Photo: Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci, Luc Viatourbe
Christmas celebrates the gift of the Incarnation: the Word made flesh, God himself taking on a human body to reveal his love to us. The body is so important in Christianity. The body matters. The body speaks. Its language reveals to us our call to be a total self-gift in love. That is the central insight of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, a series of teachings on man, woman and love which he gave in the early years of his pontificate.
“The body … alone is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine,” the pope wrote. In masculinity and femininity, we discover the revelation of God’s image, the call to authentic love, and the true meaning of our sexuality. The implications of this insight have been life-changing for many.
I was privileged recently to catch up with two local young women who have been teaching the Theology of the Body. Lauren White is the head of the theology department at Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle, where she has recently begun offering a Theology of the Body elective. Kristine Mauss is a popular speaker who has been bringing the message of the Theology of the Body to parishes in Western Washington and beyond for more than 10 years.
Both women first encountered the Theology of the Body through their involvement at the Newman Center at Western Washington University during their college years.
For Lauren, it opened her eyes to what she called “the why behind the what,” the beautiful vision behind the church’s moral code. It helped her see church teaching about chastity before marriage not so much as an arbitrary rule to follow out of a sense of duty, but as a powerful witness to the truth of the nuptial meaning of the body. If we are made as male and female so that husband and wife can give themselves to one another in marriage in a way that is total, faithful, fruitful and free, chastity is the way to prepare to make that gift fully and authentically.
Kristine Mauss brings the TOB message to teens, RCIA classes, engaged couples and general audiences through her speaking ministry, Theology of the Body Northwest. “The Theology of the Body is truly life-changing and will draw hearts and souls closer to Christ and the Catholic Church,” she said. When people learn that sexual union is meant to be the body language of their wedding vows, bonding husband and wife as well as bringing forth new life, they understand that prohibitions against artificial birth control, premarital sex, pornography and other sexual sins are not so much a “No” to the body, but a “Yes” to its true meaning.
St. John Paul II said, “If we live according to the truth of our sexuality, we fulfill the very meaning and being of our existence.” Kristine elaborates: “If we understand and live who we are, as created in the image of God, we fulfill who we are as persons.”
When we reflect on our sexual differentiation and ponder its meaning, we discover not only the truth of ourselves, but also the truth about who God is. We discover our eternal destiny with him. As Kristine says, “God created the union of man and woman to image the union of the Trinity, to foreshadow our union with him in heaven.”
This is a high calling with the power to change the way men and women relate to one another. Learning to view the body as a gift heals the damaging view of the body as an object, which can leave men and women feeling empty and used. “TOB has the capability to transform lives and relationships in a way that can ultimately transform this world,” Kristine said. “I truly believe it will be at the forefront of a new springtime within the Catholic Church as we rediscover our call to love in and through the body.” What a gift indeed!
Pope John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body
Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners
Kristine Mauss, Theology of the Body Northwest (tobnw.org)