Leading educators tell how the Theology of the Body inspires their work
St Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, his synthesis of the Church’s teaching on sexuality and how it relates to the whole Christian story and modern culture, has inspired Catholic leaders in Australia working in the fields of education, marriage and family, evangelisation and youth ministry.
In his biography of Pope John Paul II, George Weigel writes that the Theology of the Body is a ticking time bomb set to go off sometime in this century with “dramatic consequences”.
The Catholic Weekly spoke to several leaders in formation asking how the Theology of the Body informs their work and why they believe it has a place in Australia today.
Co-director of the Marriage Resource Centre Francine Pirola said St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is indispensable to the global apostolate in marriage and family she shares with her husband Byron.
“It’s a foundational philosophical and theological basis for all of our work,” she said.
“I see it as almost an umbrella theology that links across so many different domains. It has got a really strong scriptural base, it’s got moral theology, ecclesiology, sacramental theology…all of those things are integrated into one picture that takes in the design of the human person, created man and woman, that just makes the whole proposition of the Church in terms of the Redemption story really, really compelling.”
As well as being intellectually and spiritually nourishing, Francine says the Theology of the Body provides encouragement as they help to prevent divorce and keep families together wherever possible.
When marriages flourish, she says, it’s not only important for the emotional well-being of the individuals involved but speaks fundamentally to the credibility of God’s redemptive storyline in the world and thus aids the work of evangelisation.
TOB begins to unpack ‘incarnation’ as the source and key to our fundamental ‘identity’ questions. – Anna Khron
“How marriage fares in the world is really important because if marriages are falling apart all over the place, people don’t have any confidence in the feasibility of marriage as freely given, freely open to life, totally sexually exclusive and so on.
“How then can you speak to people about Christ who loves you with all the passion of a bridegroom on his wedding night, about God who wants to be reunited with you with the same or even more urgency?
“Today when there’s been so much doubt cast on the Church’s teaching and wisdom, including in the area of sexual morality, people who get into the Theology of the Body find that it just brings all those things into crystal sharp focus. It consolidates them in a way that you go, ‘Oh, my gosh, I now get why the Church has been teaching this. This is actually genuine life-giving wisdom.”
Educator and the convenor of Anima Women’s Network, Anna Krohn, said that Pope St John Paul II’s powerful reflections remain a constant gold mine and are an essential interpretative key in her own faith life as well as her writing, teaching and formation work with women, young adults and even with people of shared or other faiths.
“There is probably not a single week that goes by without my dog-eared hard-copy being brought out and mined for inspiration,” she said.
“One reason for this is that the great Polish pontiff realised that there was a long-standing crisis in both the Church and the secular world- that went far deeper than a loss of ‘Christian morality’ or practice.
“He saw it as a crisis about what people and societies believed or assumed about the meaning and implications of being an embodied and en-historied human creature.”
Mrs Krohn said the Theology of the Body offers explores how each human being shares much with wonders of ‘natural cosmos’; but is essentially personal.
“That means that it is made distinctly for loving relationships, for committed and hearty self-giving and intelligent ‘co-creation’ through God who became incarnated in order to find, invite and heal us into an ultimate and loving incorporation in the Blessed Trinity,” she said.
“TOB begins to unpack ‘incarnation’ as the source and key to our fundamental ‘identity’ questions.
“Many people today think of the Church’s life, moral teaching, liturgy and tradition as mystifying (and sometimes as intriguing) as the un-interpreted Egyptian hieroglyphics. John Paul II – the Master of TOB – has given us a ‘rosetta stone’ which assists us as we journey through the Christian and human quest for meaning – using Scripture, symbol, narrative as well as philosophy and engaging existential reflection.”
Adam Cooper, Associate Professor of Theology and Church History at Catholic Theological College in Melbourne and author of Holy Eros: A Liturgical Theology of the Body, said that Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body catechesis is a much under-utilised resource for priestly and pastoral formation.
“Critical caricatures of John Paul II’s moral teaching, aided by popularised versions of its doctrinal content, have promoted the perception that the Theology of the Body basically promotes an over-zealous concentration on sex and the body and a reinforcement of outdated moral codes at the expense of broader and more pressing moral concerns such as social justice, women’s rights, spiritual renewal, and the inculturation of the Church’s mission,” he said.
“However a deep and patient engagement with the actual text of the catecheses would reveal a profoundly Christ-centred biblical theology focussed on recovering the iconic dignity of human sexuality, affirming the fragile vulnerability in our relational desires, fostering hope in the experience of real sexual liberation through the power of the Holy Spirit, and concretely reorienting our bodily lives towards their glorious, God-given destiny.
“Given the rampant sexual and cultural confusion of our time, and the temptation for the Church to conform to liberal and woke ideologies, immersion in this neglected magisterial resource seems most valuable and urgent.”
Made for More in Sydney!
At the invitation of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation Dr Christopher West, the world’s most well-known teacher of the Saint John Paul II’s theology, will travel to Sydney in January before visiting Melbourne in a two-city tour.
The founder and president of the US-based Theology of the Body Institute will present the highly acclaimed Made for More event, along with musician Mike Mangione and Theology of the Body Institute’s Jason Clark.
The Made for More events in Sydney will be held at two locations on Friday, 20 January and Saturday 21 January 2023.
Watch the trailer and get your tickets at www.sydneycatholic.org/TOB/