Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Spirituality and Sexuality-Theology of the Body

Father John J. Lombardi

Do you ever notice within yourself an inclination toward oneness, union-with another person, and with God? Have you ever struggled with purity? Does the "dominant culture" in America promote an "eroticism" which inspires promiscuousness-seemingly turning humans into "masticating machines" of lust and selfishness? Do you sometimes sense an "original innocence" whereby your body and soul are in blissful-harmony, not divisiveness? Now read this description of Adam and Eve's original innocence: "This freedom (of love, not lust) lies at the basis of the nuptial meaning of the body. The human body, with its sexuality, masculinity and femininity seen in the very mystery of creation is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation…It includes right from the beginning the nuptial attribute-the capacities of expressing love…and fulfills the very meaning of his existence." Just who wrote that?...

The questions above have been addressed by our Church and, in specific, by Pope John Paul II in his "Theology of the Body"--which comes from a series of short talks he gave to general audiences (that means you and me-not just ivory-tower theologians!) between 1979-1981. If you weren't invited to the audiences. or haven't heard or read about this Theology of the Body, read on! You may find this spirituality enlightening (a God-designed-sexuality enhanced by selfless-love-without-lust); challenging (we human persons are mystical-temples of God, not machines to be abused sexually or selfishly); and liberating (physical sexuality and any kind of chaste relations with another person, are expressive of God's Original Intention: to give purely and thereby Unite with His Divine Will, versus enslaving to promiscuous practices promoted by a dominant sometimes diabolical culture). Theology of the Body is largely based upon three sources: Sacred Scripture (esp. Genesis, St Paul's Epistles and the Gospels); Sacred Tradition (thru Christ's Bride the Catholic Unity), and human experience. Many people think the Church and pope's don't "listen" to human experience. Not so-so read on!

What are the key ideas and beautiful teachings of Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body? Immediately following is an overview of this spirituality-which we may call the Ten Counsels of Theology of the Body--before delving into the specifics and some of the Pope's quotes…

1. Body Language: We can and should discover that there is a "language of the body" which "tells" us what it is for. Understanding and embracing this "language"-the body's intentionality--in giving, for example, thru proper sexual love, or thru discipleship-is key to living a full, embodied spirituality. "Male and female He (God) made them" (cf. Gn.1-3.).Our physical, external bodies are designed by God, for instance, to consummate with another person-male and female persons in the secure covenant of marital intimacy; single and celibate persons in chaste embrace. Our bodies also "speak" thru the internal-spiritual-mental longing for another person. In essence, our physical longing for another and our mental loneliness "be-speak" both an intentionality and eventual completeness. The hand and heart-physical and spiritual--were both designed to embrace another (person), and AnOther (God). Our bodies, then, are "signals" and sacramentals of God ("temples"- cf.I Cor.).

2. Communion of Persons: Being a person (and not just a machine or enlightened primate) means composition of body-and-soul and this means unity in the Trinity and with humanity. We persons are designed for union with the Three-Divine-Persons of God, both here on Earth and, hopefully, in Heaven thru the Glorified Body (a state of Original Grace, which we have unfortunately lost on Earth). Our hearts are ever-restless, too, until we find union with other human persons through holy relationships which are faithful to, and expressive of, the "language of the body". St Paul describes this union-amidst-diversity in the Mystical Body--"As a body is one, though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also is Christ" (I Cor. 12:12).

3. Fall Out-since Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Original Sin) man and woman are in a state of concupiscence--falleness, whereby our passions adversely affect us and cause sin, disturbance, promiscuity. This causes a "counterfeit language," for instance, whereby fornication promises a false sexual-union outside the safety and spirituality of marriage; contraception=making sensual lust an ultimate goal while blocking God's "inwardly-imprinted-sexual-language" of total-self-giving; and selfishness= stymieing the divine design of selfless-giving towards God and others-ie thru consumerism, avariciousness. All these are not only sins and evils, but, just as bad, they alter and alienate God's Purpose for us. St John says: "For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticements for the eyes and a pretentious life is not from the Father but is form the world" (I Jn. 2:15).

