by Veronica Ferri.
What on earth is a member of Madonna House, a celibate, doing writing about the Theology of the Body*? I was wondering that as I attended a week-long course on this subject. I’d always thought of Theology of the Body as being mainly about marriage and sexuality.
So what does this teaching have to do with me? As I write this article, I am five days, one hour, and twelve minutes away from renewing my Madonna House promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
For some time now, in fact, I had been wondering deep in my heart how the consecrated laity, the priests, and the religious, fit into the mystery of sex and marriage.
But the Theology of the Body is not just about sex and marriage. It is about the mystery of the human person.
Christopher West**, our main teacher at the conference, so beautifully unpacked John Paul II’s teachings for us. And there was a lot to unpack. After all, John Paul II gave 129 general audiences between 1979 and 1984 on this topic.
I had been exposed to and studied about the Theology of the Body over the years, but this time I was surprised at how it caught my heart off guard.
Christopher led us step by step into the contemplation of this great truth. It was not just informational; it was transformational. Now I am burning to share the good news with you all.
But to begin with, we must keep in mind that the Theology of the Body is not the teaching of Christopher West, and it does not belong to any pope (though it was Pope John Paul II who articulated it and promulgated it in recent years).
The Theology of the Body is the message of the Church; it is Christ’s message, Christ, the Word made Flesh.
The Incarnation is truly at the heart of what it means to live in the flesh while partaking in the divine. Think of what it means that our God became human—body and soul. Think of the fact that we, as humans, are body and soul.
God wants to raise our very own bodies from the grave to live forever. What a holy thing the body must be! And was it not so from the beginning?
In the beginning, God made man and woman in his own image. Through the visible body, the invisible soul is made visible, so to speak. And though all creation manifests what it is impossible for us to see with our eyes—the spiritual, the divine—no created material being comes closer to speaking the language of God than the human person. So what is God saying anyway?
The compatibility of man and woman speaks of union and communion. The human person was not made to be alone. Look at the body; its very structure is made for relationship.
We are meant to be one with another. If you’ve ever experienced a terrible loneliness, you know what I’m talking about. There is an ache and a hunger in every person to be with another: to know and love the beloved, and to be known and loved.
When God gave Adam and Eve to each other, he knew what he had created. He knew they needed each other, and he led them to union and the first marriage.
God created marriage. And he saw that it was very good. In fact, marriage is a sign and symbol of the intimacy God wants to have with every person. Yes, God wants to "marry" us!
But Christ tells us that in heaven no one is given in marriage. Why? Because in heaven we will have the reality. There is no need for a sign when you have the reality. (You don’t need a sign pointing to Chicago when you are in Chicago.)
In heaven, we will have for all eternity what earthly marriage signifies. In heaven we will all be united to God and each other in the most intimate way.
Since the beginning, God has been telling us a love story. Adam and Eve before the fall image the love between God and man. God’s love is not passing. It is not selfish; it is not forced on us; it is not sterile. It is, rather, a free gift.
God is a lover who gives himself totally, without limit. He is faithful from generation to generation. And his love brings life.
My being a celibate has raised a few eyebrows, and often I’m asked, "But don’t you want to get married?" A valid question. My answer usually surprises the person. "Of course, I do!" After all, marriage is holy and a gift from God, so why shouldn’t I desire it?
Like all humans beings, I want very much to be in union with the beloved. I want to be loved. But I can hear the music of the Divine Wedding Feast, and I cannot help but dance right here… right now.
Living celibacy for the Kingdom does not mean being alone. It means being available to all. It means being in union with everyone, just as we will be in union with everyone in the Kingdom. In this way, the celibate life, like marriage, is a sign pointing to what we will live in the Kingdom.
And in a way, we are all invited to dance right now. Whether we are married or celibate, (and this includes the vocation of the single life in the world) our very vocations point beyond this life to the Kingdom to come, our eternal home. And, we are all called, even in this life, to intimacy with God.
Catherine Doherty had a way of describing this intimacy. She called it, "falling in love with God."
At this point, you might wonder "Fall in love with God? Me?" Yes, you! You can fall in love with God.
For reality is this: God so loved the world that he sent his only Son…. (Jn 3:36).
There is no greater husband than Christ, who poured out his life for his bride.
How did Christ love his spouse, the Church? He died for her.
Wives be submissive to your husbands (1 Peter 3:1). I never liked that one so much. It sounds so servile. But what is Paul saying? The word "submissive" comes from the Latin, which means "to place oneself under (sub) a mission (missive)"
What is the mission of the husband? The mission of the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church. So in fact, Paul is saying: Wives allow your husbands to love you unto death.
Receiving that kind of love also demands a death of sorts, a self-surrender, and a great openness. This mutual gift of self defines every aspect of marital love.
What a transformation takes place in us when we see God’s Word in light of his plan to "marry us!"
Genesis and Revelation are the two bookends holding the great love story of God together. In the beginning we have Adam and Eve, the first marriage. At the end of the Bible is the book of Revelation, a book, not about "gloom and doom," but about the wedding feast of the Lamb.
And in the very middle of the Bible we find the Song of Songs, a love poem, a love song. Come my love, my lovely one, come (2:13).
I’d like to conclude with a quotation from our foundress, Catherine Doherty.
"Why should it be difficult to fall in love with God? In the Old Testament, God says, Even if you have prostituted yourselves under every bush, come back to me, Israel…. (See Hosea 2)
"God is the bridegroom of Israel; she is his spouse. Christ speaks to us constantly about his being the bridegroom. The psalms speak of him leaping over the hills to come to his beloved. The Song of Songs says, Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth (1:2).
"We contemplate God as two lovers contemplate each other. They hold hands and look deep into one another’s eyes.
"Prayer is like a woman contemplating her husband after the marriage act. Both lie still and gaze upon each other in silence."***
This is the dance of God and man. Can you hear the music?
—Adapted from "The Little Way," the small magazine/newsletter of St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission, Summer 2012
*The Theology of the Body is Pope JohnPaul II’s integrated vision of the human person—body, soul, and spirit. In it, he encourages a true reverence for the gift of our sexuality and challenges us to live it in a way worthy of our great dignity as human persons.
**Christopher West, who has been able to synthesize he pope’s scholarly presentation in an understandable and exciting way, is one of the best known teachers and promulgators of the Theology of the Body.
***From Soul of my Soul, (1985), pp. 11-12, MH Publications
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