This blog has been on holiday for a few weeks, recovering from the trip to Philadelphia. If you weren’t able to follow my Philly blog, you can still read it by clicking here.
The Top 3 Things I learned from the World Meeting of Families and the Papal visit:
- Our beloved Church is alive and well; thriving, even, in spite of everything.
- Catholic families living the truth of the body have joy and an exuberant zest for life.
- The Church united in liturgy, prayer and intention is indescribably lovely.
The theology of the body was implicit or explicit in every talk I heard in Philadelphia, from Pope Francis on down to the smallest breakout session. Although I have heard concerns that the present Synod of Bishops is not thinking more clearly in terms of the theology of the body, TOB has permeated the Church deeply enough that laypeople may know it better than some of the clergy do.
So it’s more important than ever that we be able to explain TOB in a lucid, convincing way. Back to our elevator pitch!
In the last post, we established that the human body has a structural design by which its purpose can be discovered, specifically, that our masculinity and femininity reveal that we were made to be gifts to one another. Our complementarity is written into our very bodies.
Furthermore, the community life of marriage, especially the one-flesh union, is a sign reflecting the inner communion of the Trinity: the Father giving himself to the Son, the Son receiving and returning Himself to the Father in an everlasting symphony of love whom we call the Holy Spirit.
In a sacramental marriage, the husband gives himself fully to his wife, who fully receives and returns his love, and their love yields the fruit of a family. The Divine Trinity is infinite, eternal, unfathomable love; the spousal relationship is a finite sign of that love.
It’s not the sexual act itself that is the sign. Sex as recreation, sex as exploitation, sex as manipulation… none of those things image the inner life of the Trinity!
What images God is the free, full, faithful, fruitful union of spouses who give all of themselves to each other, holding nothing back: not their fertility, bank account, future, nothing!
This radically complete union between man and woman is rare nowadays. It’s tragic that couples are missing out on the fullness of God’s plan for human love (and something TOBET is addressing with our Theology of the Body Marriage Preparation Program.)
When we see a free, full, faithful, fruitful marriage, we are seeing a true reflection, though a faint one, of the inner life of God.
Such a marriage also reflects the sacrificial love of Jesus for His Church. It shows us that Christ’s love for us is real, that sacrifice and redemption are real. In other words, it’s a sign, pointing us to a reality that has been obscured. And we long for it.
Some of the most beloved movies of our time, according to polls, are Casablanca, Shawshank Redemption, and Lord of the Rings. Why? Why are they watched over and over, some for many generations? They all have a common theme: a person who gives himself up for those he loves.
Humphrey Bogart persuades the love of his life to get on that plane, never to see her again.
Tim Robbins plays the operatic aria over the loudspeakers to give the inmates some memory of their humanity, and gets a long dose of solitary confinement for it.
Sam, at the extreme end of his endurance, with his last ounce of life and no thought for himself, carries Frodo up Mt. Doom.
The sacrifice of one person for another is the high point in all three films. That’s what pierces our hearts and makes us weep and sends us back to those movies again and again. The beauty of a total gift of self.
It’s what we’re made for. It’s what we long for. And it’s what we don’t get near enough of, in our modern world.
A free, full, faithful, fruitful marriage shows the world that kind of love exists.
So, you ask, what about unmarried people?
First of all, we can see by our bodies, by our masculinity and femininity, that we are made to be gifts. That’s an unchanging constant, written into our very DNA, whether married or not.
With that as a starting point, let’s consider some of the reasons a person might not marry.
First, there are those who are called to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom…. priests, nuns, monks and lay people consecrated specifically to the Church. This vocation is, in a real sense, like a marriage because the person vows him or herself as a full, free, faithful, fruitful gift to God through His Church.
Lifelong virginity is considered by many cultures to be an exalted state, as is it for Catholics who have been called to the consecrated life. It’s not the loss of something; it’s a gain. Buddhist monks know that, Catholic priests know it, Hildegard of Bingen and the Dalai Lama and Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa and myriads of other spiritual masters through the centuries knew it.
It’s only recently that somehow people have come to believe that they must have sex at any cost, that life is impossible without it. That was never true and it’s not true now.
Apart from consecrated life, people may be unmarried because:
- they haven’t met the right person yet, but would like to marry when they do.
- they experience same-sex attraction and have made the heroic decision to live chastely.
- they bear scars from sad experiences that make them unable to experience peace in marriage.
These states of single life are not ideal because they don’t involve the vowed commitment of one’s self. However, they can be noble reasons to remain single, and those persons can still be signs of sacrificial love. For a Christian, all real love is sacrificial. If we’re not willing to sacrifice, then love will only last for as long as it’s convenient. And that’s just what we see all around us… boneyards of dead love.
In a culture that believes sex is a universal “right” and something that everyone must have, a single person leading a chaste life is one powerful sign! It means that their sexuality is reserved. Not repressed, but reserved. Reserved because it’s intended for something grand, and refuses to settle for anything less.
We want to be signs that God is real, and that sacrificial love is possible, that the classic movies make us cry because they are true in terms of the human person and what we are called to be…“signs of the cross,” witnesses that lasting, self-giving love is real.
Our elevator pitch now consists of these points:
- TOB is great news because it answers the deepest desires of the human heart.
- The soul and body are one.
- The body speaks a language that tells about the inner life of the person.
- The language of masculinity and femininity tells us that we are designed to be gifts to one another.
- When the union of spouses is fully self-giving and fruitful, the union reflects the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
- We are signs to the world of the faithful love of God when we live the truth of the body in our particular state of life.