MIDWEST CATHOLIC FAMILY CONFERENCE
August 6-8, 2021
One of the great annual events for Catholic families is the Midwest Catholic Family Conference which is held every summer in Wichita, Kansas. The conference starts on Friday evening and ends Sunday afternoon. The conference features a large number of outstanding speakers. Age appropriate religious instruction and events are available for students in high school, middle school and age 3 to 5th grade. For information and registration, go to CATHOLICFAMILYCONFERENCE.ORG.
THEOLOGY OF THE BODY
by Deacon Tim Sullivan
NOTE: SCROLL DOWN FOR NEW POSTINGS
Before we get into the content of Theology of the Body, we need to address some preliminary issues.
As far as the process is concerned, my plan is to present a sufficient quantity of material one portion at a time. I would like to have comments, questions and discussion on the portion of material presented before we move on. Please send comments and questions to me by email at [email protected]
I strongly recommend that we use either the New American Bible or the Revised Standard Version of the Bible for our study. I will personally be quoting from the New American Bible most of the time. I’d like for all of us to be using the same or very similar text as we go along.
Parts of this are going to be difficult, I would expect. For example, a great deal of the Theology of the Body deals with the unity of man and woman and with marriage. So we want to be open to the true meaning of the Theology of the Body. We will find that the content of the course challenges many of the cultural attitudes prevalent in our modern society.
I cannot overstate how important prayer will be for what we are doing: prayer to support our efforts, prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, prayer for discernment in our thoughts and comments, prayer for inner conversion for all of us. I am excited about what we will be doing but feel that it is also a challenging adventure.
Pope John Paul II
The Theology of the Body was the work of Pope Saint John Paul II. The Pope was a philosopher and a professor. He wrote plays and poems, not to mention a massive number of encyclicals and apostolic exhortations. As a philosopher, he was influenced by phenomenology, which is basically the idea that one can arrive at the meaning of life and humanity through a study of human experience. Human experience, from the Pope’s perspective, could not be examined in a vacuum, however, but must be observed in the context of objective knowledge about God, morality and virtue.
What is revolutionary about Theology of the Body is that it is grounded in human experience, not abstract theology. The human experience that forms the basis of Theology of the Body is that of Adam and Eve in Chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Genesis. This is the text that we will be spending a great deal of time on.
We will look at the experience of Adam and Eve in a new way, studying every aspect of their creation and interaction. The text of Genesis will take on an entirely new dimension for all of us. The text will become like a beautiful painting, and we will look at every brushstroke to reflect on why the artist chose to express himself the way he did.
Why did the Pope develop this new way of looking at the Biblical text? Because he knew that modern man was not so responsive to conventional ways of explaining the meaning of human life and sexuality. Whereas Thomas Aquinas had studied humanity and morality from a linear, logical, deductive perspective, the Pope believed that modern people wanted explanations that were grounded in human experience. So he studied the story of Adam and Eve to determine what truths about humanity could be arrived at from their experience.
The material that is known as Theology of the Body was presented by the Pope in his Wednesday audiences over the first five years of his pontificate. It was originally published in the United States in the form of four separate books, which have now been consolidated into a single book.
The Pope, as a young priest, had spent considerable time with young adults, both single and married. He could see that one of the biggest challenges confronting modern men and women was having a true, healthy understanding of sexuality and morality, issues which were under attack in virtually every corner of the world. He believed that confronting modern challenges to sexuality required a modern response grounded in human experience and expressed in a new language. He began to formulate what we now call Theology of the Body.
Because the Pope was a philosopher and a scholar, the text of Theology of the Body is very dense and difficult to comprehend. We will use some direct quotes so that you have a sense of the actual words of the Pope, but we will have to put his words into language that we can more easily understand.
In terms of content, the Theology of the Body studies the original unity of man and woman, purity (the challenge of overcoming lust), the celibate life and contraception.
