Sunday, March 01, 2009

Competing with Playboy to Advertise the Better Body: Introduction to "Theology of the Body"

I am absolutely convinced that the Christian life is the ultimate life; it is the life of greatest meaning, of greatest happiness and of greatest joy. This ultimate life is not just "a spiritual thing" or "pie in the sky."

No, in fact, our very physical bodies (which are very good and will be resurrected) with all their cravings are most satisfied in the fullness of the Christian life. I don't think anyone has understood this in recent times more than Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II dedicated an enormous portion of his papacy to teaching the theology of the body. The first time I heard a lecture (two years ago now) dedicated to the theology of the body, I left in tears - this was not an emotional lecture, it was a lecture of theology! Never before had I encountered an idea, a theology that so deeply moved me.

As I have continued to learn and read more, I am left convinced that this theology is not only a tool of enlightening those who believe, but it is an incredible tool of evangelization. I teach in a high school with 3700 students, and it is plainly obvious that our culture has succombed to massive confusion regarding the cravings and hungers of the body. As I have gotten to know and treasure these students, and especially my female students, I have come to see and taste the reality of their pain, of an inner longing that runs so deep and often backfires to hurt them, just when they think their deepest longings have been satisfied. The beautiful reality is that what the Christian gospel has to offer is not just some rules to obey in order to avoid offending a distant and far-off God, but the answer to the very craving, not just of our souls, but of our bodies.

Our bodies are real and beautiful and good, the yearnings of our bodies are very real and beautiful and good. The church has a unique call to reclaim the advertisement of the body - to do a much, much, much better job of advertising the body than any Playboy magazine could ever do. Standing on this truth, during his papacy, Pope John Paul II ordered the removal of the loin cloths that had been painted in Puritan times on the naked bodies of Michelangelo's masterpiece at the Sistine Chapel. Why?

The naked body, completely unveiled and beheld in purity, speaks more to the purpose of our life on this earth than perhaps any other sacrament. Why?

The naked body reveals one of life's most blessed truths - we were not meant to be alone. We were made for a communion of love. The male body does not make sense alone. The female body does not make sense alone. Stamped into our very physical bodies, and into the deepest cravings of our heart, is the first major clue that the very meaning of life is to give ourselves away in love. This is where theology of the body begins.

As the season of lent is officially upon us, and as we anticipate Easter, I am dedicating a large portion of this blog space during the course of the these forty days to twelve important aspects of theology of the body. I will be summarizing and sharing from what I have found to be one of the best resources published by Ascension Press on this subject. What does this have to do with the season of lent? Just wait and see!

(And in case you are worried that this blog will become too risque, do not fear because modesty, in context, is one of the key components of theology of the body - stay tuned!)