinity.
Somebody tell the world: this is remarkable!

Notes from May 2006

I was really disappointed with the article in America about the "V-monologues" (you know what I mean, but this is a generally family-friendly blog). The author, professor of law and of theology at Notre Dame, wanted to make a case for accepting the play as an opportunity for women's voices to be heard, for women's issues to be brought to the fore, and for a dialogue between the play's admittedly unbalanced presentation and the perspectives Christian faith brings to the same issues.
There is nothing wrong with that.
What I take issue with, and wish most ardently to protest, is the way the author repeatedly mischaracterized the Theology of the Body and those who have found it intensely life-giving and woman-affirming. I seriously wonder if the author has ever spent any time with the actual texts of John Paul II. She was so condescending of the naive souls who accept its "rosy" view, and who conform to "Humane Vitae." Evidently, the author seems to think that TOB is nothing but a justification of the 1968 encyclical, and not a complete and hearty presentation of the human person in relationship. To identify TOB as a mere confirmation of Humanae Vitae is like mistaking a book-length study of human health with a prescription! Frankly, it seems to me that Catholic scholars of a certain generation have never gotten over Humanae Vitae. Anything that touches on sexuality seems to push their Humanae Vitae buttons and raise the alarm so loud that nothing new can get in.
That's not all.
The author assumed that parties who are in line with the thought of the Theology of the Body also make a strict identification of "culture of death" with "secular society" and "culture of life" with the Church itself! I have never heard anyone at all operate from this assumption (I may just be living in a bubble). Is the author creating a Catholic straw man so that her argument in favor of a V-Monologue Dialogue is highlighted as the only reasonable position for a Catholic with a brain? Sadly, I suspect so.
But the saddest thing is finding the mischaracterizing of TOB in America. Oddly, I think this is a result of changing the editorial practice in which two sides of an issue faced off. We would have been better served if someone well versed in the Theology of the Body had written a partner article. Because, unbeknownst to the author of the article, she was making a very good case for the core message of the Theology of the Body. According to JP2, the problem with, for example, pornography is not that it depicts the naked body as a whole, but that it depicts only body parts, separating them from the person who inhabits the whole body. And what does the V-Monologues do? Puts the entire focus on one body part. The original concern may well have been to highlight women's experiences and needs and sufferings, but by reducing women to one body part, it lost the person herself. So on the university campus, instead of reproducing the original work, why couldn't student groups be challenged with a full and honest presentation of the Theology of the Body (which, contrary to the America article's author, is not focused only on motherhood--if it was, why am I so intensely interested in it?). Then the groups could come together to create and original--and Christian--work of theater art.

Retrieving the past

I'm editing some blog posts from the past, and found a few with insights on the Theology of the Body, so I'll post them here for sharing. Please feel free to add comments!
Sr Anne

Monday, January 26, 2009

January notes

At least Sr. Helena took notes from the January session!

Technical Difficulties

In our Daughters of St. Paul communities, we have a little tradition of interpreting problems, especially technical problems, as a sign that a particular project is destined to do immense good--and that naturally attracts the interference of the denizens of darkness.
Even without that tradition, there's little doubt that the Theology of the Body online study is meant to do great good. (What better, more beautiful and transforming message is there for our society?) At any rate, our past several attempts to offer streaming video have suffered more than the usual glitches. For that reason, we can't offer archived video from the December and January sessions, which were (you knew this) fabulous.
Pray that through the grace of God we overcome any remaining technical hurdles in February!