The Theology of the Body provides us with a “total vision of man,” or, as the Pope called it, an “adequate anthropology.” It reflects on who man is and how the human person must live to be fully himself or herself.
There are two key quotes from the Vatican II Council that are important for understanding the Theology of the Body. The first is from Gaudium et spes Section 22: “Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals humanity to itself and brings to light its very high calling.” Jesus reveals to us our true and complete vocation as human beings.
Our vocation is captured in Section 24 of Gaudium et spes: “If human beings are the only creatures on earth that God has wanted for their own sake, they can fully discover their true selves only in self-giving.” In other words, we are created to be a gift, to give ourselves away to others and for others.
Why do we have a body? Because the body speaks a language. The body expresses in an external way what is going on internally, inside us. What is the body saying?
We will be learning the “language of the body” in this Bible study. As a preview, here is a list of just some of the terms we will be using as we explore Theology of the Body:
Peace of the interior gaze
Nuptial meaning of the body
The Teaching of Jesus on Divorce
Read Matthew 19:1-12
When the Pharisees challenge Jesus on the subject of divorce, he twice refers to “the beginning.”
He says in verse 4: “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.?’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
The Pharisees are not satisfied. They ask Jesus why Moses permitted divorce. Jesus responds: “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”
When Jesus says “from the beginning,” He is referring to the original state of humanity as described in the Book of Genesis. Specifically, He is referring to Genesis 1:27: “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” He quotes also from Genesis 2:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”
By adding to the text of Genesis his own statement that “what God has joined, no human being must separate,” Jesus is affirming the text of Genesis and making normative and decisive the unity and indissolubility of marriage.
In the first part of the Theology of the Body, we are going to focus at great length on the events of humanity “in the beginning.” As mentioned in the Introduction, we are going to examine the creation of Adam and Eve, their initial relationship and their fall from grace. We will do so by studying in detail their experience and what their experience reveals to us about our vocation as human beings, about our meaning and dignity as persons and about the mystery of male and female.
THE OBJECTIVE DEFINITION OF MAN
Read Genesis 1:1-31
There are two accounts of creation in the Book of Genesis. Genesis 1 contains an objective account of creation. It consists of declarative statements about how creation came to be during a 7-day cycle. As we shall see, Genesis 2 (and by implication Chapter 3) represents a subjective description of the creation of man, one that includes man’s words, actions and motivations.
In Genesis 1, man is created along with the rest of the world, but there are some distinct characteristics about man. Man is given dominion over the rest of the world in verse 28. More importantly, man is different from the rest of creation in that man is made in God’s image: “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.”
This is one of the great mysteries of creation, that humanity is somehow a reflection of God himself. How could this be? What is it about humanity that reflects the very nature of God?
Even more mysteriously, what is it about male and female that reflects the very image of God? What is unique about the male that reflects the identity of God in a manner that is distinctive from the female? And what is unique about the female that reflects the identity of God in a way that is distinctive from the male? We will attempt to find some clues to the answers to these questions as we go deeper into the Theology of the Body.
Immediately after indicating that the male and female reflect the image of God, the author of Genesis quotes God as saying, in verse 28, “Be fertile and multiply.” This is the first commandment. The creative power of God is not imaged by the male alone or by the female alone, but by the male and female acting together. In this sense, the capacity of a single individual to image God is limited compared to the capacity of a man and woman acting together.
In verse 31, God examines everything he has made and finds it very good. The statement has metaphysical content. Man is good even though as yet he has done nothing. He is good in his very being, in his very existence.
THE SUBJECTIVE DEFINITION OF MAN
Read Genesis 2 and 3
We are going to be dissecting Genesis 2 and 3 for quite some time. As I mentioned in the introduction, we will closely examine many details of the text to see what is revealed about man’s essential nature and identity.
We will be introduced here to some new terminology which we’ll need to understand for future explanations and discussions. These terms are “original innocence,” “historical man,” and “original solitude.”
