Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

January 15, 2010

Re-Thinking TOB

In reply to Julian's recent post, I'd like to say a little something. Back a couple months ago, when I was taking my marriage prep classes, I wrote that I was so sick of hearing about the Theology of the Body. And I was. But I'm really not. I got sick of hearing those catch words like 'Self-donation,' and 'complementarity' without any serious reflection of what they mean for us in our lives. They sounded so flowery in our prep classes. And I'm sure the fault was my own. After all, who expects to have a step by step outline of how to implement this very complex and beautiful theology in life? That would be a bit reductionary, I think.

BUT YET - aren't we supposed to do this very thing?? Isn't that what our lives are all about - in any vocation? Everyone automatically thinks of marriage with the Theology of the Body, but the beauty of John Paul II's work is that it is not meant to apply only to married people and sexuality, but it is meant to apply to all people in every vocation. It is that - a theology of our bodies - as male and female. What does it mean that God created us as male and female in His image? What is the theology behind our physicality? Since we are all human - created as male and female, this applies to all. That is what I love about it. And I think my flaw here is that I began to think of it in a very cerebral way, forgetting the complex simplicity of John Paul II's work here to be lived in each and every human life. And Julian so eloquently reminds us of that:
JPII wrote it between 1979 and 1984, when some of the repercussions of the sexual revolution were really beginning to rear their ugly heads. But what kind of meditation do we need now in 2010? We are a few generations past this historical context, and are in need of an address about our sexuality that pertains to a hyper-sexualization of nearly every human activity in culture and daily life as well as an idealizing of human sexuality within the Church itself (or how some of the readers of the TOB are leading us to believe). My fear is that young Catholics are going to be again left disappointed in the theological but also practical use of their sexuality both before and within marriage. I don't really have the answer, other than to say that we could use some young theologians, alongside the "wisdom of our fathers" to seek the Truth today.
I think the answer for Julian is that we need not only a serious study of the TOB, but also a dedication of people living in a culture imbued by this ancient and new wisdom. And with respect to the Fathers of the Church - I could not help but think of our St. Augustine when he writes in the Confessions:
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
I believe Augustine's witness touches on the ever perennial questions that John Paul II seeks to refresh in his Theology of the Body. So let's plunge into it with them!


Paul said...

The ToB is just Theology. It seems like a lot of people want to elevate it over more fundamental Theology. We need a renewed interest in the Church Fathers, and also Scripture studies, and principles of Systematic Theology, and so on. JPII was using his addresses to give an urgently needed catechesis on the human person and sexuality, etc., not to launch a cult fad.

The other problem I see is that, as much as JPII's ToB is groundbreaking, it's also a lot of stuff that's nothing new. He's not the only authority on marriage, sexuality, etc. I get tired of the ToB mostly when people act like it's the be-all, end-all on the topic. Marriage has been with us since the beginning of creation and there have been countless holy marriage without the ToB.

Edith Magdalene said...

Hi Paul. I think you are right to a degree. Your sentiments express why I was probably getting so sick of hearing about it. It's not a fad, and it is theology - and, well, philosophy too, as a careful reading of the text shows JP II's reliance upon philosophy. I think Julian's original post (linked above) expresses just what you say - there is nothing new under the sun!

However, what makes is so accessible to a democratic culture is that holy marriages, sexuality, etc. speaks to us, to our culture, in our language, during our time of need. And I think that was deliberate. The risk is that the same democratic culture treats it like a fad. It's not. But it is something that should be absorbed, lived, and imbued within our culture.

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