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!

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