I’m so thankful to our former Pope John Paul II for leaving this legacy of the Theology of the Body, for opening the pipeline to allow us to embrace and not shun our sexuality. His work is a beacon for all religions to understand God’s plan for our bodies as good, holy, and eternal.
There may be some controversy about Christopher West’s interpretation and presentation of John Paul’s work, but I am also thankful for his easy-to-understand handling of the TOB. Perhaps it’s because I’m in the right generation, and some could argue I’m already desensitized to harsh language about the body, but I think he does a sensitive and marvelous job talking about a difficult and much-attacked subject.
Remember that I’m just paraphrasing and quoting from Christopher West’s video series that I studied with my Bible study. Anything in quotes but not cited is from the written booklet or my best notes on West’s presentation; I can’t take credit for the content at all.
In the last session, the focus was on the Sermon on the Mount – that lust has distorted our view of sexuality. Everyone experiences lust, men and women. We have to reclaim God’s original plan for our desires, not give into the disorder.
One disordered way that some experience lust is a man for another man or vice versa – “if there’s one thing we can say about homosexuality, it is ‘In the beginning, it was not so.’” Homosexuals are called to the same spirit of renewal of God’s plan, and to the chastity to which single heterosexuals are called.
Heaven is a Bodily Reality
“In the end, we will all reclaim our true sexuality in Heaven.”
“Many people have a disembodied or “spiritualistic” view of Heaven. They tend to see the body as a shell or even a prison from which they will finally (and happily) be liberated at death. This is Plato’s idea, not Christianity’s. In fact, this notion attacks the very foundations of Christianity.”
The Apostles’ Creed states: “I believe in…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”
“We will be human beings in Heaven!” We’re not going to grow or earn wings and become angels, we won’t be floaty see-through ghosts, we will be human beings, both spiritual and physical, as we are on Earth, yet perfected.
“Bodies are not ‘crude matter’” like Yoda calls us in The Empire Strikes Back. [Yes, here West appeals to the culture. And why not? It makes sense to people, it makes us laugh, it brings the analogy into clear relief. St. Paul used the cultural times to get his point across.] We are spiritualized matter. What happens when we separate our physical and spiritual bodies, like so many people seem to want to do to be “religious?” We die. The soul separated from the body means death. We can’t live a spiritual life away from our body.
What will the body be like in Heaven though? Clearly here on Earth many of us have imperfect bodies, we will die at various ages, and our earthy physical bodies will decay. How does that all translate after the resurrection?
Even the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus’s resurrected body. By that we learn that we will still have our bodies, but they will be different than now. How exactly, we don’t know, but “perfected” is one word that comes to mind.
Whether that means we’ll all be about the same age (some say 33 is the perfect age because that’s when Christ died, and others say Mary’s earthly body didn’t age beyond 33), we don’t know. We know we won’t have pain or disfigurement. Jesus was able to go through walls in His resurrected body, yet He still ate food and was able to be touched. Clearly a body, but different. It’s okay if we don’t know exactly what to expect; that’s not our place anyway. But we must have faith that Heaven will be perfect AND that our bodies will be there.
“’On no point does the Christian faith meet with more opposition than on the resurrection of the body.’ It is very commonly accepted that the life of the human person continues in a spiritual fashion after death. But how can we believe that this body, so clearly mortal, could rise to everlasting life?” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 996)
West claims that this teaching is even more controversial than women priests, abortion, contraception, etc. How can we believe it? Because Christ Himself rose bodily into Heaven, setting the example!
He told the story of a friend of his who lost her husband at a young age. As with any grieving person, well-meaning friends tried their best to find some comforting words. When she lamented that she hated to think of his body, the man who had laid beside her in bed for so many years, now lying in the ground, cold and decaying, friends counseled, “But that body is not your husband; he’s in a better place now.”
It gave her no comfort, because it’s full of empty truth. West affirms that the “decay of the body is an utter tragedy,” for certainly our bodies are an integral part of us. They can’t be shuffled aside as not important, or not part of us. In her grief, this new widow understood the bodily reality of our humanity.
One proof of the importance of the body can be inferred from the bodies of certain saints which do not decay, which are incorruptible, preserved from the stain of the Fall that caused the punishment of bodily decay. In the beginning, this too was not so.
“The truth about man’s destiny ‘cannot be understood as a state of the soul alone, separated (according to Plato, liberated) from the body, but must be understood as the definitively and perfectly “integrated” state of man brought by a [perfect] union of the soul with the body.’” (Theology of the Body, 66:6)
“When we fail to recognize the bodily aspect of Heaven, we attack the deepest foundation of our Faith.” Christ came in the flesh to REDEEM our flesh. We don’t need “Theology of the Soul” without the Theology of the Body, because the body is integrated with the soul. So Theology of the Body is a reflection of humanity, in total. It’s all based on Scripture – over 3000 Scripture citations in the TOB.
Christ Points us to the Future
“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (Matthew 22:30)
This verse is a key point of the Theology of the Body. It may seem to undermine what we’ve discussed so far, but the opposite is true. Will spouses be together in Heaven? West says yes. God doesn’t delete anything from our lives (for me, Katie, this is a great relief. I’ve never liked and never understood this part of Scripture…).
Instead, God completes what it in our earthly lives. Everything will be different, even the body, even marriage. Just as Jesus’s body was different and unrecognizable after the Resurrection, something will be different about marriage, but it will still be there, just fulfilled in union with Christ. Earthly marriages point to the Resurrection and union with God in Heaven (Rev. 19:7). We don’t need the marriages pointing the way once we’re there…because we’re already there and experiencing the fullness of what marriage demonstrates a mere imperfect image.
