Theology of the Body – A Gift of Mercy to a Desperate Culture
Theology of the Body: A Gift of Mercy to a Desperate Culture
Beautiful Mercy (Week 2 of 5)
Take up a study of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and you will discover that behind all the sexual pain and confusion in the world and in our own hearts is the human thirst for heaven gone awry. Sexual sin, you might say, is a quest to satisfy our thirst for heaven with “dead water.” Christ meets us right there with his mercy: “If you knew the gift of God…you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). But, like so many of us, the woman at the well didn’t know the gift of God, so she had taken her thirst elsewhere: “You have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18). Six lovers. Do you see the symbolism? Six is the imperfect biblical number. Seven is the perfect biblical number. Who is this woman’s seventh “lover”? Christ, the Bridegroom! His love is what she’s been thirsting for the whole time — a “living water” welling up to eternal life (see John 4:1-36). — Christopher West, Beautiful Mercy (Surprising Mercy, Paragraph nine)
In a book all about mercy, this subject hits home. Maybe it’s because I have three teens trying to navigate the contaminated waters of a sex-driven, bikini-clad culture, as my husband and I stand on the sidelines doing our best to shout over the crowd – knowing all the while that our voices are being drowned out by the noise. We do our best to lead our children to Living Water; but, the path is becoming so scarcely traveled in this world that weeds have begun to obscure The Way. And, with all the excitement of social media and entertainment, it’s so difficult for teens to find The One who rests in quiet and stillness.
Some variation of this sexualized culture is often a topic of conversation in our home. Whether the topic is sex, homosexuality, gay marriage, gender identity, sexting or “hooking up,” there always seems to be some topic up for discussion because our kids are accosted with messages that promote these ideas wherever they go. As parents, we are helplessly watching what we believed to be strongly catechized teens – kids who in earlier years were passionately in love with Jesus – waning in their strength.
Here are just a couple of recent conversations that have taken place in our home:
Teen: (Out of the blue) I know a couple of guys that are gay. They are nice guys. I’m starting to think there’s nothing wrong with being gay.
Mom: (Trying not to convey her surprise by this blunt assertion.) I’m sure they are nice guys. They’re people. And most people we meet are pretty nice. Also, according to the Catechism, it’s not “being gay” that’s the problem. Disorder is not sin. It’s the actions encouraged and lived out in the gay lifestyle that we cannot condone. Kind of like – love the sinner, hate the sin – haven’t we always taught you that? I might meet someone and think he’s a super nice person, but if I find out he lied, I cannot condone that behavior just because he is nice or fun or anything else. That’s not to say I condemn him; but I don’t affirm his sin either.
Teen: Lying is not the same as being gay.
Mom: No. And I’m not comparing lying to being gay. Being gay is not a sin. It’s living out a gay lifestyle that is the sin. And look. We all are guilty of sin. But until recently, sin has not been condoned and even encouraged by our culture in such a blatant way. Lately, it’s as if the entire culture is shouting that “lying” is OK. And if I have a propensity to “lie” you should just accept that I was born with a tendency toward lying and there’s nothing I can do about it so I must accept it and live out my life as a perpetual liar. But if we were actually talking about “lying,” wouldn’t you see a problem with that mentality?
Teen: Yeah. I see what you’re saying. But I don’t know if I agree with you and Dad. I think people should be able to do what they want if it makes them happy as long as they don’t hurt anyone. You may think it’s wrong. The Church may call it wrong. But the rest of the world disagrees. And I’m starting to think I do too.
Mom: Well, I’ve seen a video that talks about something called The Third Way. It does a great job of showing how rejection is, of course, not helpful to a person that struggles with a gay lifestyle; but it also shows that complete acceptance and encouragement does not help either. This video proposes a “third” way. I’ll pull it up when the little kids go to bed and you can see what you think.
Teen: (Moans) I don’t want to watch a video!
They watch the video together and have further discussion; Mom doesn’t know whether it did any good – but she feels an almost tangible tug-of-war between Christ and the culture for her son’s heart.
Mom: (reading a passage in a book about modesty): “…It is quite true that men are obliged to control themselves and not to entertain impure desires or even to indulge their passion by kisses and embraces; but so are women obliged not to give the men unnecessary provocation.” *
[Passage leads into a discussion about modesty and the fact that what women wear matters.]
