Meanwhile, the convent is full of activity: Sister Julia (from Korea) is working mightily on her English skills; Sister Julia Mary (from our New Orleans community) is here for a meeting (we recorded a book review video this morning, too!); Sister Irene came in for her summer break from the Augustine Institute where she is doing some work in biblical theology; and tomorrow three more sisters arrive for that meeting with Sr. Julia. When they leave, two more sisters will come in from Boston to meet with collaborators in the area, and while they are still here, sisters come in for the RBTE, a kind of wholesale show for book publishers and bookstores in the liturgically-oriented Christian communities. Me? I just got back from food shopping so we can feed all those visitors! This weekend, I'll be traveling, but only for a quick reunion at my high school: not a class reunion, but a choir reunion! (I have music to learn by Saturday...) In between these things, I am working on a series of retreat talks for our sisters; that will be the second week of June, and, yes, prayers to the Holy Spirit would be most appreciated!
And now, Sister Lorraine:
How to Navigate John Paul II’s Theology of the Body
By Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP
When Pope John Paul II began speaking about the theology of the body (TOB) in the 1980s, few people foresaw that it would snowball into a such force throughout the Catholic world. Pauline Books & Media is proud to publish two books that will greatly add to our understanding of this vital topic: Theology of the Body in Context: Genesis and Growth, by Dr. William E. May, and The Human Person According to John Paul II by Father J. Brian Bransfield. Together, these two books provide essential tools for navigating TOB. May’s book is like a roadmap that puts together the pieces of John Paul’s thought, showing how they all tie together. And Bransfield’s book is like a compass that we can use to navigate the road. It helps us see how to put TOB into practice in our daily lives, especially through the virtues and the gifts of the Spirit.
If anyone can provide a roadmap through TOB, it is certainly Dr. William May. He has spent much of his distinguished teaching career at the John Paul Institute of Marriage and the Family in Washington, DC, immersed in John Paul’s ideas. May has written a readable summary of the Pope’s teachings on the human person, marriage, and the family. Seeking to trace how John Paul’s thought developed, May leads us through the Pope’s key writings on these themes. The roadmap starts with the pre-papal book, Love and Responsibility. In that work, Karol Wojtyla reflected on what it means to be a human person, and how persons must be treated. He related all of that to the marriage covenant and family life.
The next stop on the road is the important document On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World.. Familiar themes emerge here. Based on his Christian personalism, John Paul uses ideas that he would later develop even more in TOB itself. May then offers a masterful analysis of the key ideas of John Paul’s TOB as he presented them in his general audiences. This is followed by a chapter devoted to the apostolic letters On the Dignity and Vocation of Woman, and Letter to Families. In both these writings, themes from TOB again appear. May uses them to show the unity underlying all of John Paul’s work. After studying this roadmap, readers will grasp the essential ideas of John Paul’s thinking about the human person, marriage, and the family, and will see the continuity of his work. Armed with these tools, readers will be well equipped to study other documents of John Paul in the same light.
While May focuses on the thought of John Paul itself, Bransfield takes a different approach. John Paul’s thought is not like an island that developed independently of everything else going on in the world. John Paul was very much a man of his time. His thought took shape amid some of the most calamitous events of the twentieth century. To understand John Paul, we also need to understand the world from which he came. And this is the unique approach to TOB that Bransfield offers. He first looks at the great trends that were shaking up the world: the industrial revolution, the sexual revolution, and the technological revolution that brought us mass media. Each of these had a profound impact. Bransfield’s sharp analysis shows the context in which John Paul developed his ideas, making them easier to grasp.
While Bransfield also presents the essentials of TOB, his book is not a commentary on the Pope’s general audiences. Instead, it shows how to integrate TOB into our daily lives through “life in the Spirit.” Most books on TOB deal more directly with marriage and family issues. While Bransfield does discuss these, he has a broader focus. He writes: “The gifts of the Holy Spirit, the life of virtue, and the Beatitudes are presented as the culmination of the theology of the body and the basis for turning from the culture of death to the culture of life.” A large part of the book discusses the life of virtue and how to grow in holiness. Bransfield has succeeded in showing how we can live TOB with its magnificent vision of the human person. John Paul captured the hearts of millions around the world not because of what he wrote about TOB but because of the way he lived it. The Pope with the warm heart, the open arms, and the smile for each person he met showed us that in the end, love is the only thing that counts.