4. Search and Rescue: Amidst this bad-to-worse situation though, Christ came to Redeem our souls and bodies into a kind of Original Innocence and Harmony--forming a fully integrated person, out of one riveted by sensualism: "For the wages of sin is death, but the Gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rm. 6:23). Jesus loves us so much He wants us to not only be close to Adam and Eve in their blissful Original State in the Garden, but He also wants us to be like Himself-divinized, theandric: god-man-like.

5. Body Double: The body is not the enemy of Salvation-it can be good or bad. The flesh, rather, is the enemy-that part of ourselves which creates or cultivates sin, inordinate attachments to harmful things, persons or ways of living. We must, therefore, take serious our concupiscence (proneness to sin and promiscuity)while also avoiding a kind of "angelism" whereby we deny the body's original purpose and goodness-which mistreats our whole personhood as pure spirits without bodies.

6. ReCapture This Bliss: Jesus came bodily in the Incarnation to show us: a)what God originally made is good: b) that the Resurrection consists in the rising (ultimately) of body and soul, not just as spirit; c)There can be a kind of restoration to Original Innocence and equilibrium between spirit and body. In the Garden of Eden we have a "spiritual picture" of man's harmony with: the Lord, the world and even with Nature. All this has been lost and we can never re-gain it this side of Heaven, the Resurrection and Heaven, though, do re-capitulate this Original State!

7. Selfless Spirituality: The Nuptial Meaning of the body (big in JP II's thought) is the capacity of expressing love as gift and thereby fulfills man's being and existence. Nuptial meaning means a total self-donation - for spouses this means coupling without contraception; for single persons and celibates this means selfless spirituality. Jesus is the Original Embodiment of the Nuptial Giving-for He gave Himself totally to God, the Church (cf. Eph. 5) and us! We should imitate His Language.

8. Selfish Seeking wants only to give to take (ie. we falsely love to gain improper sexual relaitos), to grasp (Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden tried to grasp a God-like-ness without His grace.) We don't know exactly what the "apple" was, but we do know they were disobedient by a free choice against God's Will and language-intended Plan.

9.Liberation not Legalism: The way of Pope John Paul's theology of the Body is not one only of "following rules" or being straight jacketed by constraining customs, but one of observing, learning from and being liberated by the "natural laws' that God made the body-and-soul with, and ruggedly practicing these, even though difficult.

10. Mastery or Misery: the three states of life--single, celibate and spousal love-must all practice chastity, Confession, mortifications to overcome the misery-wretchedness (Rm 7) of being caught in grips of sensualism without the Lord's grace. We need the critical spiritual weapons of the Holy Eucharist, Confession, penances to overcome and master our fall from Original Innocence. It is only by the Grace derived from Sacraments and sacramentals that we are able to reach a state of peace of soul that God intended

Comments on points as listed corresponding above:

1. The "language of the body' is both expressive and indicative of the whole person as created by God. We are not just a body-to-be-used/abused--but a human person with a heart (will) and mind (intellect). These attributes-mind and will, head and heart-were in perfect equilibrium in Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden. Their "language" -even in nakedness, was beautiful and supernatural-a peaceful equilibrium, thru the integration of a whole person (physical-sexual-spiritual)-there was no lust or wrongful thinking. After Original Sin this "language" became alienated from them-and us. We need, then read and interpret this Original genetically-imprinted-God-language in Adam and Eve to promote a Union of Wills - ours and God's.

2. When Adam, in the Genesis account "woke up" Pope John Paul suggests this was an awakening to the masculinity and femininity, the divinely-designed sexuality of man and woman, and the desire for union where, previously, when Adam was by himself, there was solitude and loneliness. This is the human condition but it can become healed by a divine solution. This union between man and woman, for spouses, in marriage (cf. esp. the Song of Songs; St Jn. Ch. 17; the mystic St John of the Cross), for celibate and single persons, in selfless giving, is: indicative of the "marriage" between the soul and God and individuals with one another. We are designed for union and our bodies may help or hinder us. You make the choice.

