Is it possible to believe in love?
To our culture, love seems funny, interesting, desirable, maybe necessary … but certainly not trustworthy. It does not seem to be solid and lasting enough so that one can build one’s entire life on it.
Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body is precisely an attempt to show that we can believe in love (1 John 4:16), that love is strong enough to provide an explanation for the whole of our life: our origin, our identity and our destiny.
Three points are crucial to understand John Paul II’s vision.
Christ reveals the dignity of the body and the truth of love.
Central to John Paul II’s teaching is a paragraph from the Second Vatican Council: “Christ, the last Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et Spes 22).
It is Christ who tells us our true name, the truth of our origin, our path and our call. To believe in Christ is to believe in the strength of love, for he has loved us to the end; it is to discover that the human being is someone surrounded by the Father’s love, who calls him to love in return; it is to understand that the body is able to contain and to express God’s love for the human person. The theology of the body starts with wonder before the great audacity of God who, in his love for us, has assumed a body and has made himself vulnerable, in order to become our brother, love us to the end and bring us salvation.
As the Church father St. Gregory of Nazianzen put it: “Because of him who has brought forward this union of the Incarnation, I must embrace the body as a friend.”
The body speaks the language of love.
Why is the body so crucial for the understanding of our life? The body is not important in itself, but in its service to the truth of love, which gives meaning to our existence. The body, when accepted as part of our identity, and not as a mere object and instrument, tells us that we are not autonomous and isolated beings. First, in the body we understand that we have been born into the world, and this means that we don’t have in ourselves the secret of our origin: We come from another; we come ultimately from God, who fashioned our bodies in our mothers’ wombs.
In our bodies, in their sexual difference as masculine or feminine, man and woman discover a call to love each other, the possibility of sharing a common world by becoming one flesh. In their bodies, two parents experience their capacity to give life, to generate another: They procreate in collaboration with the Creator (Genesis 4:1: “I have conceived a child with the help of the Lord”). In conclusion, the body shows us that, in the core of who we are, there is a relationship; there is love received from our neighbors and from God and donated in turn to them.
The call to love is the key to understand our lives.
At this point, the theology of the body becomes a “theology of the family,” according to what John Paul II calls the “genealogy of the person.”
A person is not an autonomous individual, but someone born as a child in a family, called to become a spouse and able to give life to others as father or mother. This indicates to us the path of love: As children we receive it from our parents and from God; as spouses we give it to others; as parents we experience its fruitfulness.
The root of all these relationships is the relationship to God, the Creator, in whose love we find the beginning and fulfillment of our journey.
This truth of love allows us to understand the importance of sexuality for the definition of the human person. In masculinity and femininity, the body speaks the language of the gift; that refers us to God, the Creator of the body, and to the other persons: our parents, our spouse, our children.
Thus, what the theology of the body offers us is not only a doctrine on sexuality, but a whole vision of the human being, of the world, of God, rooted on the truth of love. From this viewpoint, many other aspects of human life are illuminated, such as the meaning of working, of suffering, of healing, of the common good. The theology of the body, therefore, shows us that love is not only interesting or funny, but also solid enough so that we can build our life, and our whole civilization, upon it.
Father Jose Granados is professor at the Rome session of The John Paul Institute for Life and Family. He co-authored Called to Love with Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.