Tag Archives: theology of the body

3 powerful paragraphs on sexuality from Archbishop Nienstedt

September 5, 2013

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“Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gn 2:24)

Licensed under Creative Commons by charm2010

Licensed under Creative Commons by charm2010

Men and women are different on the inside and the out. There’s no doubt about it. We were made to interconnect and be interdependent.  This is the nuptial meaning of the body–the eternal mystery of self-giving love.

Christopher West, author of Theology of the Body for Beginners, says, “The whole reality of married life, of course, is a sacrament. But nowhere is the ‘great mystery’ more evident than when the two become ‘one flesh’.”

This union is a miracle really, which is all in God’s marvelous plan for life.

Cooperating with the Creator’s plan

As I read the August 29, 2013 edition of The Catholic Spirit I was in awe of the beautiful way Archbishop John Nienstedt explained the complimentary differences between husband and wife:

“A woman’s body is obviously made in such a way so as to welcome a man’s body, and his is made to respond in kind. Their unimpeded conjugal union is designed to be reproductive, bringing forth new human life that needs to be protected and nourished. The natural context for such a relationship is the life-long, mutually exclusive union of husband and wife in what has, until recently, been called ‘marriage.’

The woman’s body has both fertile and infertile cycles, so as to allow for human reproduction as well as human intimacy and pleasure. Programs of natural family planning teach a couple how to read the signs so as to gain knowledge of how they should respond. It takes much of the guess work out of conception. True, it also takes discipline, but that leads to self-knowledge and virtue.

Natural family planning is not a Catholic version of contraception. Far from it. It is a valued and valuable method by which the married couple cooperates with nature and its laws, all of which have been designed by God ‘from the beginning’.”

The purpose of life

Why is it so difficult for some people to understand this? It should be simple to comprehend. It’s elementary, my dear Watson! It’s biology. It’s the law of nature. It’s black and white. Yin and Yang. Married love. The physical manifestations of male and female.

We are not opposing forces. We interact to form a whole greater than either separate part.

What is the purpose of this beautiful reality?

Christopher West explains it this way (p. 29):

“If you are looking for the meaning of life, according to John Paul II, it’s impressed right in your body–in your sexuality! The purpose of life is to love as God loves, and this is what your body as a man or woman calls you to. Think of it this way: A man’s body doesn’t make sense by itself. Nor does a woman’s body. But seen in light of each other, sexual difference reveals the unmistakable plan of God that man and woman are meant to be a ‘gift’ to one another. Not only that, but their mutural gift (in normal course of events) leads to a ‘third’.”

Yes, life is a gift. Why not embrace it?

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God is found where these three elements meet

October 26, 2012

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Only in beauty is truth good, and goodness true. Photo/Temari 09 Licensed under Creative Commons

Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

If this were the title of an HBO miniseries I’m not sure it would be a hit. I wonder if many people would watch more than one episode of a show without crime, sex, lying or death.

Unfortunately, living in this Culture of Death we’re not attuned to fully recognize and appreciate truth, goodness and beauty, which are among the chief attributes of God. In fact, God can be found where these three qualities meet.

Called “God’s three great prophets in the human soul” by philosopher  Peter Kreeft, truth, goodness and beauty go way back in history to Judaism, Christian and Greek philosophy and pagan myth-makers. Dr. Kreeft writes:

 Beauty is known by the imagination; goodness, by conscience; and truth, by reason (in the large, ancient sense of wisdom, not just cleverness; understanding, not just calculation; reason, not just reasoning).

Closer to God

The more we seek truth, goodness and beauty in the Lord, the godlier we become. All that’s true, beautiful and good will grow if it is conformed to God, Pope Leo XIII wrote.

The three attributes have a lot to do with each other, as the Catechism points out:

 The practice of goodness is accompanied by spontaneous spiritual joy and moral beauty. Likewise, truth carries with it the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is beautiful in itself. (CCC2500)

According to speaker and author Christopher West, beauty can lead us to goodness and truth:

 As Pope Benedict XVI says, when we allow beauty to pierce our hearts, it awakens in us our deepest desires, our desire for the Infinite.  Beauty has the ability to seize our hearts and transform us from within.

That’s what West had in mind when he and others began developing Fill These Hearts: God, Sex and the Universal Longing, a performance revealing–through the beauty of art–truth and goodness about human sexuality as found in Bl. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Revealing Theology of the Body through Beauty

West, indie-folk band Mike Mangione and the Union and sand artist David Leiberg are bringing Fill These Hearts in spoken word, music and art to the University of St. Thomas’s O’Shaunessy Education Center auditorium in St. Paul, Minn., this Saturday night, Oct. 27.

