Catholic Classroom: Theology of the Body
Today, we celebrate the feast day of a great saint of modern times: St. John Paul II. During his long papacy, St. John Paul II made his mark on the world and on the Church in several different ways. One of the most enduring is Theology of the Body (TOB), his teachings on the human person, love, and human sexuality. During his weekly general audiences from 1979 to 1984, St. John Paul II explained the Church’s rich views, teaching, and theology on these subjects, revealing a fully developed alternative to the sexual revolution, already established in Church teaching, that was rooted in beauty and truth.
Of the many truths St. John Paul II explained during his audiences, here are a few of the most important:
1. Love is a self-gift.
TOB explains that the Church understands love, including the marital act, as a gift of oneself. In authentic love, neither partner is viewed as an object to be used for pleasure. Rather, authentic love emphasizes a mutual respect between partners based on the truth of each one being made in the image and likeness of God. In a loving relationship rooted in God, spouses give totally of themselves and receive the gift of their spouse with complete trust in one another.
2. God gave us a picture of what love should look like.
The popular understanding of love and sexuality that is prevalent in the world today is a direct result of original sin. However, God did give us a picture of his plan for human love in the relationship between Adam and Eve before the fall. By rooting our own love in the self-giving love of Jesus, we can aim toward this ideal in which partners trust one another to make gifts of themselves, not to use the other for their own benefit.
3. Marriage prepares us for heaven.
It is important to remember that in the big picture, Jesus is the bridegroom, and the Church is his bride. God desires perfect unity with us, and the sacrament of marriage prepares us for and mirrors that union in so many ways. Not only does it image that mutual self-gift, but it also calls us to live in community rather than isolation, just as the Trinity exists as a relationship. In another depiction of this relationship, we can consider those who live as consecrated religious and already image eternal union with God.
4. We are body-soul beings.
As human beings, we are not simply our bodies, and we are not simply our souls. Our bodies and souls are inherently linked, and our very bodies, perfectly designed by God, reveal supernatural truths about our souls. For this reason, it is important to understand that our bodies are good. Our sexuality is a gift; our bodies are a gift; and when we order these toward God, we are fulfilling his plan.