“In the resurrection, the sacrament will give way to the divine reality. This means the union of the sexes is NOT man’s be-all and end-all. It is an ‘icon.’ When we lose sight of our destiny, the icon inevitably becomes an idol.”
“Marriage and procreation do not definitively determine the original and fundamental meaning of being…a body, male and female. Marriage and procreation only give concrete reality to that meaning in the dimensions of history.” (TOB 69:4)
“The marriage of Genesis is simply preparing for the Marriage of Revelation. The marriage of man and woman cannot be our ultimate satisfaction.” It’s just our icon – to point to the mystery of Christ. If we think our spouse can give us ultimate satisfaction, we’re going to be disappointed, and it will probably negatively affect your marriage. The icon in our world has quickly become an idol – we don’t let it open the window to Christ, but we bow down to worship sexuality itself.
The Heavenly Experience of the Body
Divinization of the Body
Christianity does not “demonize” the body, as the accusation often goes. Demons demonize the body and blame it on Christianity. Christianity divinizes the body!
“Divinization means ‘participation in the inner life of God himself.’ In this state ‘penetration and permeation of what is essentially human by what is essentially divine will then reach its peak.’ Those who are united with Christ eternally will experience ‘God’s self-communication in his very divinity, not only to the soul, but to the whole of [their] psychosomatic subjectivity [soul-body personhood].’” (TOB 67:3)
“In the resurrection, we will fully participate in the divine nature as redeemed human persons.” (See 2 Peter 1:4) “What god is by nature (divine), we will become by a sheer gift of grace.”
Now slow down. Please don’t think that TOB, Blessed John Paul II, or Christopher West are making humans into gods. That’s a heresy. We participate in the divine life of Christ every time we consume Eucharist with our bodies, and we become one with Him. Saying that our bodies and divinized because of that is no greater leap, in my opinion (Katie’s) than evangelical Christians saying “Jesus is in my heart,” after they say the Sinner’s Prayer.
“The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature.’ …’For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 460)
What is the Gift (of grace, quoted above)? It is the call to participation in God’s own eternal exchange of love. The nature of God is to give the gift. The nature of human beings is to receive the gift. The nature of sin is to deny the gift. The nature of redemption is that the gift is revealed through the Body of Christ: “This is my body, given for you.” The nature of faith is to open humanity to the gift.
The Beatific Vision
The Beatific Vision refers to the eternal union with God (aka Heaven). “Beatific” means “total bliss.”
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
The original union of man and woman, which was naked without shame and face to face, is only a dim foreshadowing of the beatific vision. In the beatific vision, God will give himself totally to man, and we will respond with the total gift of ourselves to him. If we respond, we are filled and completed with the love of Christ.
Remember that Heaven is not a big sexual thing – what we experience here on earth is just a glimpse – another reason why marriage isn’t the perfection of human beings, just one choice among many. Singles aren’t excluded from this image of the beatific vision!
“In the resurrection, we discover – in [a heavenly] perspective – the same…’spousal’ meaning of the body…in the encounter with the mystery of the living god…face-t0-face.” (TOB 67:5)
To say the “spousal” meaning of the body, again, is in no way excluding those who do not have spouses here on earth. It is only saying that chiseled into our bodies is the call to holy communion with God, in which everyone is called to participate, both incompletely now on earth and fully once in Heaven.
“In the joys of their love [God gives spouses] here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1642)
West refers to pop culture, in which we often see that humans intrinsically understand what is stamped into our bodies, but we (the culture) don’t know how to express it properly. The song “Almost Paradise” (from Footloose, one of my favorite musicals in college!) demonstrates that we know earthly companionship is a foretaste of Heaven! It’s when we think that THIS is our ultimate fulfillment that we’re in trouble. Here’s why:
“The Church ‘longs to be united with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the the glory of Heaven’ where she ‘will rejoice one day with [her] Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1821)
We’re not just one-on-one in Heaven with God, but all together in the communion of saints, with each other.
The Communion of Saints
“There are many parts, yet one body.” (1 Cor. 12:20)
“The communion of saints is the definitive expression of the human call to communion. It is the unity in “one body” of all who respond to the wedding invitation of the Lamb.” (see Rev. 19)
“We will see all and be seen by all. We will know al and be known by all. And God will be “all in all.” (Eph. 1:23)
“We should think of the reality of the ‘other world’ in the categories of the rediscovery of a new, perfect subjectivity of each person [fulfillment of original solitude] and at the same time of the rediscovery of a new, perfect intersubjectivity of all [fulfillment of original unity].” This “means the true and definitive fulfillment of the ’spousal’ meaning of the body.” In this way, the resurrected reality “will become the source of the perfect realization of the ‘trinitarian order’ [the order of communion'] in the created world of persons.” (TOB 68:4)
Questions to Ponder
- We are called to live in community and communion – what do you do in daily life to live out this call? How do you use prayer to tap into the communion of saints, i.e. the “intersubjectivity of all” quoted above?
- Read Matthew 22:30. (“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” )What emotions are stirred in you when reading this verse? Does the idea that God doesn’t delete, but that marriage will simply be different in Heaven, change your perspective at all?
- West posits that when we lose sight of our destiny (i.e. communion with God in Heaven), we can make the sexual relationship (which is just the icon or “image” of the heavenly marriage to come) an idol that is worshipped. If this is true, how can this have an effect on marriage or even dating relationships?
- What does it mean to say that all the sexual confusion in the world today is the human desire for heaven gone beserk?
Originally published at Kitchen Stewardship.
Copyright 2012 Katie Kimball
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