The idea for the event, which is more theater than lecture, came out of Pope John Paul’s Letter to Artists and a desire to make Theology of the Body themes “contemplatively present in color, shape, and sound.” It is produced by the Cor Project, a team dedicated to sharing TOB.

Art can open us to beauty, which can “seize our hearts and transform us from within,” West said. “That’s our hope for this event in a nutshell, to lead people along the way of beauty.”

Beauty, truth and goodness are essentially Love in its full cosmic and personal meaning–which is the Glory of God, according to theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.  Only in beauty is truth good, and goodness true, he writes.

If you’re looking for something true, good and beautiful this Saturday night, HBO probably isn’t your best bet—there’s a boxing match on. But you’ll find in the unique sensory experience of  Fill These Hearts, the Lord in His truth, goodness and beauty.

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Why fruitfulness is an essential mark of marriage

July 17, 2012

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Whether you consider them fruit or vegetables, tomatoes are evidence of nature’s fruitfulness. Photo/Andrew Fogg (ndrwfgg on Flickr.com) Licensed under Creative Commons

Gardening becomes more fun in midsummer when the first produce appears. I like spotting the tiny cucumbers and watermelons, and watching the tomatoes turn red.

As important as fruitfulness is to the natural world, the Church teaches that it also is one of the two meanings of the conjugal act in marriage. According to the Catechism:

 The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.  (CCC 2363)

This idea of fruitfulness in marriage raises some interesting questions: What does the Church say is the essence of fruitfulness and how is it part of marriage? How do the body and soul interact when married couples have sex? Can a couple’s union still be fruitful when they’re not able to conceive a child?

Just as the vines in my garden produce fruit and vegetables,  the body can make present one tangible aspect of the fruitfulness of love–a new human being.  Bl. Pope John Paul II writes about how fruitfulness is part of the essence of the person in the Theology of the Body. The body can add a new dimension to the fruitfulness of spousal love,  in a way that the soul alone can’t.

Through their bodies, God allows married couples to participate in His creative action and possibly become parents.   The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes puts it this way: “…wishing to associate them in a special way in his own creative work, God blessed man and woman with the words: ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’”

The Trinity as model of fruitfulness

God didn’t tell Adam and Eve to do anything that the Persons of the Trinity weren’t also doing—though not in same way. Love, consisting of both union and fruitfulness, is the basis of Trinitarian life and also of our being, Pope John Paul writes. Union and fruitfulness are also necessary aspects of spousal love.

Couples reach the peak of both unity and fruitfulness during sex, which is the heart of spousal love, according to Maria Fedoryka, associate professor of philosophy at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla.  During the conjugal act the body and the soul intersect and communicate in a special way, she writes in her article, “The Family in the Theology of the Body.”  (2012. Manuscript submitted for publication.)  They expand each other’s capacity and each acquires a new dimension. The spirit gains something new because of its connection to the body, she writes.

Love is about superabundance. Because fruitfulness is at the core of love, the spousal union creatively overflows beyond itself—or else it’s not love. A couple’s love becomes a physical reality when they conceive a child.

Obviously, love doesn’t take this path with every conjugal act. Pope John Paul writes in Donum Vitae,  “Nevertheless marriage does not confer upon the spouses the right to have a child, but only the right to perform those natural acts which are per se ordered to procreation.”

Marital act is fruitful even if couple is infertile

In the “noble and worthy” marital act by which life is transmitted, Pope Paul VI states in his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, that an infertile couple always remains ordained toward expressing and consolidating their union. When couples can’t conceive or are not seeking to achieve pregnancy for a legitimate reason, they can express the fruitfulness of their conjugal act by serving others.

“In fact,” writes John Paul II, “every act of true love towards a human being bears witness to and perfects the spiritual fecundity of the family, since it is an act of obedience to the deep inner dynamism of love as self-giving to others.”

Clearly, to love means to be fruitful, but fruitfulness in marriage holds the potential for the most profound collaboration with God in the creation of new human life.

