Love Pt. 2: Human Life and the Theology of the Body

You are very good.

In case no one has ever told you that, I want you to know. No matter what your life experience has been, where you come from, what you’ve done or what has been done to you, what your disabilities are, what you believe, who you support, or who you love – you are very, very good. There is no one else who can fill your particular place in the world, no one who has been given the unique set of gifts and quirks you’ve been given, no one who can love in the uniquely personal way you can, and I am glad that you exist. Even if we’ve never met or if we have and you don’t like me, I am glad you are here on this earth.

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth’. God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them… God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good.

– Genesis 1:26-27, 31

John Paul II in his writings on the Theology of the Body (TOB), points out this passage from Genesis and dives into its profound depths. He examines this part in particular: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them”. Here in Genesis, man in the beginning is referred to as both male and female. “It is further significant that the first man (’āḏām), created from the ‘dust of the ground,’ is defined as ‘male’ (’îš) only after the creation of the first woman” (TOB, General Audience, October 10, 1979). So, in the beginning, in a very real if mystical way, man (male and female) was profoundly unified in God. This is the totality of the union we were created for. This is the destiny which awaites us in eternity. We were always meant to be one in Him.

Please, follow with me here. I know this may sound a little far out for those not familiar with TOB, but I promise you, there is powerful truth and radiant beauty here, if only we could be given the eyes to see it.

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“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8

As I mentioned last week, God is a union of Persons – Father, Son and Spirit. He desires to bring us into this unity, into Himself, but He also desires that we may be unified with one another, in communion as one Body. Just listen to the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John:

May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may always see the glory you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:21-24)

We were created in His image. In His image – His loving, unified image. Read that passage again. See how much he loves you!

The redemption of the body is closely connected with “the spousal meaning of the body.” In fact, the definitive redemption of the body is nothing other than the final and glorious realization of the spousal meaning of the body in the resurrection and beatific vision (see TOB 67–68). From the very beginning, the spousal meaning of the body is “sacramental.” It is a sign that manifests and communicates holiness (see TOB 19:3–6). It signifies the covenant between God and his people, between Christ and the Church, and ultimately the mystery of mysteries, namely, the communion between the divine Persons in the Trinity.

– John Paul II, Theology of the Body

God wants to wed humanity, to marry us, to consummate His love and be united to us for all eternity. This is why you were created. This is why, in Revelation, heaven is referred to as the wedding feast or marriage supper of the Lamb. It is an eternal celebration of this consummation, the marriage between Christ and His Bride, the Church. If you have been baptised into the Christian family (and for those who haven’t, we are waiting to welcome you with open arms), then you are this Church. She is made up of human persons, each destined for eternal union with Christ, the Bridegroom.

Now, let me clarify something before misconceptions arise. God is not a sexual being. When I talk about spousal union in the context of His relationship with us, I am not referring to a sexual union. When male and female unite in marriage as human persons, they are a sign of the spousal, generative love of the Trinity, but as Christopher West often says, human marriage, as beautiful and life-giving as it can be, only gives us “a little, little glimmer” of the union awaiting us in heaven. This union we will experience is infinitely deeper and more complete than human marriage. This is the great beauty and hope witnessed to us by those who have consecrated themselves totally to God here on earth through vows of celibacy or perpetual virginity – either in the priesthood, religious life, or the single life. These people are signs of this heavenly union awaiting us.

Both married and celibate life are two equal yet different signs of the love of God. This brings up the point I mentioned last week about the difference between chastity and celibacy. Those consecrated to God live out the virtue of chastity through celibacy, but we are all called to live chaste lives, that is, rightly ordered sexuality, whether married or not.

Everyone, regardless of his or her state in life, is called to the virtue of chastity. How many of us have heard admonitions to remain chaste until marriage? This, of course, is to equate chastity with abstinence. If we remain here, we will end with a terribly stilted and dangerously misguided understanding of chastity, not to mention marriage. This misguided understanding of chastity is dangerous because it sets up a very legalistic paradigm of repression and indulgence without training us in the ways of self-mastery and self-giving. Be chaste until marriage translates: I need to ‘cage’ the unicorn (eros) for now, but once I’m married I’m ‘allowed’ to open the cage. If this is our approach to chastity, get ready to be gored.

– Christopher West, Fill These Hearts (p. 134)

We must correct these misguided understandings which have wounded so many, so deeply.

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I don’t know if any of you have ever shared this frustration, but for a long time I was extremely annoyed/upset by the scripture passage where Jesus states that, “at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). What if I would rather be married than be like the angels?

I never understood the point of forming deep relationships here on earth, especially at the depth required in marriage, if we are all just going to love each other equally, as family, in heaven. But this line of thought was based on the assumption that the spousal love in marriage would somehow be lessened in heaven, to become equal to all other human relationships. This really didn’t make sense to me. Why would God, who, throughout scripture, is such an advocate for marriage – the union between one man and one woman in their totality of personhood – encourage the exclusivity and incredible commitment and effort of such a relationship in our earthly life, and then take it away as soon as we die? How could that be a good thing? It wasn’t until I heard Bishop Barron respond to a question about precisely this issue on one of the Word on Fire podcast episodes, that I finally heard an explanation that dispelled my former confusion/frustration…

— READ MORE —


[NOTE: This is the second in a 3 part series on love, life, and the body all grounded in St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Please check back next week for part 3. Click here to read part 1. This has also been written for the ministry I blog for called Project Illuminate.]

(All emphasis added to quotations is my own.)

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