3. The counterfeit language proposed by the world is overwhelming and we have all probably fallen for it. In the excellent book, "Covenant of Love" on the thought of Pope John Paul, authors Richard M Hogan and John M LeVoir write about our propensity to treat others as impersonal machines, thereby neglecting or rejecting the language of the body and the whole, human person: "For example the body can be the means of highs achieved through the use of alcohol or drugs. If the sexual organs are only machine parts, the owner of this machine has a right to use them for any purpose he/she wants. For example if an individual whishes to use his sexual devices to achieve a sexual high, eg. masturbation,, it is his/her right to do so. Further, owners can alter machines at will. If a body is a machine which is owned, it can be changed. Thus tubal ligations, vasectomies, and contraception are justifiable. The body as a thing, as property, could be bought and souls-ie., thru pornography or prostitution (or slavery). New biological machines ie., babies could be made in any feasible way (test tubes). Further, if the body is a machine, then in any physical contact between two human bodies two machines touch, not persons .The bodily union between husband and wife would be indistinguishable from the contact of two robots…"

4. When Pope John Paul spoke of the necessity of the Church to "breathe with both lungs" -he meant not only meant thru the "law-enlightening" West, but also thru the Mystical Eastern Church, which emphasizes the divinization of the body-soul by God's redeeming and healing transformation of the human person. In other words, we need both the Western lung of Liberating Law and the Eastern Lung of Divinizing Love in being rescued from sin and alienation.

5.The old error of spiritual persons is angleism, the new error of modernism is the direct opposite-sensualism-misusing/overusing the body as machine or lust-infected-fatalism whereby we falsely think we must give in to illicit sexuality thru fornication, adultery, contraception, homosexual relations: all are "counterfeit languages" of the body and are harmful.

6. In the Church's singing of the Exultet at the Easter Vigil-paradoxically we hear "O happy fault" (of Adam) whereby we not only come out of the waters of baptism anew but partake of the divinity of Christ-body and soul. Thus, by this "fault' the God-Man came to make us men God-like. It is impossible for the sin humankind to stop God's redeeming and divinizing love. "Where sin increased grace overflowed" (Rm. 5:20) and Grace = Divine Life thru, with and in God-the-Trinity! So: pray for Grace-sanctifying grace to embrace God-within, and actual graces to overcome particular sins/situations. The Lord Jesus in becoming God-Man redeems the whole person and total meaning of n individual's life-incl. his/her sexuality!

7. Far from being a negative, the Nuptial Meaning of the Body implies the giving of the entire self-body-soul (our personhood) of the man and wife in marital unity (a gift and charism). This spiritual-sexual-Nuptial Love is free (not coerced or abusive), total (no holds barred-ie. contraception) , faithful (to one covenanted marital love to exclusion of all others) and fruitful (procreation and union). Review these descriptions and see how you can be liberated and saturated by God's Love to be faithful in any kind of loving situation. Sexual love is only authentic to degree it images God's love

8. Selfish Seeking means we want to use other individuals not as persons but as objects. We are selfish-seeking when we do not "read the language of others' needs" and help them. We are selfish seeking when we do not pray, which is, ultimately the language of the Soul seeking union with God.

9. Liberation and sexual freedom will come by obeying the Lord's Commandments, which are like a "loud barking of Truth" within our souls and conscience. They are difficult at first but then they become more "natural". No pain no gain. St Augustine described the process of the Liberation from Legalism: "Love and do what you will." When we love God and neighbor in the proper language and intent, then we will form the habit to spontaneously follow and extend Him. We will be able to " hink without thinking" and love without legalism. Pray for this grace!

10. Practice an intentional spiritual life - heroically.

Pope John Paul writes: "In its origin, this fulfillment is beatifying. It is certainly implicit in man's original happiness, and constitutes that happiness which belongs to the mystery of creation effected by love, which belongs to the essence of creative giving".

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi