SET FREE TO LOVE
Lives Changed by the Theology of the Body
By Marcel LeJeune
Servant Books, 2010
90 pages, $11.95
I read Pope John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility years ago and had a hard time with it. As one of the contributors to this book says, the late Pope’s style was circuitous, spiraling around the topic over and over again, using the terms of phenomenology, the philosophical approach he was trained in (as was St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known as Edith Stein), a philosophical method based on lived experience.
But one thing I remember learning from his book was that the only right and proper response to a person is love.
And the opposite of love of a person is to use a person, to treat them as a means to an end.
The problem, then, with the contemporary notion of sexuality, as expressed in popular culture, is that people use each other for pleasure and/or power. Men use women for pleasure, women use men with their power of giving pleasure, and the producers of demeaning books, TV shows, movies, advertisements and music use what should be a sacred giving between a man and woman as a means to make money. They sell sex, and we buy it.
All of the people in this book were, in one way or another, caught up in this trap of popular culture. Some are men who succumbed to the lures of pornography and sex for pleasure only; some are women who succumbed to the desire to be loved and thought giving away their bodies was the way to do so. One man writes of his desires for other men and how that never brought him happiness because, partly, it was more about fear of women than love of men.
Two chapters show how a nun’s and a priest’s vocations were deepened by the theology of the body. In one chapter a woman tells of her abortion and her subsequent healing; in another excerpt, a woman tells of the rescuing of her marriage through the total giving of self the Pope spoke of, one of his most compelling arguments against contraception.
A common thread in all these stories is how the theology of the body showed these men and women that sex is good and holy, that it reflects the giving of self that exists in the heart of the Trinity.
All of the personal stories are preceded by an excellent introduction by Marcel LeJeune, assistant director of campus ministry at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University. LeJeune gives a succinct and clear overview of the Pope’s ideas — and his own testimony.
“John Paul II teaches that ‘the body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible,’” LeJeune writes. “The body, in the sexual union of husband and wife, shows the inner working of God in the Trinity. This happens because marital love was intentionally created to reflect the divine love of God.”
In spite of some of the testimonies in the book being a little breathless in excitement, Set Free to Love shows how John Paul II’s theology can be incarnated, made flesh, in the lives of those who study it and live it out.
Franklin Freeman writes from Saco, Maine.