Let us start with a simple review of Theology of the Body, which began in the mind of Fr. Karol Wojtyla long before he became Pope John Paul II. In a book called Crossing the Threshold of Hope that was published in 1994; he told us that as a young priest, he fell in love with human love. Throughout his years as a priest, he studied and observed the many facets of human love and what it means to each person, how God loves us and how we are called to love Him. His entire priestly project has revolved around this great bi-lateral reciprocity of Divine and human love.
Karol Wojtyla’s expansive knowledge, acquired through endless counseling sessions while preparing married couples, gave him an exclusive insight to the importance of these questions that are so often at the core of the human heart. The sheer volume of people seeking guidance during his priestly ministry gave him the unique opportunity to discover, in a way that no lay person ever could, many questions that needed concrete answers. What he wanted to talk about, as a young professor at the Catholic University in Lublin where he was teaching philosophical ethics, was who the human person is and how that person is supposed to flourish in human love.
He realized that many of his young students had become guinea pigs of the Communist ideology; that they were trying to live a completely different understanding of the human person in their relations with each other and their relationship with God. He thought that, in order for them to best see what it is that God is actually calling them to in human love; he needed to demonstrate this in a philosophical way. Not on the basis of theology, because the Communists were atheists, but on the basis of human philosophy. This meant that he needed to do two things: one was to confront human experience with doctrine (with the Church’s teaching) and see if there were any tensions there or how each reflects the other. The other was to introduce Christ’s type of love into the human experience of love; comparing the human experience to God’s love for us. These lectures were published in his book entitled Love and Responsibility.
In the first section of his book, Pope John Paul II discusses the sexual urge. He places something that has always been viewed in the past as something negative, into its perspective. “God made the human person with the sexual urge, so that man would realize that in and of himself he was unfulfilled, that he was dependant and had a need for another person. The sexual urge calls him out of himself, to give of himself to another. This, (calling out of himself) leads to real love; it is the possible starting ground for real love.”
“Real love,” states John Paul II, “is the gift of oneself to another person, this making of the other person the end with his or her own goal rather than a means for the achievement of our own goals, as a subject rather than an object to be used for our own self-gratification.”
He said that the opposite of love is not hating a person but using them; using someone for one’s own ends. The third aspect of his book speaks about the control of one’s self, being responsible; responsible for the gift of your own love, the gift of your sexual urge and of the other person who might be in love with you. In order to have this reciprocity, you have to be master of yourself; self-controlled, chaste and continent. All of these things refer to different aspects of the same reality.
In order for man and woman to truly love each other, they need to own themselves and control their desires, rather than let their desires control them. The fourth aspect of John Paul’s book explains that when a man and woman look at each other, they see something of the others’ masculinity or femininity, some of the paternal meaning of masculinity and some of the maternal meaning of femininity. In real justice to the Creator and towards each other; they should be embracing the fullness of the gift of who the other person is in his or her entirety as God made that person.
When he applied that entire understanding to the controversial subject of artificial contraception and periodic continence, (what we would call in the United States, Natural Family Planning), he said that they were completely divergent views. Firstly, contraception leads couples to use each other’s sexuality whereas periodic continence (which features chastity) leads each person to be able to give themselves wholly and entirely to each other and accept the other person fully as God made them. And for man vis-à-vis a woman, that would mean accepting a woman with her divergent physical capacities, during which time she is infertile or must remain continent, allowing (if there is a serious reason) for the spacing of children or the delay of a pregnancy.
Pope John Paul II, during his episcopate, realized that the teachings he was bringing forth would have far-reaching effects, not only for his home country of Poland but also for the entire world. People had assimilated what Pope Paul VI had taught in Humanae Vitae as just a series of “rules” they had to follow. They didn’t see how those “rules” flow directly from who God made the human person to be, what Christ revealed the human person’s personality to be in all its fullness.
And so, Pope John Paul II wanted to give a much deeper anthropology, a greater understanding of the human person based on the Bible, so that Catholics throughout the world would be able to see that the conclusions of Humanae Vitae (why contraception between married couples is wrong and harmful to their love), are fully in accord with what Christ Himself revealed.
Pope John Paul II starts his book with the question that the Pharisees asked Jesus about whether divorce was allowable. Jesus’ response took all of us back to the beginning. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, we read that in the beginning “it was not so” that the human heart had led to divorce but God in the beginning made man and woman to leave father and mother and cling to each other, to become one flesh. “What God has joined, man must not divide.”
Even though man was created with all the animals, he experienced an original solitude, realizing that he was different from the other creatures that God had allowed him to name and he was also different from God, Who created him. Then God said, “It is not good for man to be alone, I will make a fitting helper for him.” And so, God created Eve out of Adam’s side, and that original solitude led to original unity. They were called to give of themselves to each other in a communion of persons in love.
That communion of persons in love was shown in a particular way by their originally innocent glances toward each other. That lack of shame in the beginning pointed to their original innocence, to their purity of heart. When Eve looked at Adam, she saw two things: first, she saw somebody whose whole nature spoke a gift, a gift of himself to her. And secondly, Eve saw a summons for her to give herself over to Adam in love. Adam, looking at Eve, saw exactly the same thing. He saw both this gift and this summons to give of themselves in a mutual giving and acceptance of the other person in an act of love. That will all be shattered in the Fall, which we will study in the second section of Theology of the Body.