Teen: It’d be nice if being modest were considered “stylish.” It is impossible to find a dress that is long enough without feeling out of style, or a pair of pants that aren’t “skinny” without feeling “nerdy.” None of the cute stuff is modest.
Mom: But you went to that fashion show about dressing modestly. You do a pretty nice job of making things work.
Teen: I try. But it’s so annoying. Why can’t the whole world just dress modestly so it isn’t so hard to find modest clothes, to look nice and to fit in. And seriously – as I look around, I don’t think we should have to wear skirts or pants below the knee and cover our upper arms to help guys “control themselves.” I mean, if I’m walking around in a t-shirt and shorts that hit my thigh, I am NOT offering “provocation.”
Mom and teen keep discussing. There is no oppositional tone; for the most part, teen understands and agrees; but mom feels a definite pull on her teen by a mentality similar to a meme she read recently: “Instead of telling my daughter to dress modestly, teach your son to be a gentleman!”
These are just two examples of conversations that took place in the same day. But the lies are never-ending and we are constantly trying to inspire our kids with truth. The trouble is, for every one piece of truth we share, our kids are bombarded by 100 lies! While I’m thankful that our teens talk with us openly about these things, my heart breaks to think they must struggle with them at a time when they could be flourishing in beauty and truth – deepening their relationship with Christ and preparing themselves for true love. And to think that in many homes there are no conversations – how are all those kids dealing with the barrage of lies that confronts them on a daily basis? Is it any wonder so many dive right in?!
Teens today live in a culture wherein more than 75-90% of boys are exposed to online pornography before they are 18 (and that statistic is from 2013 – no doubt numbers are even higher now); more boys are developing sexual addictions than ever before. In addition to the sexualized culture (or because of it), there is the compounding factor of children growing up without fathers in the home. This loss has kept so many young men from witnessing a living example of what it means to be a real man.
Girls, on the other hand, have met this loss of fatherhood with a quest to seek that lost love. And they are looking in the wrong places – trying to replace their heartbreaking emotional loss with boy-girl relationships at younger and younger ages. As a result of this quest as well as an over-feminized culture, girls have become more assertive with boys; they have often even become the pursuer – we’ve witnessed that many times with our own teenaged sons. Young ladies dress in ways that invite boys to notice their bodies instead of their countenance. They talk in a way that suggests “availability” – and social media provides a dangerously “safe”way to do this in ways girls would never do in person.
This culture of confusion and loss among boys and girls has become a toxic combination.
There may have been a time when God’s plan for man and woman was known and understood. It might not have been taught in the schools. And some may have tended toward prudishness in their understanding. But in most circles, love took precedence over sex. Sexuality was a way to live out that love in a mutually exclusive, conjugal relationship. Today, sex takes such priority that love is often lost in the fray. And there is very little understanding of true and enduring sacrificial love.
Rather than roll our eyes and curse the darkness, we need to turn on the lights and spread the Truth of God’s plan. That is the most merciful thing we can do for this culture. There must be a better way. A way to inspire our young people to the truth, rather than allow them to drown in the lie of “dead water.” To guide them through a means grounded in mercy and love, rather than condemn them in judgment while they are being poisoned.
There is. A very practical solution is offered in the quote above from Beautiful Mercy – Theology of the Body.
Just over a week ago, on October 22, we celebrated the feast of Saint John Paul II. In Theology of the Body, Saint JPII beautifully explains God’s plan for human relationships. His plan for love and friendship. His plan to prepare our hearts in this life for complete union with Him in the next. The profound nature of this truth is so important to today’s culture. Theology of the Body may be one of the most prescient and profound gifts left by the patron saint of both Family and World Youth.
I have searched for years for a TOB course taught locally for my children. We have taught TOB for Middle Schoolers. But have found no class available for the thousands of teens in our community that are drinking from the “dead water.” The book we’re reading, Beautiful Mercy, is about taking everything we’ve learned this past year about God’s Mercy, and extending it to others in a practical way. My husband and I plan to take steps in this particular area soon. I have long stood on the edge and cursed the darkness. I think this book has inspired me to dive in and do my best to offer Living Water to those parched and poisoned young that are suffering in our midst.
How are you going to extend mercy in your community?
*Text borrowed from Mother’s Little Helper: Twelve Heart-to-Heart Talks of a Mother to Her Daughter. p. 42
Refreshing Mercy – Affirming Mercy
1. How have the articles offered in this book inspired you to act? How have you extended mercy in the past, and are you prepared to do more? How?
2.Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!
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