43 years ago this week, Pope St. John Paul delivered the very first audience of his Theology of the Body (TOB), his greatest contribution to our Church and our culture.
Having soaked it in for over 23 years, I am convinced that this man saw the trajectory of what he called “detachment.” His use of the word detachment means thinking the body does not matter. For the past few months, I have given numerous Educating the Educator trainings for faculty and catechists, and one of the main things I try to convey to them is that they need to speak about the body and its meaning to children and youth, so as to counter detachment. I will say the same thing in person at conferences in Tulsa, Denver, San Diego, Orange County, Oklahoma City, just like I said last night to teachers in the Philippines online.
Instead of merely directing your 7 th grader to stop playing video games past his allotted time, say, “Joe, your body matters—that means you need to bring your body into the living room and talk with everyBODY: your parents, brothers, and sisters.”
Instead of saying to your 16-year-old son, “You want to go out with Martha? Nope, you are too young,” use it as a way to chat about the truth of the body and sexuality. “Tom, it’s great that you are attracted to Martha. Did you know God invented sexual desire? The body is teaching you through sexual desire that you are meant to be a gift. Sexual desire is meant to propel us to date, get engaged, get married, and have a family. The male body and female body are directed toward each other—that’s another way God made the body to communicate to us we are meant to be gifts. But, Tom, don’t forget what you learned by reading The Body Matters when you were younger!” (Sorry for my unabashed advertisement!). “You learned the opposite of love is use, and in the sexual realm, it is called lust. Check the inner movements of your heart to see if you are really seeking her good and your good, moving toward a true friendship, the basis of a strong marriage. And remember that certain bodily actions mean certain things—sex means, ‘I’m married to you, and I am open to having children with you.’ Since you are not old enough to make that vow, instead you can work on getting to know her through building a healthy friendship and by learning to have fun together: you may enjoy going to the movies, taking walks, enjoying a sunset, cooking, and hanging out with your other friends together. And Tom, don’t forget that your mom and I are here for you. We want to keep talking to you about the God-given truth of the body. Your future is counting on it.”
St. John Paul knew what he was doing when he called his work the “Theology of the Body” (not the Theology “of the person,” or “of the family,” or “of sex.”), for he knew the BODY matters… eternally. Thank you, St. John Paul for taking the Incarnation so seriously and applying it to our lives. Pray for us.