Friday, October 16, 2015

Synod calls for ... something that's been around for 30 years

The headline on social media was from the Catholic News Service: Synod Calls for Bible-Based Presentation of God's Plan for Family

Here's a sample:
English Group B, chaired by British Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, suggested that in presenting the "divine pedagogy" or the revelation of God's plan for the family, the document "begin with Genesis, which already provides a definition of marriage as a unique union between a man and a woman, so total and intimate that because of it a man must leave his father and mother in order to be united with his wife. This account of the creation of marriage presents also the three basic characteristics of marriage as it was in the beginning – monogamy, permanence and equality of the sexes."
I am mystified that a Synod Father seems so unaware that Pope John Paul II spent five years presenting "Human Love in the Divine Plan," a massive undertaking that started right where  Cardinal Nichols proposes: with the "Original Unity of Man and Woman" in the Book of Genesis.

If I could, I would send a copy of John Paul's texts to every member of the Synod, but lacking that possibility, I put out a few tweets and tagged Synod members like @CardinalNapier (who has actually been communicating with me via Twitter). The Cardinal Archbishop of Johannesburg (South Africa) seems to think of Theology of the Body (TOB) in terms of helping teens form a healthy understanding of self and of sexuality. That's an important pastoral goal, but I can see where an Archbishop would not spend a lot of time delving into something that was really the responsibility of  pastoral staff and youth ministers. But how did TOB get assigned to the "teen sexuality" category?

I suspect this is because many people have promoted TOB as a non-graphic "Catholic sex ed." (Not everything that claims to be TOB presents Pope John Paul's Theology!) I learned a few years ago that because there are strong Theology of the Body programs and movements in the US, Church leaders in other parts of the world think of it as an "American" phenomenon that does not respond to the needs or culture of their local Church.

What is Theology of the Body, if not a Catholic sexuality program or an American fad? I see it as a fairly comprehensive presentation about what it means to be the image of God as bodied creatures: why the body is the person and the person is the body; the "language" of the body (which is precisely what is denied by the "gender ideologies" that the Synod participants are rightly concerned about); the resurrection of the body--and so much more, so many of them themes that contemporary believers are quite confused about, so much so that we have Catholics who believe that "I am not my body" or that reincarnation is what the Creed means by "resurrection of the body."
Pope John Paul also dealt at length with the the Original Sin and what that did to the original "communion of persons" in which man and woman were created (his presentation on original innocence is breathtaking, and makes the introduction of shame all the more striking); the Pauline/evangelical theme of continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, and finally--after so many things have been parsed in the light of the Bible--makes clear how artificial contraception contradicts the fundamental "Law of the Gift" that is the only way human beings can find fulfillment. "Man can only find himself through a sincere gift of self" (Vatican II) could be the subtitle of the entire series. (It has certainly been the theme that has most impacted my life since my discovery of TOB in 1983.)

For those who have discovered it, Pope John Paul's reflections on what it means to be made in the image of God are broad, astounding and life-giving. It is the Bible, packaged in terms of the unavoidable experience of being "in the body." For me, it was also the theological message that expained why it is so fundamental to our Christian life that God is a Trinity; that the Trinity is not just a weird factoid about God, but the linchpin of all of Divine Revelation. (Hint: The secret is in the "communion of persons": the very mystery of which marriage becomes a creaturely picture.) 

Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body is especially good news for women. How many women start to weep on being introduced to this entirely Christian vision of the person (and of the female person in particular): "Where was this when I got married?!" They feel cheated. And they were cheated if they got married any time after 1985 and their Catholic marriage prep was lacking those enormous insights that the Pope had spent 20 years writing and 5 years delivering.

Maybe that's because John Paul's reflections did not originate with him, but are his theological distillation of the experiences of so many married couples whom he accompanied through the years (from courtship through grandchildren). The Theology of the Body really comes from these Catholic laity. Let them speak at the Synod, too!


Anonymous said...

As for "Catholic teen sexuality" when I was a teen there was no expression of sexuality permitted. Everything sexual was supposed to wait for marriage, at which time it was expected I'd learn everything I needed to know in short order. And I did.

I read "Theology of the Body" and thought it a great work though I doubt it would have been much use to me as a newlywed because marriage is something I've grown into over the decades, a vocation that both transforms and unfolds as I've matured. I think therein lies the root of most marital problems leading to hasty divorces - couples believe societal rather than church teachings that they need to know all, be all and have all from the get go and if things don't appear to be paying off they're out of it. I can't help but shake my head over what I've been reading coming out of this Synod so I will continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will triumph in sorting things out. Maybe I'll add fasting to this week's prayers, double up on good works offered up for the cause.-Jean

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Thanks for those prayers for the Synod; that is the contribution most needed. If I may suggest giving those prayers a Pauline tone, add a special intention for all those who are involved in the media with regard to the Synod: the reporters and press spokespersons, the advocacy groups, etc.

Anonymous said...

Hadn't thought about the media, Sister, but good point. Accurate and unbiased reporting is so much more helpful to us all. -Jean