One Wednesday morning, everyone filled the streets of Rome to hear Pope John Paul 2′s weekly teaching. Week after week, the Pope took a deeper look at who we are as children of God, and God’s design for our sexuality. This theme continued throuhough the year. Four years later, the pope had completed his weekly teaching on sexuailty. These talks are compiled into the world’s most provocative love story: The Theology of the Body.
What Pope John Paul II has written has transformed the way Christians–and non-Christians–view sex. In it’s simplest form, the Theology of the Body breaks down into two basic questions: “Who are we?” and “How should we live?” Once we understand those questions, we have to answer God’s call.
Who Are We?
To answer this question, we have to go back to the Bible, to when we were created.
Look at Genesis 1. In the Creation account, we are told that humankind was created in the “Image and likeness of God, male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). Who we are, how we were made, what we look like–even naked–is in the image and likeness of God.
Christianity does not reject the body, or look at the body as bad. Look at the Catechism, #1015: “The flesh is the hinge of salvation. We believe in God who is creator of the flesh; we believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh, we believe in the resurrection of the flesh, the fulfillment of both the creation and the redemption of the flesh.”
The Catholic faith is a very physical, and even sensual religion. It is through the body, and the bodily senses that most Catholics experience the faith. The “stuff” of the material world allows us to more intimately encounter God: Baptizing with water, anointing the body with oil, eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ, the laying on of hands, confessing with our lips, and even the “one flesh” reality of marriage. It is in these “human” things, these “bodily” things that we encounter the divine mystery. Creation mirrors the creator.
Our bodies are NOT just vessels for our souls, but a way to understand and experience God.
How Should We Live?
We know that we are ALL created in the image and likeness of Christ. When you really believe that, you will see the dignity within each person, simply because they are. If you do not see this dignity, it is impossible to live right: loving others as God has loved us.
When you know you are created in the image and likeness of God, you realize that through you others can experience the Light of Christ. The foundation of every Christian teaching and every moral principal is LOVE. And not just love as we would understand it, but to love as God has loved. So to truly understand how we are to live, the Pope challenges us to look at how God LOVES.
Let’s look at it – what are all the ways the scriptures explain how God loves?
Artist and Art:
Look at Jeremiah 18 – Jeremiah’s vision of the potter and the clay, or 1 Peter 2:5 when Peter speaks about the whole church being a building and we are living stones. We are indeed a work of art, God’s art. The analogy can be drawn to greater depth by seeing ourselves as the “work” of His whole life, with which He will take endless trouble to perfect.
Shepherd and Sheep:
We are God’s peoplethe sheep of His pasture, He is the Good Shepherd, His sheep know His voice. These are just a few of the many passages in Scripture. This is a slightly better analogy than artwork, because we are capable of feelings and responses, unlike a piece of art. But still, it does not tell the full story of God’s love.
Father and Son:
The prayer that Jesus taught us – the Our Father, we now pray with the fervency of children. We are the children of God. He has adopted us. Look at Romans 8:15 and Ephesians 1:4-5 and 1 John 3:1. Then there is the Son, and His love for His Father. In Philippians 2, we read that through His obedience, we all become adopted sons and daughters of the Father. This is probably the most powerful analogy so far, but it too is not the strongest. In this one, we are still subject and obedient to God, as a son is to a father.
Husband and Wife:
And so here we come to the supreme example that the scriptures give us of God’s love, that of the love of husband and wife. Now, in the third millennium, our society’s view of love is so warped, it’s hard for us to believe God’s love for us could be anything like that. It is a scary analogy, full of danger and risks – but there it is, in the scriptures, all throughout the teachings of the Church.
- Jer 2:2, Ez 16:6-15: Israel’s false wife, and her heavenly husband
- James 4:4-5: St. James calls us adulteresses when we turn away, pursuing a friendship with the world.
- Eph 5:27: The Church is called the “bride” of Christ
- Matt 22: Heaven is called the eternal wedding feast
Because He uses spousal love as an image of His love for us, then let’s look at how the Church defines marital love. And the best way to look at that is to look at the marriage vows:
Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other? Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your life? Will you accept children lovingly from God?
Break this apart and you have four key requirements of the marriage vows:
- Free - Have you come here freely?
- Total - Have you come here without reservation?
- Faithful - Will you love and honor each other for the rest of your life?
- Fruitful - Will you accept children lovingly?
Living this out is tough, but worth it. When a couple shares love-free, total, faithful, and fruitful-they experience a deeper love of God.
Summary: What will you decide?
This makes sense for marriage, but what about the rest of the planet you aren’t married to?
We are called to love everyone (family, friends, enemieseven your school janitor) with this sacrificial, unconditional love. The foundation of every relationship has to be love, freely given, with no strings attached. Love that is total, with nothing held back, no reservation or self-protection. Love that is faithful, true to the other person, honoring them and their dignity as a human being. Love that is fruitful, giving life to the other person, never taking away.
Only when we understand that we are created in the likeness of God, and that God is love, are we able to understand sex at all. Because right now our view of sex-shaped by the world-is so WARPED. They tell us we can find satisfaction in earthly things, that we can quench all desires with acts of lust. But sex outside of a sacramental marriage-oral sex, masturbation, pornography, homosexuality, sex with animals, sex with apple pie- none of these can speak the language that our bodies were created to speak.
Let me wrap this up with a passage from Romans 12:
“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
It is up to you to discern the authentic from the counterfeit. What will you decide? How will your body reflect the image and likeness of God? How will God’s love for you effect your love for those around you?