Christ Himself, in the Sermon on the Mount, took the experience of original sin and showed us in a concrete way just how much man’s heart had become hardened. He said, “Any man who looks at a woman with lust, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-28) Christ taught that morality is not just external actions but that the real source of morality is in the human heart and in what the human being thinks and feels, in the experience with another person. And so, in the original experience of the three-fold lust that St. John describes in his first letter, Pope John Paul II develops how Christ shows how man’s heart has become hardened and then takes it back to the original sin which led to it.
Original sin was basically distrust of the other; we see it encapsulated in the expression, that they “hid themselves out of fear because they were naked.” They covered themselves, especially their sexual parts, from each other because they lost the original trust they had in that nuptial spousal meaning for each other as a gift in love. They also hid themselves from God in the goodness of creation and the goodness of God’s love for them. Original sin shattered that trust; it destroyed the communion of Adam and Eve and the communion of persons that is meant to exist between the human person and God, Who is the communion of persons.
This leads to the third of the seven sections of the Theology of the Body that the Holy Father described, which is, life in the spirit. Man needs to be able to recover, in Christ’s Redemptive love, what it means to be a person and what it means to be a real lover. But God recognizes that man cannot do this on his own, so Pope John Paul takes a section of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 8:5-10) in which St. Paul makes a huge contrast between life, according to the spirit (meaning the Holy Spirit) and life according to the flesh. He says that we are called, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to God’s grace given to us through the Redemption of Jesus on the Cross to restore those original values, so that we can truly love each other as God loves us. In this way we can be ministers of that love to each other and there could be a real communion of persons between Adam and Eve.
Part of that means living as a temple of the Holy Spirit, holding the body in holiness and honor, avoiding all types of unchaste behavior and glorifying God in the body. All other passages from St. Paul’s writings that the Holy Father will use to elucidate this call of the human person to live according to the spirit in a genuine communion of persons in love. That leads to the fourth section of Theology of the Body which has to do with man’s destiny at the end of time.
The human body will be raised from the dead at the end of time by Christ, so it is meant to experience Heaven fully, just like the human soul experiences Heaven. And we see in that nuptial-spousal giving of the human body and the human person, that the body, which is meant for the communion of persons in this life, is meant to achieve its fulfillment in the communion of persons in Heaven; and this, through the body.
What does that mean?
God is a communion of persons in love; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Heaven, more precisely, is our entrance into that community of persons in love, body and soul, just like Jesus entered into that communion, both Body and Soul. When we enter into that communion of persons with God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it becomes the basis for the communion of saints in Heaven, because we exist in communion with them.
That whole understanding leads to the fifth section of the Theology of the Body. This is described in another way of living the nuptial meaning of the body in this world, which is in consecrated virginity or celibacy. Because of the eternal destiny of the human person (body and soul) people can, in this world, for the sake of the communion of Heaven, respond to God’s Divine gift and give of themselves wholly and entirely over to God and thus anticipate Heaven. Thereby they give a sign to everyone of what the eternal destiny of the human body is; to be given over to God in love and be given in exchange, in a chaste way, in the communion of persons which is the communion of saints.
The sixth section explains how Christ reveals man to himself in his eternal destiny, in the gift of self in marriage, here in this world. Christ is the full meaning of Who it is to be a human person and in His marriage with the Church that St. Paul describes in the fifth letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5: 21-33), we learn how in marriage, human spouses are supposed to relate to each other in self-giving love. That is the basis that the Holy Father uses to take all of these topics and apply them to the burning issue of every age; artificial contraception in marriage.
When we look at the human person as God has revealed them, what do we see?
We see that nuptial meaning; we see that call to the full communion of persons through the body, the full acceptance of who God made that other person to be. In artificial contraception, the Holy Father says, that nuptial meaning is rejected because the paternal meaning of a man’s body or the maternal meaning to a woman’s body is rejected in the very act made for it by God: this union of two persons in one flesh. That’s where we are going to be heading in the course of this series, and we will be speaking more in depth of Pope John Paul II’s historically essential work: Theology of the Body.
To sum up, Pope John Paul II follows with the same methods of Jesus Himself, Who, in describing what marriage is supposed to be, first takes it back to the beginning before the Fall with Adam and Eve. He then describes man, who he is right now; with a need to repair and renew his heart in order to bring him to the end in Heaven, which would culminate in the fulfillment of the human person.
This course of the Theology of the Body is meant for those who are already married to get more out of the great gift that God has given them, to couples preparing for marriage so that they might fulfill what God asks of them, to consecrated religious and to priests who are called to live the nuptial meaning of the body fully in their lives and for all of us, so that we might understand better what it is to be a man and a woman called to love as Christ Himself loves.
Fr. Roger Landry
(to be continued in the next issue)
This is a partial transcript of a talk given by Fr. Roger Landry that has aired multiple times on EWTN, it can also be found on YouTube. Father Landry is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, Massachusetts and executive editor of the Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River. His homilies and articles can be found at catholicpreaching.com. We thank Fr. Landry for the permission to print this first segment of his homily.