“And the Word became Flesh (Jn
A PASTORAL LETTER
A Theological Reflection on the Human Body
This is the season when we celebrate God's entrance into history
in bodily form. The word Advent comes from the Latin Adventus—“the coming.” God came to dwell among us in a particular
and profound way in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who was and
is truly God and truly man. We Catholics express our reverent awe
for the incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God, like us in all things
but sin, by bowing our heads (or, at Christmas, kneeling) at the
words of the creed: “By the power of the Holy Spirit he was
born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” We commemorate special
moments of his human life in our calendar: his incarnation at the
feast of the Annunciation (March 25), his birth at Christmas (December
25), his presentation in the Temple (February 2), his transfiguration
on Mount Tabor (August 6), his passion, death, and resurrection
document setting out Catholic teaching on the human body holds up
and affirms truths about what it means to be a bodily person. It
emphasizes the body's goodness and corrects certain false views
of human existence. In publishing it, I hope to spark discussion
and teaching about the good news of our creation and redemption
as bodily beings. I invite all who read it to meditate on what it
means to be truly and fully human—bodily persons created in
the image and likeness of God.
short, this pastoral letter is intended to draw us into a conversation
as a community. From grade schools to universities, in homilies
and families, let us consider the implications for our daily lives
of this fundamental fact: we are bodily persons.
2. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is his most systematic
work, highly structured like all of his writing. Its central portion
is divided into two major sections: doctrine and morals. At the
beginning of the moral section Paul makes a comprehensive statement
as the basis for his teaching:
you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies
as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual
worship. Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed
by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will
of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect (Rom 12:1-2).
here states two fundamental truths of moral theology: the need for
each and every Christian to offer his or her entire self to God,
and the requirement that our minds, our way of thinking, be renewed
by the transforming power of God’s grace.
your bodies as a living sacrifice.” To Paul, offering one’s
body meant offering God one’s entire existence in space and
time. But, aware that right living flowed from right thinking, he
called upon the early Christians to begin by changing the way they
thought. Rather than conform their thinking to the fads of the day,
they should drink deeply from the wellsprings of eternal wisdom
in the teaching and person of Jesus Christ.
might say Paul challenged the early Church at Rome and all Churches
of all time to think biblically—to think with the mind of
Christ: “The mind in you must be the mind that is in Christ”
(Phil 2:5). This is particularly true of how we think about ourselves
as human persons—bodily beings created in the image and likeness
of the triune God.
the centuries, what it means to be a person has often been distorted,
and it often is distorted today. Some have repudiated the bodily
nature of the human person, seeing a human being as a "ghost
in the machine"—a spirit or mind lodged in a material
body. Others have denied the spiritual essence of the human person,
and looked upon a human being as a material entity and only that.
Against radical dualism or materialism or any other false notion
of humanity, biblical wisdom makes it clear that the human person
is a psychosomatic unity of body and soul.
Among the disorders that mark our society, confusing people and
leading many astray, is a misunderstanding of human sexuality rooted
in deep misunderstanding of the human person and the human body.
Often, these misconceptions serve as a basis for public policy and
personal decisions; church leaders sometimes are criticized for
not speaking clearly enough about such matters.
this pastoral, then, I want to set out the Church's doctrine and
to do so in a fundamentally positive way. The approach is based
on the 'theology of the body' that, though thoroughly consistent
with the Church's faith across the centuries, is one of the great
themes in the teaching of Pope John Paul II. I hope to help Catholics
and others grasp the fact that our teaching is not negative—that
it expresses profound respect for the human person, the human body,
and human sexuality.
John Paul II Teaches About the Human Person
4. Pope John Paul's genius for innovation, visible in so many ways
throughout his pontificate, extends to his teaching on human bodiliness.
Starting in 1980 and continuing for four years, he used his Wednesday
audience talks to set out an exciting new approach to this subject.
This is the theology of the body.
a Christian, the body's significance is good, inescapable, and central;
Christianity itself cannot be understood apart from an appreciation
of the body. It is a myth that the Catholic Church teaches as it
does about sexuality because it undervalues sex. The Church teaches
as it does because it values human sexuality so highly. And in valuing
sexuality, it necessarily values the body.
