It was originally uttered by Cardinal George as a wake-up call to the dangers of an entirely secular culture, “divorced from the God who created and redeemed it.” It’s been repeated countless times and we have even begun to make dark jokes about sending messages to each other through our prison cell walls. Just yesterday, I heard a talk on Catholic radio that referred to the coming bloodshed as an assumed fact.
I admit that I first heard the quote with a sense of relief, even excitement. It seemed like the answer to the hundreds of times we’d exclaimed, “How long, O Lord?” while privileged college kids sped by Planned Parenthood, yelling obscenities at those gathered for prayer, or while radical feminists who’d sold out their gender pelted good men with filth, or while the ruling regime penalized religious organizations for following their consciences, formed in the Faith.
Something inside me leapt! An end to the acedia, that hypnotic inertia that keeps the world quiet and docile in the face of the most egregious injustices. It took me a while to realize that the price of fetching up the dying frog from the boiling pot would be uglier than imagined.
Each day the Magnificat prayerbook includes a sketch of a saint; many are martyrs, from all centuries and places: Africa, Japan, Europe, North America, Mexico. Their biographies sometimes give just enough detail to make your gut clench. A Jesuit missionary flayed alive and burned. A British mother crushed to death while pregnant. A German man drowned in feces.
It is details like those that give me pause. Not only because I am a physical coward, but just think what has to go on in a culture to make such things possible. These martyrdoms were carried out by a ruling class or party, not underground thugs out of sight of Officialdom. That means the culture has to sink a great distance, has to harden countless hearts, before such things even become conceivable.
Have we sunk that low? Some days, I fear we have. But I am more and more convinced that now is the time to kick up the fight, not accede it. I think this is precisely why we are in the middle of a Jubilee Year of Mercy. The people who make this world untenable are the very ones most in need of the arms of Mother Church, of God’s tender mercy, of the welcoming communion of saints.
Steve Ray says if enough of us swim hard enough against the tide, we can change its direction. So let’s paddle harder! An age of martyrdom will be an unbelievably barbaric time. I think we can still avert that, at least in the United States, and I think that’s what God calls us to do.
There are already “white martyrdoms” in our midst… prayer warriors at the abortion sites, college professors who stand true under heavy opposition, companies who mount a legal fight to maintain conscience rights and religious liberty, those who spend nights in jail and incur legal costs to uphold order over the culture’s temporary insanity. It may be those people who are holding back the full consequences of the evil in our world. Let’s join them and help them hold back the flood.
One of our best offensive games is the theology of the body. The essence of TOB is joy, truth, love, happiness, communion, and fruitfulness. It’s all the good stuff! The Devil in the Big City has none of these things. He can only be effective through hopelessness, despair, bitterness, ruin, and revenge. He’s got the bad stuff, and the bad stuff isn’t attractive.
All around me, I see young people who learned about theology of the body in their teens or twenties, who marry others turned on to the theology of the body. They live bathed in the light of truth, not without struggles but always with joy in the journey, and they give birth to children who will themselves grow up in love and respect. In fact, just yesterday, another of our TOBET young married couples gave birth to their first child.
One generation can change a culture.
Friday night, I went to Stations of the Cross at a local parish. They observed the Stations the old-fashioned way, following the priest from one physical station to the next, circumnavigating the church. There were perhaps 3 times as many young children as adults in the crowd, by a casual eyeballing. The little ones crowded the priest so closely, he could barely genuflect without accidentally kicking one. They just seemed to have a sense that this tall man with the cross, who spoke so solemnly about this dear Jesus, was someone they wanted to embrace.
Now, I have no idea whether any of the parents of these children had been formed in the theology of the body… but my guess is: they had. First of all, they’re having children, and more than one. Second, they’re bringing their children to church on a Friday night. Third, those children have an innate sense of what’s holy.
It’s an example of what can be achieved on a very small scale, that will impact the world.
None of these children were grudging; they were wholly engrossed, body and soul. But the culture tells us that kids are lost, that we should pander to their worst potentialities and focus our efforts on minimizing the damage. That’s a profoundly negative message, and negative is not converting.
Theology of the body teaches us the truth about human life and love that is, by its very nature, overwhelmingly positive. When we understand why and how we are like God, what we have been created to do and be, that we are beloved children of the great God who makes galaxies and elephants and DNA, and that the deepest desires of our hearts were made to be fulfilled, not frustrated… then there is no negativity that can ultimately take us down.