Whereas Genesis 1 provided an objective description of the creation of humanity, Genesis 2 provides a subjective, psychological explanation of how man came to be and came to understand himself. Genesis 2 and 3 offer insights into man’s self-knowledge and the development of human conscience. These chapters, Pope John Paul II indicates, reveal almost all we need to analyze the essential elements of humanity.
Man is initially referred to in the text of Genesis 2 as “adam.” In the Hebrew, after Eve is created, the reference to the male changes to “ish” and the woman is referred to as “’ishshah,” which indicates that the woman was taken from man.
Man’s initial state is that of original innocence. He is not yet acquainted with the knowledge of good and evil. Upon entering the realm of knowledge of good and evil, man sins. “Historical man” is the fallen man. St. Paul captures historical man in Romans 8:23: “we groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Even historical man has deep within his roots what Pope John Paul II calls a theological “pre-history,” a sense of his original innocence.
The redemption of historical man is anticipated in Genesis 3:15, which is called the “proto-Gospel.” The text of Genesis reads: “He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” This passage has been understood to point to the battle between good and evil fought between Satan and the offspring of the New Eve (Mary), who is Jesus.
The Pope goes into considerable detail in discussing original solitude, which is a reference to Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable helper for him.” First of all, man is alone in that he alone must till the soil. No one else or no other created being can do that for him.
As God creates animals and brings them to the man, man recognizes that he is alone because he is distinctly different from the beasts. Man is also alone in the sense that he exists before God in search of his own identity. Each of these statements needs to be developed more extensively.
Man is alone because man can see by looking at the animals what he is not. At the same time, each time he sees what he is not he develops an improved sense of what he is. His self-knowledge develops as he grows in his understanding of other created things. He acquires self-consciousness and self-determination. He begins to assert himself as a person.
In relation to God, the man of original solitude begins to see that he is what the Pope calls a “partner of the Absolute.” What man discovers about himself becomes connected to his being made in the image of God. By virtue of the commandment given by God not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, man becomes part of a covenant with God. He must discern, learning to choose between good and evil, life and death.
During original solitude, man finds that he is in a “unique, exclusive and unrepeatable relationship with God himself.” In this context, original solitude is not a negative state, but an essential phase of man’s development.
What is also important about original solitude is the role of Adam’s body. Through awareness of his own body, Adam becomes conscious of his being alone, of being different than other creatures. Original solitude is connected to man’s consciousness of his body. It is by virtue of his body that he develops an initial sense of his own personhood and of his own uniqueness.
There are many questions that could be raised by these reflections. I wish to focus on only one. The notion of original solitude requires us to examine Adam’s relationship with God before Eve was created. It was a very positive relationship. They communicated with one another. God was looking out for Adam, wanting the best for him. So the question that begs to be asked of each of us is this: What relationship with God do we have separate and apart from our interaction with other human beings? Is it positive? Negative? Do we fully appreciate that each of us has a unique, exclusive and unrepeatable relationship with God himself?
WE MIGHT SUGGEST
It's a long drive, but you might consider a weekend in the Ardmore area of southern Oklahoma. For families, there is Turner Falls near Davis, Lake Murray State Park and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Turner Falls features a beautiful waterfall that is over 70 feet high. There are wading areas below the falls for children and adults. Lake Murray State Park has beautiful, almost turquoise water and many lodges, campsites, trails and a golf course. A must do is a visit to Tucker Tower, an old stone house built on a peninsula on the lake in the early 1930's. There is an awesome view from the top of the tower. The Chickasaw National Recreation Area also has a large lake, a bison herd, campsites, lodges and trails. I especially recommend the trails along Travertine Creek. There are many small waterfalls along the creek, and between each falls there are pools suitable for swimming. A picture below captures this feature.
It's a 3-hour drive to the Ardmore area. If you decide to make the trip, let me know and I'll give you more suggestions and tips.
PHOTO OF THE MONTH
TRAVERTINE CREEK, CHICKASAW NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, OKLAHOMA