That is hardly new. Standing in the Areopagus of Athens two millennia
ago, Paul proclaimed the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many
of his sophisticated listeners laughed him to scorn. For although
they thought of themselves as tolerant folks—they even had
an altar dedicated to "an unknown god," lest any touchy,
anonymous deity feel left out—they couldn't abide the idea
that the body had such extraordinary dignity (cf. Acts 17.22-32).
Didn't all the cleverest people say the body was evil and corrupt?
So how could this itinerant preacher, Paul, ask up-to-date Athenians
to believe in a god who would stoop to rising from death with a
human body? Too foolish for words!
Paul nevertheless understood that a version of Christianity that
left the body out of account would be worse than incomprehensible—it
would subvert Christianity from within. "If Christ has not
been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins,"
he bluntly told the people of Corinth (1 Cor 15.17). John Paul II
also grasps the fact that central dogmas of Christianity like creation,
the Incarnation, the redemption, and the truths of eschatology cannot
be understood without reference to and profound respect for the
Signpost to Truths of Faith
6. The body points to the doctrine of creation. God created our
first parents as bodily beings. "Male and female he created
them" (Gen 1.27), a distinction most evident on the bodily
level. God's deliberate creative design means women aren't "misbegotten
males," as Aristotle erroneously believed. Nor is the difference
between the sexes a biological accident, a cultural artifact, or
some kind of mistake.
then, is not a code word for discrimination or what the civil rights
lawyers call a "suspect category." We are obliged to take
sexual differentiation seriously, indeed to reverence it, for, written
into our very chromosomes, it is part of the gift of creation and
an expression of God's will.
gives only good gifts. As one of these, our bodiliness is a blessing.
The refrain running through the first chapter of Genesis—"And
God saw that it was good"—drives home this point. And
after the creation of man and woman (in God's own image, we are
told), there is an important shift: "And behold, it was very
good" (Gen 1.31).
The body points to the doctrine of the Incarnation. In Jesus Christ,
God became a flesh-and-blood human being. The gospel of John puts
it with uncompromising clarity: "The Word became flesh and
dwelt among us" (Jn 1.14). The late Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski,
Primate of Poland, expressed this in a phrase of exquisite domestic
tenderness: in Jesus Christ, he said, we encounter "God in
the same, the reality of Jesus' bodiliness has been a stumbling
block for many from St. Paul's day to ours. Ancient heresies with
names like Arianism, Nestorianism, and Monophysitism sought to evade
the fact of Jesus' corporeality and avoid its consequences. Like
the skeptical Athenians before them, their adherents couldn't abide
the fact that God had a human body. They have counterparts today.
The body points to the doctrine of our redemption by Christ. Jesus
suffered and died to redeem us. Mental suffering—fear, dread,
anguish—is a reality of course, and Jesus surely suffered
that way. But his Passion was something more: bloody sweat on a
human forehead, a back shredded by scourging, thorns thrust into
a man's head, three body-wracking falls under the weight of a cross,
spikes driven through arms and legs. John scrupulously records the
flow of blood and water from Jesus' pierced side (cf. Jn 19.34)
to underline the fact that he was a real human being who suffered
in a real human body.
died for us. His body was anointed, shrouded, and placed in a grave.
We don't say, "Jesus' body died for us," but, "Jesus
died for us." His body is no appendage, not something borrowed
but not really his. His identity as God incarnate and the fullness
of his redemptive life and death both are bound up with his human
much so, in fact, that his victory over death is signaled by bodily
resurrection. Jesus did not conquer sin and death only by dying.
All good people die, but Jesus' victory was accomplished in his
rising. He is our redeemer, and our redemption will be fully accomplished
when "the last enemy…death" (1 Cor 15.26) is abolished
by the power of the risen Lord and we rise in our bodies with him.
The body points to eschatology—the Christian doctrines concerning
the end times or final things. We say in the Creed, "we believe
in the resurrection of the body"; and we believe that on the
last day, at the end of time, all men and women will enter body
and soul into that life of eternal fulfillment called heaven or
else into that "second death" called hell (Rev 21.8).