Learn about the theology of the body. Talk about it with your loved ones. Teach it to your children. Live it with your spouse. Look for the bibliography at the end of this post for more resources.
If the age of martyrdom comes, then I pray the Church will be ready, but with Aragorn, I believe it is not yet time. Let’s fight, and let’s use one of the great gifts God has given us for this time… the theology of the body.
“A day may come when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day!
This day we fight!
By all that you hold dear on this good Earth,
I bid you stand, Men of the West!”
Theology of the Body (TOB) Bibliography, with annotations
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body; Pope John Paul II; Michael Waldstein, editor and translator. (Pauline Books and Media, 2006. )
The authoritative translation of the original Wednesday audience talks (known as The Theology of the Body), plus several undelivered teachings. Many readers find this text impossibly dense and difficult to understand without a degree in philosophy, which is why the papal biographer George Weigel called for “a secondary literature capable of translating John Paul’s thought into accessible categories and vocabulary.” Some secondary sources are suggested below.
Love and Responsibility; Wojtyla, Karol. (Ignatius Press, 1981)
Originally published in 1960, this work could be called a prequel to the theology of the body. In it, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (Pope Saint John Paul) lays out a Catholic philosophical understanding of the whole human person in contrast to the utilitarian view and the implications it has for marriage and family life. Perhaps marginally more readable than Man and Woman He Created Them, but still quite challenging.
Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Anderson, Carl and Fr. José Granados. (Doubleday, 2009)
Anderson, chairman and CEO of the Knights of Columbus and instructor at the Pontifical Institute of Marriage and Family Studies and Fr. Granados, professor of patrology and theology at the Catholic University of America, have authored a profound yet accessible introduction to TOB, weaving in other works of St. John Paul, such as his plays and poems, for a more integrated view. Called “a joy to read” by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.
Men and Women are from Eden: A Study Guide to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Healy, Mary. (Servant Publishing, 2005)
Very readable summary of TOB, following the chronology of the original audiences. Dr. Healy is associate professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Her wide teaching experience is evident in the way the book takes the density of TOB and makes it immediate and understandable.
The Theology of the Body in John Paul II: What it Means, Why it Matters. Hogan, Richard. (The Word Among Us, 2012)
This volume is theologically “meatier” than others on this list, but is nevertheless very readable, even for the beginner. It’s comprehensive enough not to short-change the brilliance of JPII’s work and can function well as a side commentary if you were to tackle Man and Woman He Created Them.
The Theology of the Body in Context. May, William. (Pauline Books and Media, 2010)
Another theologically “meaty” work, this book puts TOB in the context of St. John Paul’s other teachings on the family, specifically Love and Responsibility and his two encyclicals on the Christian family in the modern world (Familiaris Consortio) and the dignity and vocation of women (Mulieris Dignitatem.)
The Theology of the Body: A Simplified Version and Love and Responsibility: A Simplified Version. Walsh, Msgr. Vincent. (Key of David Publications, 2001)
If you’re going to tackle St. John Paul’s primary texts, these are good volumes to keep alongside. They are keyed to the original texts and contain brief summaries of each part. They would function well as an introduction to each part, or as a review.
The Theology of the Body for Beginners: A Basic Introduction to Pope John Paul II’s Sexual Revolution, Revised Edition. West, Christopher. (Ascension Press, 2009)
This book is a much-simplified overview in only 151 pages. It can serve as an introduction and as a book to give others who are brand-new to the theology of the body. If you are trying to explain TOB to friends and family and need help getting to the gist of it quickly, this book can help.
Theology of the Body Explained. West, Christopher. (Pauline Books and Media, 2003)
This is a thick volume (650 pages) and a good intermediate source if you are serious about investing your time in the theology of the body but are not yet ready to undertake St. John Paul’s original talks. It’s a full, yet comprehensible instruction on the primary text.
These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body. Stimpson, Emily. (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2013)
Once you have been well introduced to the theology of the body, you may begin to wonder how it applies to everything the body does besides marital relations. This book explores the implications of TOB for such everyday matters as leisure and exercise, food and dress, liturgy and technology. Very readable, enlivened with stories and exciting in the way it applies TOB to the “rest of our lives.”
This is by no means an exhaustive reading list. As study and understanding of theology of the body grows, new works are being published, recorded and made available. The above represent some of the “tried and true” resources we have found. The annotations are personal opinion.
Sheryl Collmer. M.T.S is the Director of Outreach for TOBET. She lives, works, runs, and hopes in north Texas.