Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Theology of the Body is a Theology of the Fullness of Love

While Blessed John Paul II, in his addresses on the Theology of the Body, spoke often of human sexuality, it is not so limited as to be a theology of sexuality. Rather, as Pope Benedict explains, it is more properly understood as a Theology of Love, which applies not only to sexuality, but the whole of understanding of who we are as human persons, beings made to love and be loved in fruitful communion in a multitude of relations, and especially with God.

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
On the Occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the Establishment of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family

May 13, 2011
. . . The new Blessed, John Paul II, who as we recall was the object of an assassination attempt 30 years ago today, entrusted to you for study, research and dissemination his "Catecheses on Human Love," with his profound reflections on the human body.

Conjugating the theology of the body with the theology of love to find the unity of man’s journey: This is the theme that I would like to indicate as the horizon of your work.

Shortly after the death of Michelangelo, Paolo Veronese was called before the Inquisition, accused of having painted inappropriate figures in depicting the Last Supper. The painter replied that there were nude bodies with little reverence even in the Sistine Chapel. The Inquisitor who came to the defense of Michelangelo made the famous reply: "Don't you know that there is nothing but spirit in those figures?"

As modern men, we find it difficult to understand these words because the body appears to us as inert matter, almost dead weight, compared to knowledge and freedom which pertain to the spirit.

But the bodies painted by Michelangelo are inhabited by light, life, splendor. He wished to show in this way that our bodies conceal a mystery: that the spirit manifests itself and works in the body. And that physical bodies are called to become spiritual bodies, as St. Paul says (1 Cor. 15:44).

We can therefore ask ourselves: Can this destiny of the body illuminate the stages of its own journey? If our body is called on to be spiritual, should its story not be that of an alliance between body and soul?

In fact, far from being opposed to the spirit, the body is the place where the spirit may dwell. In light of this, it is possible to understand that our bodies are not just inert, heavy matter, but that they speak, if we know how to listen, the language of true love.

The first word of this language is found in the creation of man. The body speaks to us of an origin that we did not confer on ourselves. "You knit me together in the womb of my mother," says the Psalmist to the Lord (Ps 139:13).

We can affirm that the body, in revealing the Origin to us, bears in itself a filial meaning because it reminds us of our generation, which is derived through our parents, who transmitted life to us, from God the Creator. Only when he acknowledges this Original Love that gave him life is man able to accept himself - only then can he reconcile himself with nature and with the world.

The creation of Adam was followed by that of Eve. Flesh, received from God, makes possible the union of love between man and woman, and thus, to transmit life. The bodies of Adam and Eve, before the Fall, appeared to be in perfect harmony. Their bodies had a language they did not create, an eros rooted in their nature which invited them to receive each other mutually, from the Creator, so that they could give reciprocally.

We understand then how, in love, man is "re-created." Incipit vita nuova (a new life begins), Dante wrote (Vita Nuova I,1), the life of the new union of two in one flesh.

The true fascination of sexuality is born from the grandeur of this horizon which opens: that of integral beauty, the universe of the other person and the "we" which is born from union, the hidden promise of communion, the new fruitfulness, the path which love opens towards God, the source of love. Union in one flesh thus becomes union with life so that man and woman also become one spirit. In this way, a path is opened in which the body teaches us the value of time, of the slow maturation in love.

In this light, the virtue of chastity receives a new meaning. It is not a "no" to the pleasures and joy of life, but the great "yes" to love as the profound communication between persons, which requires time and respect, as a journey together towards fullness, and as love which becomes capable of generating life and generously welcoming the new life which is born.

Of course, the body also has a negative language. It speaks to us of oppressing the other, of the desire to possess and to exploit. Nonetheless, we know that this language does not belong to God's original plan, but is a fruit of sin.

When the body is detached from its filial meaning, from its connection to the Creator, the body rebels against man, it loses its capacity for communion and becomes the ground for appropriating the other. Is this not perhaps the tragedy of sexuality today, which remains enclosed in the narrow confines of the body and the emotions, but which really can only fulfill itself in a call to something greater?

In this regard, John Paul II spoke of the humility of the body. A character in Paul Claudel’s play “The Satin Slipper” says to his lover: "I am incapable of fulfilling the promise that my body has made to you." And the response was, "The body is broken, but not the promise." (Day 3, Scene 13).

The power of this promise explains how the Fall is not the last word on the body in salvation history. God also offers man a way of redemption through the body, whose language is preserved in the family. If, after the Fall, Eve received the name "Mother of the living," this testifies that the power of sin has not succeeded in cancelling the original language of the body - the blessing of life that God continues to offer when man and woman unite to be one flesh.

The family - that is the place where the theology of the body and the theology of love intersect. Here one learns the goodness of the body, its witness of an origin in goodness, the experience of love that we receive from our parents. Here is lived the gift of self in one flesh, in the conjugal charity that joins the spouses. Here one experiences the fruitfulness of love, and life is interwoven with that of other generations. It is in the family where man discovers his relationality, not as an autonomous individual who is self-actualized, but as a child, spouse, parent, whose identity is based on being called to love, to receive it from others and give himself in love to others.

This path of creation finds its fullness in the Incarnation, with the coming of Christ. God took on a body - He revealed Himself in a body. Here the upward movement of the body is integrated into a more primordial movement - the humble movement of God who brings Himself down towards the body in order to elevate the human body toward Himself.

As the Son, He has received a filial body in gratitude and obedience to the Father. He then gave His body for us, to thereby generate the new body of the Church. The liturgy of the Ascension sings this story of the flesh, which was sinful in Adam, then assumed and redeemed in Christ. It is flesh that becomes increasingly full of light and the Spirit, full of God. Here appears the profundity of the theology of the body.

This, when read with the whole of Tradition, avoids the risk of superficiality and allows us to grasp the grandeur of the vocation to love, which is a call to communion of persons in two forms of life - virginity or matrimony.

Dear friends, your Institute was placed under the protection of Our Lady. Dante wrote words about Mary that are illuminating for a theology of the body: "In your womb, love is rekindled." (Paradiso XXXIII, 7). In her woman's body, that Love which generates the Church took flesh. May the Mother of the Lord continue to protect your journey and make fruitful your study and teaching in the service of the Church's mission for the family and society.

My Apostolic Blessing goes with you, which I impart with all my heart. Thank you.

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