Just as we have lived good or evil lives body and soul, in this
world, so also, body and soul, shall we be rewarded or punished
in the next.
does not bestow bodily resurrection on human beings arbitrarily.
If Jesus rose from the dead, then his body rose. From the first
ages of the Bible to the last it is clear that the primary curse
brought on us by sin is bodily death: To disobey God is to die.
But our God is the God of the living (cf. Mt 22.32, Mk 12.27, Lk
20.38), who opens graves and raises bodies. This resurrection of
the body is part of the reintegration and restoration of all things
in Christ, who "fills all in all" (Eph 1.23). And in the
end, "death shall be no more" (Rev 21.4).
10. Along with the truths of faith, our own experience also points
to the importance of the human body. Although the tangibility and
immediacy of our bodies can hardly be ignored, thinkers over the
centuries sometimes have sought to downgrade the body's significance
and, instead of recognizing the body as a constitutive element of
the human person, spoken of it as something apart from our core
ancient Manichaeism to the "cogito ergo sum"—I think,
therefore I am—of the seventeenth-century philosopher Rene Descartes,
whose thought took scant notice of the human body, errors of this
sort express what generically is called body-soul dualism. This
alien anthropology, which takes a false view of the unique body-soul
composite that is the human person, is incompatible with Christianity.
Yet it persists. It is alive and well—and profoundly destructive—today.
some level, of course, everyone knows perfectly well that the body
is intrinsic to his or her identity. Think how we speak. If I suddenly
and unexpectedly struck you, very likely you would demand, "Why
did you hit me?" Not "Why did you hit my body?" but
"Why did you hit me?" We all know that someone or something
that touches our bodies is touching us. That is why crimes like
assault and battery are crimes against the person, not just property
Philosopher-Pope Speaks of Sexuality
11. Up to this point I haven't said a lot about Pope John Paul.
There is a reason for this. No matter how indebted we are to him
for the theology of the body, we need to make it our own. Studying
and quoting the Pope are all well and good; but the theology of
the body is not just an object of study, to be examined and then
returned to the shelf. This way of thinking—this way of seeing
reality—must be applied to contemporary life. There can be
no greater tribute to John Paul than for others to carry his thought
forward; there could hardly be a greater betrayal than to pay only
lip service to what he says.
the expression 'theology of the body' has become widely familiar
only since he became pope, Karol Wojtyla began developing this theology
as an important part of his academic work as a professor and his
ministry as a priest. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of
his first writings on sexual morality: in 1952, as a young priest,
he wrote an article called "Instinct, Love, and Marriage"
that discussed the virtue of purity.
unlike some of his predecessors and contemporaries, to develop a
positive understanding of the virtues, Wojtyla says purity is not
negative, not fundamentally a 'no,' even though practicing the virtue
requires saying no to some forms of behavior. Purity is primarily
a 'yes,' a positive response to two things: what the human sexual
instinct stands for and what sexual intercourse symbolizes.
A human being, the future pope points out, is more than a collection
of bones, muscles, organs, and tissues, $3.95 worth of this and
that, plus a few gallons of water. And what comes into existence
as a result of sexual intercourse is a human being. Not a potato,
not a toad, not a mass of cells—a human being. Thus the human
sexual instinct has more than biological meaning; it has existential
meaning, since it is oriented to human life. This orientation is
important for two reasons: because what's at issue in any concrete
instance is a living human being; and because the link between the
sexual instinct and the transmission of life was placed there by
God the creator, who only gives good things.
and woman ought to experience sexual intercourse as a mutual giving
and receiving in open self-surrender to each other; it is a kind
of communication—the language of the body—a sign of
sincere giving of self and sincere acceptance of the other's gift,
and of their mutual opening up to God's gift of life. This kind
of giving and receiving without reserve requires the foundation
of stable, permanent love.
considered as communication, intercourse outside marriage and contraceptive
intercourse both are lies told with bodies; the two parties do not
truly give and receive openly and unconditionally but only use each
other for pleasure. They do not say with their bodies, and from
their hearts, what they speak with their lips. Indeed, all sexual
sins are at their heart sins of dishonesty.
