Tuesday, October 09, 2012

TOB Tuesday: TOB in the Flesh!

Usually I have to get my TOB Tuesday material from other sources. This time I am writing to you straight from the Theology of the Body Institute, where I am one of around 70 participants in the weeklong immersion program. We're an intersting collection: 5 or so priests, 2 sisters (both happen to  be Daughters of St. Paul--the other one is Sr Tracey), married couples, engaged couples, singles, widowed and divorced. We're from several countries, too: a rather large contingent from Canada, one young woman  from Africa (Sierra Leone, I think), another two from England.  I hope as the week continues to be able to interview some of the participants to hear their "TOB story" and share it with you, but I think they might be intimidated if I come to them right off the bat with a microphone (I'm thinking ahead to my nex stint as a radio host, as well).

The presenter this week is Christopher West, who really ought to be credited with making Theology of the Body at least something of a household word in Catholic circles. Day One was mostly introductory background: the general approach of John Paul II as he uses the biblical image of marriage to interpret, well, the whole biblical message; the way our modern and postmodern cultures have veered on their own trajectory so that we habitually misread what the Bible says about the body; the Catholic mystical tradition that offers its own remedy to our era's very sad state of confusion in all of the above.

Please pray that these sessions (6 hours a day!) will help me to acquire a more "global" understanding of Theology of the Body, which until now I have only been able to sip through a narrow straw, reading articles or listening to mp3 talks.  There goes the bell! If you don't hear from me tomorrow, you know why!


not a minx, a moron, or a parasite said...

Sister, will be praying for you and all! Would you mind bringing up a topic I rarely see addressed - what does ToB say about unmarried chaste couples sharing a bed together? It is pretty common, especially in the college world, and I have always been shocked by it. I recently wrote about it here but would love to know what others more learned than me would say - http://notaminx.blogspot.com/2012/10/a-hangover-from-hook-up-culture.html

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

TOB doesn't really go into the specifics of situations like this; it is more of a "universal" take, the really (really!) big picture. But I do think we can draw principles from TOB that would explain why sharing a bed "chastely" is not really as chaste as it seems.
First, there is the whole concupiscence thing: normal men and women can have really strong feelings that get stirred by such intimate proximity. But when we go to confession, we promise to avoid the near occasion of sin: don't put yourself in a situation that could reasonably lead to temptation!
That's the most obvious thing that is "wrong with this picture."
What is less obvious, but still I think really essential is that such couples seem to have a very narrow understanding of chastity. Chastity, for them, means not going "all the way." As long as you keep your pants on, they think, you are just fine. But that is too small a notion! Chastity is not merely "keeping one step away from" something. Chastity is a "big picture" reality, too. When we were studying the vows in novitiate, we were taught that chastity doesn't mean just "not getting married,'" it means "not doing anything that in the normal course of events would be expected to lead to marriage." That's the vow nuns take; it's not that lay people are expected to avoid everything that would normally lead to marriage or we wouldn't have many Christian marriages. But the principle can still offer enough guidance to suggest that something that is actually normal and "proper" to marriage is not suitable outside of marriage. There's a reason we have language about "the marriage bed." (In Italian, a king sized mattress is called a "letto matrimoniale"--a marriage bed!) Again, it is a mistake our culture makes to draw the line at one expression of intimacy: we need to step back and ask what that expression "says" and what it naturally leads to.
I suspect that it is the women who are the most comfortable with the notion of sleeping (actually sleeping, not "sleeping") with the man in their life. There can be a sense of security, of protection, there. In a case like that, isn't she "using" the man for what he can provide? That is as unchaste as a man "using" a woman for the comforts she can bestow. Again, it shows that we don't "get" chastity; we think it is something that is "not" being done, rather than a deeply lived and expressed purity.
What is your take on this? Have you tried to articulate these things for yourself?

Anonymous said...

I'm now beginning to think that TOB is one of the great pieces of theological work of the last two millenia.
Because it touches on so many areas of life (and has helped me to define / develop thing)
- Sex (no, sex is not evil, but good, in the right, Christian context)
- Sexual energy is good. But we must do something positive with it. Procreation through marriage and / or ask God to transform sexual energy into new forms of energy / steer it into different channels: physical, intellectual, emotional, creative and spiritual - above all to love God + neighbour.
- Prudishness / puritanism is as deadly as self-indulgent physical gratification.
- We are both wonderfully (divinely) physical and spiritual beings (like Jesus, except that He is God and perfect).
- We are fleshy men, not purely spiritual like angels.
- God loves our humanity, despite our fallen nature.
- Jesus is the new Adam
- In the Eucharist, we are united with God incarnate, in some extraordinary way. The body (and soul) needs to be fed the Eucharist.
- The Eucharist helps to steer sexual desire towards desire for loving God and neighbour. Eucharist helps in transforming sexual energies into other energies.
- The Eucharist must be accompanied by prayer, and living out the Gospels and God's will. Otherwise we disrepect It, and fail to benefit from Its grace.
- That chastity / celibacy are beautiful things, and one of key factors to a strong prayer life, where we are set on fire, from within, for God, and one of the key factors for salvation (please God).
- To frown upon the body, in any shape or form, is a form of (dangerous) gnosticism.
- We are wonderfully fleshy (and spirit) Wonderfully human (and divine). God loves those He created as
man. With our human personalities, and our love for humour, the arts, nature. And of course, a love, that we
share with the angels (and just as the angels in Heaven love us, so we should love them) for others and God.

God bless,
Ed (UK)