Christopher West: Living the theology of our bodies

30 Apr 2008

By The Record

This is the final installment of a three-part series on what John Paul II called the three “infallible and indispensable” means for living the theology of our bodies: prayer, Eucharist, and Penance (see TOB 126:5).

Consecrated: After making her first profession of vows, Sister Beatrice Clarke signs the document of profession near the altar during Mass. Called to love as God loves, spouses become “one flesh” and devote themselves to each other and their children. Consecrated men and women devote themselves entirely to the family of God.CNS photo/Theresa Laurence

mn, to live the “theology” of our bodies means to recognise the plan of love that God has written into our bodies as male and female and to live in accord with it.
Christianity is the religion of the incarnation.
Ultimate Spiritual reality (God) has been manifested in the flesh: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).  We, too, are called in Christ to manifest God’s love in the flesh.  In fact, the call to love as God loves is stamped right in our bodies.
A man’s body does not make sense by itself, nor does a woman’s. 
Seen in light of each other, we discover the unmistakable plan of the Creator – man and woman are designed to be a fruitful gift to each other. 
“Be fruitful and multiply” is simply a call to live in the image of God in which we are made. “For this reason … the two become one flesh.” For what reason? To reveal, proclaim, and participate in the very love of Christ and the Church (see Eph 5:31-32). Such a love is called marriage.
Marriage, of course, is not the only way to live the “theology of our bodies.” Regardless of our state in life, we are all called to love as God loves.
Spouses do this in a very particular way by becoming “one flesh” and by devoting themselves to the natural fruit of their love – children.
Consecrated celibate men and women do this by devoting themselves entirely to the family of God.  And single men and women imitate Christ in all the ways they make a gift of themselves to others.
The common denominator for us all is that, despite our sincere intentions, we fail in innumerable ways to “love as Christ loves.” 
This means that in all human relationships, a large dose of mercy will be required.
Think about it: everyone of us is created for perfect love, but none of us receives it from the other people in our lives, and none of us is able to give perfect love to others. 
This leaves us hurt and in need of mercy and healing.
Thank God for the Sacrament of Penance! The riches of this sacrament are inexhaustible. 
Unfortunately, many Catholics have not been helped to appreciate this sacrament beyond the preparation they received in second grade. 
We can tend to think that if we haven’t done anything “big, bad, and horrible” there’s no reason to go.
As the Catechism says, “Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. 
Indeed, the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our consciences, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit” (CCC 1458).
Progressing in the “life of the Spirit” does not mean we reject our bodies.  Rather, it means we open our bodies to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit so that what we do with our bodies glorifies God. 
This is the only way to live the theology of our bodies – by opening ourselves to the “life of the Spirit.”  And regular reception of the Sacrament of Penance (even if we’re not committing serious sin) is an “infallible and indispensable” way of remaining open to the life of the Spirit.
As often as we are falling into serious sin, we should be going to Confession – every week if necessary.  For those who, by God’s grace, are not regularly struggling with mortal sin in their lives, many wise spiritual directors suggest Confession at least once a month.
Living the theology of our bodies (that is, loving as Christ loves) engages us in a serious battle against sin. 
Through this sacrament of mercy we are not only reconciled to God through the forgiveness of our sins. 
We also receive “an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle” (CCC 1496).  We should avail ourselves of this spiritual strength regularly.  Why not go to Confession soon?