Thursday, July 01, 2010

An Introduction to Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body

Note from Steve Smith: This is part 1 of a series of three talks given by Carla Neupauer, Family Life Coordiantor, Office of Family Life Ministries, Allentown Diocese.. Carla has most graciously offered these to Faith of the Fathers blogs for our readers.

“Sex and Marriage”
By Carla Neupauer

When you begin to study Pope John Paul’s Theology of the Body the first thing you realize is that our cultures view and denigration of the human body is a far cry from God’s original nuptial meaning of the male and females sexes. For most of us, the last place we would look for the presence of God would be our body and the gift of our human sexuality. But Pope John Paul explains that in understanding God’s original plan for marriage and the meaning behind our sexuality we find the very meaning of life- a “communion” of persons. I ask you please remember the meaning of life- a "communion" of persons because I will return to it throughout this talk. Unfortunately, today we tend to associate sex with profanity instead of the original sacredness and holiness that God intended. Why? Well, I believe Satan hates God and he attacks what is most precious, sacred and Holy to Him- our sexuality. But, thanks to the blessing of Pope John Paul’s teachings, we are now openly proclaiming the profoundly beautiful and sacred meaning of our human sexuality.

To begin, I must first talk about God and “man” and with the word man I am referring to both the male and female gender- Biblical correctness not political correctness matters to me. So before I move into the discussion of the man/woman – husband/wife relationship, I first need to discuss God and man as God created him. I am going to start by restating Gen 1:27, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Here we should understand that, sexually, God (Himself) is neither male nor female- God is completely beyond a gender. We are in likeness and image to God only in so far as the kind of relationship that should exist between the male and female sexes. So, it is through our relationship as a married couple, that we are being called by God to make visible the invisible eternal exchange of love that exists in the Holy Trinity. God’s three unique persons in the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son & God the Holy Spirit) relate so intimately that the three Persons are actually ONE unified being… And, similarly, as husband and wife we are called by God to “become one flesh”- one unified being in likeness to the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit – Husband, wife, child. Remember, God is love and love is generative- real love always moves beyond itself and into a "communion" of persons- the very meaning of life.

Next, I want to call your attention to John 1:14 where God again points to our bodies. John states, “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” In scripture, God calls attention to our bodies or flesh because we (man- as created by God) are a united body and soul- we are not separate but a united body and soul. Our body is the vessel that makes visible our invisible soul. St. John tells us, God is Love and Jesus Christ is divinity or God’s love made flesh. So when we gaze upon the face or “personhood” of Jesus Christ, we are actually looking through a window and getting a vision of God, our loving Father. Therefore, we should understand that “body” of Jesus makes God who is invisible, visible to us. John 10:30 states, “I and the Father are one.”

Now from this understanding of who God is and who we are in relationship to God, I want to move to God’s love story of Creation with Adam and Eve. This story is not a scientific explanation of our beginning but rather a letter of love from God. When God first created Adam in the Garden, God had Adam name all the animals of the earth. In naming all the animals, Adam realized that he was alone. Adam longed for someone like himself to love- see from the very beginning; God created us with a strong desire to love- a strong desire to have a "communion" of persons. Now, to fulfill His plan, God placed Adam in a “deep sleep” and created Eve from his rib. Upon waking, Adam declared, “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” (Gen 2:23). Adam was joyously declaring that finally this is a person that I can love. And, in the beginning, Adam and Eve loved one another as God loves- their love was free, faithful, fruitful and total.  Their love was a sincere and total gift of self. There was no shame in their original nakedness. However, after Adam and Eve ate the apple from the tree of knowledge, that all changed. When they defied God and ate the forbidden fruit, they lost God’s grace and holiness and shame entered into the picture with lust taking over their hearts.