Karol Wojtyla, purity is a yes to the goodness of God's creation,
including the share spouses have in it through the use of the sexual
instinct, and a yes to the unreserved and permanent commitment of
love that sexual intercourse symbolizes and expresses. Purity is
needful not because there is something unclean about sex but because
the body's language should be consistent with the language of the
heart and mind. It is a way of ensuring honesty and integrity of
heart, mind, speech, and bodily act. One ought only to say with
one's body what one can rightly mean with one's heart.
Pope John Paul is a staunch defender of marriage. It is interesting
to consider why. Certainly his stand is grounded in Tradition, Church
teaching, and Sacred Scripture, but his defense of marriage also
comes in large part from the theology of the body.
sexual intercourse naturally expresses the giving and receiving
of love that is open to the possibility of life—of children—then
the love itself requires certain things of sex, and sex already
images certain unavoidable requirements of love.
these are: unity—one beloved, one husband, one wife; exclusivity—this
man, this woman; permanence—not for a single encounter, nor
a brief season, but for all the rest of life; totality—complete
giving and receiving, with no strings attached (how strange it would
be if a man said to a woman, "I love you eighty-five per cent");
and life-giving—because the language of the body means giving
to and receiving from a spouse in the totality of his or her being,
which includes the fact of fertility that sometimes, through the
grace of God, results in conception, new life—a new human
being. The Church's teaching in effect is that someone who here
and now can't mean what sex intrinsically means shouldn't 'say it.'
The message is: Be honest, don’t lie.
Children have a right to be conceived, born, and reared through
and in the love of their parents. This is why in vitro fertilization
and other techniques of producing human beings that violate the
bodily integrity of sexual intercourse are wrong. These technologies
separate the creation of a new human person from the only human
context worthy of it—the loving conjugal union of husband
and wife. Children conceived by these means are truly human of course;
and because they are, they deserve better.
of this kind reduce human embryos to the status of products of technology.
That is clear in the routine discarding of 'imperfect' embryos and
the production of 'spare' embryos to be subjected to experiments
and then destroyed. Today we are learning to our horror that these
assaults against the dignity of the human person pave the way to
human cloning (whether for experimentation or reproduction). This
is another step in replacing the language of the body with the language
of the laboratory dish.
Defense of Human Dignity
15. Sometimes you hear it said that "Sex is between two people
and only them. It is nobody else's business." One implication
is that the fundamental reality of sex is a psychological interchange
between consenting adults.
represents a central part of the rationale for homosexual sex. Defenders
of homosexual intercourse do not take the body too seriously but
not nearly seriously enough. Sex is not exclusively or essentially
a psychological encounter, and it cannot be divorced from the meaning
and language of the body.
thinking on this subject—an updated version of our old Manichaean
and Cartesian nemesis, body-soul dualism—goes a long way to
account for the fact that marriage no longer has a clear, specific
meaning in some people's minds. They imagine that 'marriage' refers
to something altogether fluid, shifting, malleable, and manipulable,
subject to constant reshaping and revision to suit changing preferences,
including the preferences of homosexual partners who want their
relationships recognized as marriages.
And, after all, if marriage is just a mental state, a psychological
something-or-other and only that, why not say two men or two women
(or three men, or two women and a man, or any other recipe for gender
stew that suits somebody's taste) are 'married'? Start down this
road, and marriage can be redesigned at will. Or at least it can
be until such time as the redesigners come face-to-face with the
reality of the human body and its language.
this suggests, in insisting on the body's significance, the Church
is fighting for human dignity. "We are in the front line of
a lively battle for the dignity of man," Cardinal Karol Wojtyla
already pointed out in 1976 as he preached that year's Lenten retreat
for Pope Paul VI. As Pope himself, John Paul II has powerfully delineated
the opposing worldviews now battling for human hearts, minds, and
bodies. He calls them the culture of life and the culture of death.
Appealing for a new evangelization, he asks all Catholics, all Christians,
and indeed all people of good will to join in proclaiming the Gospel
may proclaim that Good News from philosophical conviction about
the dignity of the bodily human person and the cause of human rights.
