Soon- to- be Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body has had a significant and lasting impact on my life. This puts me in a category of thousands whose hearts have been set on fire when they have read, studied, or heard someone speak about it. As a graduate of the Theology of the Body Institute’s Certification Program, recent years have afforded me the privilege of speaking and teaching in my own diocese. So when a call came through to speak to a parish’s Rosary Society, I gladly accepted.
“I must let you know,” the woman calling shared, “that the average age of two-thirds of our Society is 80. And, to be honest, many of them are struggling with feeling they have any purpose in life, and are discouraged.”
I admit, my first reaction was intrigue. Having spoken to many young people, engaged couples, married couples, and on retreats, I was comfortable bringing the themes of TOB that I have studied to my presentations to those age groups. But octogenarians? This was new mission field.
Coming to mind was my beautiful teacher, Christopher West saying in class, “If you have body, the Theology of the Body is for you.”
The aged certainly have bodies, and though TOB is often classified as a teaching about sex and marriage, the reality is that it is much more about all of life, and being a human person made in the image and likeness of God. It cannot and should not be limited to anything less than that. And so, encompassing all of life, TOB does indeed have much beauty to offer those in their twilight years.
The talk was named, “Exploring Your Purpose, and Knowing You’re Gift.” The body being a gift is one of the major themes of TOB. Initially, we begin to think of the talents we are given as our gifts to the world. Indeed the Gospels teach us not to bury these “gold coins”, but to multiply them for the Kingdom. As we age, however, our culture tends to discard persons who cannot maintain their former level of production. TOB teaches us that we cannot be defined only by what we can offer the world by way of “doing.” This is utilitarianism. Our lives have value simply in “being.” I wanted to encourage this group, that on a deeper level, “you are a gift.” You…. just being you…. is a gift.
How can they know have been a gift of self to others? Having lived the longest, and given the most, the aged have spent themselves in loving and being love. Necessarily they have acquired the most virtue and wisdom through these experiences. Relatives and friends alike admit having been enriched, by the lives of these holy men and women. Examples abound how through careers, raising families, work for the Church, and many other ways, the aged have contributed to the good of the world. One of the most profound gifts that we can offer back to them is to listen to their story…. to give them a chance to recount what they have done and be affirmed in their worth and dignity.
In addition, however, they continue to be gift even now. Lives of busy action turn to lives of prayer and suffering. More free time and stillness add to an atmosphere conducive to daily time with God. Mass and the rosary, adoration and Scripture reading literally uphold the lives of those they love who cannot spend this time in prayer. This time is given so as to sanctify themselves and those they love.
Secondly, uniting our crosses to Jesus’, makes us mysteriously part of redemption for the whole world. These sufferings take many forms: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Patient endurance of these difficulties has two-fold value. It is witness to the hope in the promise of eternal salvation, for we follow the way of Jesus from cross to resurrection. And secondly, it is redemptive. Souls are saved through the offerings of the many pains often accompanied in this aged time of sacrifice. Scripture confirms this is Colossians 1:24. “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body that is the Church.”
The invitations to the depths of TOB is exciting. It will take me too, through the aging process, and keep me in the hope of eternal joy.
Copyright 2013 Cynthia Costello