Adam and Eve gave into the lies and temptations of the serpent or Satan. The serpent cleverly first addressed Eve, bargaining that Adam would not step up to defend her. Adam stood by and watched Eve as she boldly grabbed the apple from the tree of knowledge. She wanted to be like God and possess God’s knowledge of good and evil. Eve dismissed God’s fatherly love and acted directly against his word. She desired to decide what was best for her rather than trusting in her loving Creator and Father. And where was Adam??? Well, as we already know, he was standing by watching Eve fall to sin. See the serpent was right- Adam was afraid to protect and defend Eve from the lies. He was afraid the serpent would kill him should he try and defend his love. Adam selfishly put himself and his own welfare before Eve. Understand the exact opposite of love is not hate- No, it is selfishness. The serpent bargained that Adam would be selfish and care more for himself than for Eve and the serpent was right. So rather than defend Eve, he joined her in sin. Adam and Eve both failed God.

God’s love story of our beginning enlightens us as to why we need a Savior. We, alone, are not humanly capable of responding to God’s love in such a way as to reconcile ourselves to Him for our sins. We are all born with a strong propensity to sin (to be selfish) and only Jesus Christ (who points us directly to the Father) can save us from this “original sin”. Here on earth, we all need to reopen ourselves to God’s grace and holiness that was lost in the Garden. Only through the work of the Holy Spirit can we again be liberated from sin- particularly, the sin of lust. It is obvious that today, most of us act no differently than Adam and Eve and, guess what, the serpent is more alive than ever. Our culture tells us that God’s commandments are not for our happiness…And, by the way, they are not really commandments either. At best, they are probably just some good suggestions. And of course, to be “politically correct" these suggestions are not for everyone because what each of us believes as an individual is in fact the truth for that person- in other words “Divine Truth” does not exist. Our culture tells us that man creates his own Truth. All this is the lies of Satan and we continue to believe these lies. It is so easy for us to embrace lies rather than follow the Truth. Our culture screams that God has too many constraints- he is not a loving Father and is he not interested in our happiness…we, as individuals, know what’s best for our happiness and well-being, not God. To this day, we continue to eat the forbidden apple.

Let me assure you that God does love every single one of us and does in fact know what is best for us as individuals and on a societal level. God is not hiding from us. However, Satan is doing an excellent job in continuing to deceive us to this day….. But I’d like to expose some of those lies to you. Pope John Paul II’s teachings are instrumental in exposing one of Satan’s biggest, most harmful lies- the naked human body is profane; it does not merit dignity and respect and, sexually, its main purpose is self-gratification. The TRUTH is God wants us to intimately know Him through the beautiful, sacred gift of our human sexuality and the fruitfulness of our bodies. Our bodies are beautiful and sacred- not “dirty” and profane, as Satan wants us to believe. The Sacrament of Marriage is truly a physical or outward sign of God’s own love in this world and that is why I believe it is very much under attack today.

Let’s ponder the continuation of humanity for a moment. A man in and of himself makes no sense and a woman in and of herself makes no sense. But remember God states in Genesis, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The result of this loving, faithful, complete union is children. Love freely, faithfully, totally and fruitfully given and received between a husband and wife is the visible image of God’s own Trinitarian Love and this is clearly evident through understanding that the eternal love shared between God the Father and God the Son which is freely, faithfully, totally & fruitfully given and received begets the Holy Spirit. This Trinitarian type of love relationship is God’s plan for marriage and the means by which we attain an intimate relationship with Him. Wow, who would have ever dreamed that the physical union between the husband and wife is meant to icon or image the Holy Trinity? Now, knowing this Truth, from this point forward, your nuptial union should never be the same again. Remember, we are created in God’s image (we are created to be generative or fruitful), so allow me point out that by respecting and honoring the natural fruitfulness of our bodies through the practice Natural Family Planning our marital union will logically form a deep dependency and trust in God. When we don’t barricade God out with contraception, our intimacy with God and our spouse naturally increases. God is life-giving love and we are here to icon or be a visible image of God’s love- Ladies, I need to point out that there is no room for artificial contraception in God’s plan for marriage. Again- the meaning of life is a "communion" of persons.

