This series on the Theology of the Body is simply my summary and reactions to West’s 8-part presentation via video and workbook on JPII’s Theology of the Body, 129 talks he gave during the first five years of his pontificate. I can’t take credit for any of it, but it’s amazing stuff. And it only gets better!
I had to sit down and share something from session seven with my husband, it is so incredible. Can’t WAIT to get to that one with you all!
A quick review on the first three parts of the series:
- Stamped in our bodies as male and female is the call to love as God loves.
- God is an eternal exchange of love, and we are destined to participate in that exchange.
- Naked without shame…but something went dreadfully wrong.
That “dreadfully wrong” is what we learn about today.
*Anything in quotes that is not otherwise credited is from Christopher West, either the text of the study guide or loosely transcribed from his talk.
The Fallen Experience of the Body
When they disobeyed God “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. …’I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Genesis 3:7, 10
The words of Adam “I was afraid, because I was naked…” go to the depths of human emotion; they also mark a real tragedy – that we have lost something of who we really are.
In original sin, eros is cut off from agape – God’s love dies in us, and our erotic love is left on its own and becomes disordered. “Sexual desire becomes inverted, self-seeking.” What’s crazy is that we so often think this is the way we want it!
How often do you hear people say, ‘Keep God out of my bedroom!‘ There is no love in the bedroom if God is kicked out,” just disorder. “We think God is down on sex because of a misguided notion that the spirit is good but the body is bad. Lust causes us almost to stoop back to the level of animals, yet we still know we are called to more – we are called to love.”
Our view of nakedness and sex got distorted. The analogy Christopher West used was to take a piece of paper and ask us to imagine that it was the most beautiful painting the world, and that it happened to be a painting of a human body. The stain of original sin and what we’ve allowed it to do in our culture basically crumpled the painting right up. Our reaction, especially through religion, has been to take the painting and toss it out (sex is now bad). That’s not right!
Two diverging viewpoints on the crumpled painting happened in the 50s:
- Hugh Heffner and Playboy: he and the pornographic revolution tried to cram the painting, still crumpled and distorted, in our faces as often and as closely as possible.
- Fr. Karol Wojtyla, who was to become Pope John Paul II, “began to unravel and repair the broken image and share it with us as a whole, beautiful gift.”
The truth is that our bodies are not shameful. Yes, we feel shame about our nakedness, but that is because of lust. Lust is shameful, and we cover our bodies not because they are so bad, but because they are so good. “Does the Church veil thing that are evil? No. It veils things that are HOLY.”
The good part of shame is that it protects others from sin and protects us from allowing our bodies to become an object for sexual use (from Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla). “We protect our bodies from lust with clothing! We don’t want to cause others to sin in a fallen world.”
Christ Came to Save Us
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28
“Should we fear the severity of Christ’s words (above), or rather have confidence in their power to save us? (Theology of the Body 43:7) Christ’s words are “an invitation to a pure way of looking at others, capable of respecting the spousal meaning of the body.” (Veritas Splendor, JP II’s encyclical letter)
West pointed out that the idea of never looking at anyone else, ever, is not the goal of our lives or our faith. The old practice of “keeping custody of the eyes and avoiding the occasion of sin” is a part of our journey, a practice in self-control. This time when we are working to obtain mastery over our senses, to be able to choose control and love over lust, is called the “purgative stage,” which moves into the “illuminative stage” when we start to see things in God’s light. “We lose the constant danger that we’ll be falling into sin.” We are not ruled by lust but filled with love.
Freedom from the Law and the “New Ethos”
If “you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law.” Galatians 5:18
Not under the law? What does that mean? If your heart is filled with God’s love, you don’t want to commit sin. A man does not have the desire to murder his wife, therefore he really doesn’t need the 5th commandment do not kill.
“When you are close to God, you no longer need the law. You don’t even desire to break it so you don’t need a reminder. We are only bitter toward God’s law when we have a desire to break it.”
(And yes, the whole room nodded heads with an “Mmmmm,” and wrote that quote down. How powerful! Consider it – children don’t mind rules they have no desire to break. Adults only complain about God’s law or Church “rules” or whatever when they don’t like them and want to break them! West pointed out that 99% of the time, it’s about sex. “No one says, “I can’t believe the Church tells us to feed the hungry! Rar!”)
“Ethos refers to our inner-world of values, what attracts and repulses us. If our hearts are apart from God’s law, Church law, we need to pray for a conversion of heart, not a change in the law!”
“Christian ethos is characterized by a transformation of the human person’s conscience and attitudes…such as to express and realize the value of the body and sex according to the Creator’s original plan.” Theology of the Body 45:3
The Redemption of the Body
We “groan inwardly as we wait for…the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:23
We are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:10
In the full context of the verses from Romans, St. Paul compares our spiritual redemption to a woman’s labor pains. Labor pain is awful, but the second the baby is born, everything changes. Everything is made new. The mother glows. She’s ready to do it again. She’s deeply in love with her baby.
It’s painful to give birth, just as it’s painful to be redeemed, but once accomplished, it’s amazing.
“Someone I was told, at the sight of a very beautiful body, felt impelled to glorify the Creator. The sight of it increased his love for God to the point of tears. Anyone who entertains such feelings in such circumstances is already risen…before the general resurrection.” (John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Assent, 15th step, 58, p. 168)
Points to Ponder
- How is life “in the bedroom” different when a couple invites God to the party vs. when they consciously (or through their sinful actions) kick Him out?
- Is it possible in our culture to uncrumple the painting and make it beautiful again, to redeem the holiness of man and woman?
- Are there any of God’s laws towards which you yourself are bitter and resentful?
- Why is it painful to be redeemed?
Originally published at Kitchen Stewardship.
Copyright 2011 Katie Kimball