Some may proclaim it from commitment to God as creator and redeemer,
the one who made us and saves us as bodily persons. Some may even
proclaim it from self-interest—for most people see the merits
of the culture of life when the life involved is their own. Wherever
the impetus comes from, the proclaiming of this Gospel of Life is
an instance of practical ecumenism that embodies a shared vision
of human dignity that all men and women of good will can embrace
The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s encouraged Catholics to
take note of the 'signs of the times' in the awareness that the
gospel must be preached in many different cultural circumstances.
In that spirit, today's disciples seek to respond to the imperatives
of the new evangelization by proclaiming the Gospel of Life.
work begins at home. Christians, says Pope John Paul, "need
to begin with the renewal of a culture of life within Christian
communities themselves. Too often it happens that believers…end
up separating their Christian faith from the ethical requirements
concerning life" (The Gospel of Life, n. 95). The family, the
basic Christian community as well as the fundamental cell of society,
must be a "sanctuary of life" (ibid., n. 92), where life
is welcomed and cherished.
this vision of the dignity of human life must radiate from the family
and the community of faith and inform society and the sphere of
civil law and policy. Recall that Pacem in Terris, the great encyclical
of Blessed Pope John XXIII whose fortieth anniversary we mark next
spring, begins with the simple yet profound words: "Peace on
earth…can never be established, never guaranteed, except by
the diligent observance of the divinely established order"
(Peace on Earth, n. 1).
of the Theology of the Body
18. So far we have utilized John Paul II’s theology of the
body to reflect especially on the meaning and purpose of the family
and human sexuality. But it has many more implications besides.
These extend to how we live and enjoy our bodiliness and the threats
and dangers associated with our bodily existence.
Human persons should always strive to participate fully in the good
of bodily health and life. Christian faith condemns any practice
or thing that harms health or threatens life, from the abuse of
drugs to intemperance in food or drink and unsafe driving. We are
to be good stewards of our life and health. Exercise, healthy diet,
access to and use of proper health care are all part of this stewardship.
also is part of the reason why we should embrace the cycle of work
and rest intended by the Creator. “Six days you shall labor
and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the
Lord your God” (Exodus 20:9-10a). For Catholics, keeping holy
the Sabbath means active and full participation in the communal
worship in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass together with observing
a day of rest and recreation. The weekly Sunday holiday is good
for individuals, families, and the whole community.
Faith also recognizes the goodness of a healthy life of the senses.
Recreation and exercise, good music and good food, art and aesthetic
experiences all belong to a full life. As G.K. Chesterton says in
his biography of St. Thomas Aquinas, a Christian is someone "who
believes that deity or sanctity has attached to matter or entered
the world of the senses.”
Christians are depicted as people who don't enjoy life. The way
we have presented our faith or lived our lives may sometimes have
lent support to this caricature. But it is far from the truth. Jesus
came that we “may have life and have it to the full”
(Jn 10:10), in this world as well as in the next. Again and again
scripture and the Church’s teaching speak of life in heaven
as complete fulfillment in all the goods of human existence (cf.
Rev. 21, Gaudium et Spes 38-39). Participating here and now in human
goods like friendship and beauty and truth is a foretaste of what
heaven will be.
Bodiliness also deeply affects how we worship and pray. This is
clearest in the sacraments. God uses tangible, 'fleshy' things like
bread, wine, oil and water as signs and symbols of his sacramental
grace. He takes us most seriously as bodily beings in the Eucharist.
By allowing us to receive his very Body and Blood, Jesus forges
a one-flesh unity between himself and someone who receives him.
This unity—akin to the one-flesh unity of husband and wife
made tangible in the physical act of love-making—is both
spiritual and physical.
is true of the sacraments is true also of the rest of the life of
prayer. Our bodies participate in our praying. We spontaneously
kneel in the presence of our Lord and God when engaged in either
communal or personal prayer. We turn naturally to physical objects
and sensual signs—candles and bells, incense and statues,
stained glass and crucifixes, rosary beads and holy cards, chant
and sacred music, icons and countless other sacramentals—to
help us pray.
God takes us seriously as bodily persons by himself becoming bodily.