As I mentioned earlier, Adam and Eve failed at fulfilling God’s Plan for love. However, the good news is, Christ (the new Adam) was a complete success. But Christ did not work alone. Christ too worked in communion with others. To explain this lets look at our salvation on a deeper level. First, God the Father had to humble Himself to actually want to enter into our humanity- Divinity coming to dwell among us. Now, if that isn’t humility nothing is. Next, and it’s a biggie, Mary then had to say “yes” to God for the birth of our Savior to actually happen. Mary had to willfully and positively respond to God’s love and submission. Now, with Mary’s “yes” to God she in turn humbled herself as God’s servant or handmaiden. So our Savior was actually delivered to us through a "communion" and mutually submissive relationship between God and Mary. Through God’s own example here, we need to recognize that this type mutually submissive relationship is Holy.

Mary went on and nursed, taught, and cared for Jesus. Mary ultimately formed or helped Jesus to become our Savior. Mary fulfills God’s Plan for femininity when she becomes Jesus’ or God’s helper- in Genesis 2:18, God assigns the married woman the responsibility of being a helpmate to her husband. Not for reasons of inequality but for reasons of order. Jesus, likewise, is the authentic male role model for men. Jesus did not stand quietly beside Mary and allow her to die for us- Jesus sacrificed Himself to demonstrate his great love for us. Adam watch; he failed God. Jesus sacrificed and died; He fulfills God's plan for salvation. Also ladies, for the Eves’ in all of us, Mary did not scream and fight with Jesus’ persecutors that she should die instead of her Son…. think about this huge sacrifice moms. Mary was the quiet strength and support for Jesus. Mary knew God’s will and she actively participated and formed Jesus to fulfill it. Through the "'communion" of God, Jesus and Mary- Jesus was formed as our Savior to die for us. What I’m attempting to show here is Mary and Jesus perfectly fulfill God’s original plan for marriage. Men, you are to love your wives so much that you would die for her (I’m not necessarily talking a physical death but a death to self- that you place your wife’s needs before your own selfish wants and needs) and ladies you are to form and help your husbands to serve and protect you- please do not allow your husband’s to take a passive role in the family (no Adams allowed). Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reads, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the wife is a symbol of the Church and the husband a symbol of Christ. Men like Jesus are to serve, not be served- Christ laid down His life so the Church may live. Men are to protect their wives and family from sin- they are not stand by idly and do nothing as Adam did. Women we need to allow our husbands to be the men God created them to be. Do not overpower or manipulate your husbands- do not crush their spirit or make them doubt their position of authority in the family. Women respect and support your husbands and allow them to love you so much that they would lay down their own life and die for you. This is God’s Plan for marriage- that you work together and in complete unity and "communion" to eventually get each other to heaven.

Here on earth- we essentially have the choice between two different types of marriages. We can choose a marriage from hell or a marriage made in heaven. I believe all of us would prefer the latter of the two but, unfortunately, in today’s culture we have an over abundance of marriages straight from hell. What we need to remember to get started on a marriage made in heaven is the unity and "communion" of persons. In likeness to the Trinity, unity is essential in marriage. In fact, in order to have a satisfying, fulfilling marriage there must be a union or "communion" of the entire persons- body and soul. Remember, physical or bodily union is meant only to express a deeper spiritual and personal intimacy between the couple. Ultimately, bodily union is always meant to be the end result of something larger- the joining or "communion" of the souls. Sex is never to be an end in and of itself; it may be hard to believe but God did not create sex to be just a self-satisfying sport. God gifted us with the ability to “become one flesh” not only to be fruitful but to also make physically visible the deeper union or "communion" of the souls. And again, let me repeat that love is free, faithful, total and fruitful. Total means total person- union or "communion" of body and soul.

Now, right here, is where some real differences become very evident between the sexes. By nature, men can be quite easily be satisfied with the mere act of the physical union between husband and wife. However, this physical act alone can no way meet a woman’s deep inner desires and longings for a soul connection (a "communion" of the persons). Because of this significant difference between the sexes, a lot of confusion, misunderstanding, and conflict develop in the husband/wife relationship. But, as we previously learned, God created us for self-giving or self-less love. Again, Satan is the one who entices us to succumb selfishness, which is the exact opposite of love. Godly love or real love is self-giving love and we clearly see this love demonstrated by Christ on the cross. Therefore, when a husband and wife each individually die and give in different self-sacrificing ways they become fully and totally satisfied and achieve the union or "communion" of body and soul. It is no accident that God created the basic male & female needs to be so different.