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Why men and women’s differences matter in marriage

June 27, 2012

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When Mark Twain wanted to highlight differences between the sexes, he filled in the creation story with the perspectives of the first man and first woman in his Diary of Adam and Eve:

Adam: The new creature says its name is Eve. That is all right, I have no objections. Says it is to call it by, when I want it to come. I said it was superfluous, then. The word evidently raised me in its respect; and indeed it is a large, good word and will bear repetition. It says it is not an It, it is She. This is probably doubtful; yet it is all one to me; what she is were nothing to me if she would but go by herself and not talk.

 Eve: This morning I told him my name, hoping it would interest him. But he did not care for it. It is strange. If he should tell me his name, I would care. I think it would be pleasanter in my ears than any other sound. He talks very little. Perhaps it is because he is not bright, and is sensitive about it and wishes to conceal it. It is such a pity that he should feel so, for brightness is nothing; it is in the heart that the values lie.

Twain’s account of the first married couple’s relationship comes out of his own study of human nature and because that nature is common to all of us, it’s not hard to imagine Adam and Eve having these thoughts. As he delves into the age-old topic of gender difference, Twain makes a good case for it being more than biological.

Besides anatomically, how exactly are men and women are different? Are those differences complementary? What does the Church say about how differences and complementarity affect a marital relationship? And in an age when divorce is common, can we believe in any kind of complementarity between men and women?

Complementary? How?

According to Bl. Pope John Paul II, a person’s gender is not an “attribute” but part of their essence.  As distinct as men and women are, they complement each other—not only biologically but individually, personally and spiritually, he writes in a Holy See position paper for the 1995 UN Conference on Women.

Dietrich von Hildebrand, a 20th century Catholic philosopher who influenced Pope John Paul, agreed that differences between men and women are not merely biological but are also metaphysical. They are two equal and complementary types of the spiritual person of the human species—two different expressions of human nature–with specific personality features, he writes in Man and Woman: Love and the Meaning of Intimacy.

Generally speaking, women have a unity of personality because their heart, intellect and temperament are more interwoven than those of men, according to von Hildebrand. Their inner and exterior lives come together in a “unity of style embracing the soul as well as the exterior demeanor.”

Men, he writes, have a specific capability to free themselves intellectually from the emotional sphere. They have their own particular creativity, and place somewhat greater importance on objective accomplishments.

These are characteristics common to many people, though not necessarily in the same proportion.

As different as men and women are, their complementarity runs just as deep, Pope John Paul writes in The Theology of the Body. Man and woman are two “reciprocally completing ways of ‘being a body’ and at the same time being human.” They are “two complementary dimensions of self-knowledge and self-determination and, at the same time, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body.”

This difference and complementarity is most evident in Our Lady and Christ, von Hildebrand writes in Marriage: Mystery of Faithful Love.

“Raising our glance to the Blessed Virgin, we see that she, who of all creatures is most like to Christ, could not possibly be imagined as anything but a woman, and that she, Queen of all Saints, is womanly in the highest and most sublime sense of the word.”

Is complementarity important in marriage?

The Catechism says it is:

Physical, moral and spiritual difference, and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.  (CCC2333)

Men and women are spiritually oriented toward, and created for each other, von Hildebrand writes. They have a mission for each other—to enrich each other and to give one another the positive influence of the opposite sex, he writes. This influence of their complementary natures reveals a tension—and spiritual fruitfulness.

Von Hildebrand continues, “because of their complementary difference, a much closer communion and more ultimate love is possible between them than between persons of the same sex.”

The complementarity is reciprocal, von Hildebrand writes.  Marital love, which involves each giving completely to the other and mysteriously grasping the other’s full personality despite obstacles, “can exist only between two types of the spiritual person, the male and the female, as only between them can this complementary character be found.”

From Gen. 2:23, where Adam realizes who Eve is, John Paul II concludes in the Theology of the Body that femininity in some way finds itself before masculinity and masculinity confirms itself through femininity. Each conjugal union of husband and wife is a new discovery of that masculinity and femininity, he writes.

Unfortunately, some couples see more difference than complementarity in their relationships but knowing how marriage can work when husband and wife recognize who they are in Christ, gives hope for more holy marriages in the future.

In the Spirit of Christ, writes Pope John Paul, men and women can find themselves by discovering the entire meaning of their masculinity and femininity and by being disposed to make a “sincere gift of self,” whether or not they’re called to marriage.

In his “ghostwriting” of Adam and Eve’s diary, Mark Twain makes Adam seem a little reticent but Gen. 2:23 records his amazement upon discovering the “helper” God has given him:

This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman …

 

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