Women, it is not o.k. for husbands to think of sex merely as a physical act with their wife who happens to give them pleasure- this is not love but a selfish exploitation of his wife. And, women, husbands need to know that we are not stupid and we easily discern and at times deeply ache from a lack of sensitivity and concern for us as a person. Yes, it is true, wives can and often do feel used in marriage. Let me explain the vicious cycle we often move into- the consequence of a woman feeling used by her husband is the woman withholding sex from her husband. Now, with the sex being withheld, the husband begins to feel undesired and unwanted by his wife. He begins to doubt his own manhood because sexually his wife no longer desires him- the husband now begins to also feel rejected and unappreciated as a person. In this type of relationship, there is no fulfillment, just emptiness. Here we see neither spouse is happy and neither spouse is looking to fill the deep needs of the other. In this scenario, each partner is only selfishly looking to have their own needs met and blaming the other person for their own unhappiness. At this point, if a husband and wife fail to deepen their understanding of the true meaning of marriage, the marriage will end OR, if it endures, it will be living hell for the next 30 or 40 years.

It is of utmost importance to realize that God created us differently as a couple so we may help each other to grow in holiness- let me repeat that, we may help each other to grow in holiness (HOLINESS, not happiness). The vocation of marriage is to draw us outside of ourselves into the needs of the other (whose basic needs by nature are very different from our own). Here, in unity and "communion", we find fulfillment in marriage. True love is sacrificial love- meeting your spouse’s needs and then your spouse freely, faithfully, totally and fruitfully accepting that sacrificial gift and then returning that love again and again through sacrifice after sacrifice. Remember, through God’s own example in His relationship with Mary, we have learned that mutual submission is Holy. Understand, that true love is not about having someone else always make you feel good or feel happy. Your personal Savior is Jesus Christ. Your inner joy and peace can only be found in Jesus. And yet even in our life with Jesus we have struggle- Jesus never promised to remove our struggles; He does, however, provide us with new sight so we may view those struggles differently (Jesus makes the blind man see and we are all born the blind man). Think for a minute of St. Paul- forever struggling but forever joyful. We only ever meet Christ face to face at the cross- Therefore, our own crosses or struggles are what actually bring us into an intimate relationship with Christ. After we realize this, we slowly begin to no longer view our suffering as suffering but as an opportunity for growth in our loving relationship with our Savior. What we need to understand is that we can only sacrificially love others after we first experience Christ’s deep love for us. So, please realize, that a sacrificial love relationship with your spouse is only possible through your own loving relationship with Jesus Christ. We can love only because He loved us first.

The point I want to drive home is we all need to come to accept Jesus Christ as our own personal Savior. Jesus is the only one who is able to re-gift us with the grace we lost in the Garden. We need God’s grace or His life in us to sacrificially love our spouse or anyone else for that matter. Not one of us is capable of living this type of sacrificial life without the Grace of God… And the means by which we readily receive His Grace is through the living sacraments- particularly the repeatable Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation. In marriage we need to work in true unity and "communion" with Christ and with one another so our hearts may experience the beautiful, transforming true love that God has to offer (receive the grace you need to sacrifice for your spouse as Jesus sacrificed himself to the Father). Remember, as I stated earlier, Pope John Paul explains that in understanding God’s original plan for marriage and the meaning behind our sexuality we find very meaning of life- we are called to form a “communion” of persons. God’s own example of sacrificial love is what makes a marriage made in heaven right here on earth. I pray that you please remember something my husband always says, “sacrifice equals love and love equals sacrifice”- know that real love is always by the way of the cross.

In conclusion, Pope John Paul believed that a culture that does not respect the truth about human sexuality is doomed to be a culture that does not respect life- it is doomed to be a culture of death. I believe that we are now living in that culture of death. And let me just boldly state, that if we are to rebuild this culture of death, we are obligated as individuals to understand and spread the truth about our bodies and our human sexuality. God bless.

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