He sanctified all created reality in this way, enabling us to experience
him in his creation and honor the divine artist in his art. It is
right to find God in the beauty of his creation. Pope John Paul
reminds us that prolife commitment should extend to care for the
environment and created reality.
Important as it is to emphasize the positive implications of the
theology of the body, the threats and dangers can't be ignored;
they must instead be resisted and overcome.
most serious of them may be precisely the practical denial of bodiliness
and its consequences. As we have seen, this underlies the present
campaign to claim the dignity of marriage for homosexual relationships.
Still more destructively, it gives impetus to the attacks on human
life originating with the culture of death: euthanasia, abortion,
techniques of research and reproduction that violate human life.
the euthanasia movement advocates killing the sick and incapacitated,
its supporters know most people would be horrified by a proposal
to kill another person. Thus they seek to depersonalize the sick
or handicapped. To kill them, it is said, is merely to terminate
bodily life that has become burdensome, not an assault on the person
at all. Killing a body doesn't count.
same mentality is at work among those who support abortion. The
genetically unique bodily being who came into existence at conception
and now is growing beneath his or her mother's heart is—so
we are told—not a person but merely a 'blob of tissue' or
a 'mass of cells.' Remarkable—a mass of cells with a beating
heart at 25 days, a brain producing brain waves at 43 days, eyes
that begin to form at 19 days, tiny fingers that open and close
during the sixth week! That this bodily being is a child preparing
to be born is censored out.
less do we hear about abortion's bodily consequences. How often
do proponents of 'choice' mention the little arms and legs ripped
off in vacuum aspiration abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy?
When was the last time an abortion propagandist in the media spoke
or wrote of the scalded skin of a body aborted by saline infusion
in the second trimester? When was a 'personally opposed' politician
brave enough to admit that, yes, the face in the surgical bucket
after a third-trimester hysterotomy really does look troublingly
human? How likely are we to see, outside the pages of prolife publications,
a child's fingers distended as surgical scissors are plunged into
her or his skull in a partial-birth abortion?
in any of its forms is a grievous violation of the dignity and rights
of the human person by a direct assault upon the person's bodily
integrity and life—the deliberate and direct killing, as Pope
John Paul puts it, of "a human being in the initial phase of
his or her existence, extending from conception to birth" (The
Gospel of Life, n. 58). Abortion includes the deliberate interruption
of pregnancy before viability, the deliberate prevention of the
embryo's implantation in the mother's womb by the use of 'morning-after
pills' or other abortifacient drugs, including so-called contraceptives
that produce their effect by early abortion, and the direct killing
of an unborn child after viability is reached. Abortion in any of
its forms is one of the deeds condemned as “abominable crimes”
by the Second Vatican Council (Pastoral Constitution on the Church
in the Modern World, n. 51).
The body and the view one takes of it are central to all human life
issues. No doubt that is one reason why such pains often are taken
today to deny or ignore the human person's bodily reality. Abstract
arguments for the 'right to choose' and the 'right to die' are at
risk of being overwhelmed by the flesh-and-blood reality of a human
body. No wonder the culture of death tries so hard to avoid it!
an old movie called "The Guns of Navarone," one character
asks another why he hesitated to kill a villain only an arm's length
distant. The answer: "You shoot a man at two hundred yards,
he's just a moving target. You kill him with a knife, you're close
enough to smell him. I smell them in my sleep." The culture
of death sleeps better at night by keeping reality two hundred yards
the body puts people immediately, tangibly, in touch with reality.
That experience in itself can have a salutary restraining influence
on evil impulses, something like the bracing effect of a splash
of cold water in the face. It is easy to talk about termination
of pregnancy, perhaps not so easy to look at a dismembered baby.
The difference is the body, which obliges us to confront reality
as it is.
If denying the body's reality is dangerous, so is its unreal glorification
to excess. In today's cult of the body, physical appearance becomes
a matter of absolute, ultimate importance. Consider the obsessive
fixation on youthful looks and fashions that leads to the squandering
of money, time, and resources in pursuit of Hollywood's idea of
beauty while futile attempts are made to deny the facts of age and
mortality. The cult and culture of the body make it cause for stigma,
marginalization, and severe loss of self-esteem to be ill, elderly,
or merely less than super-glamorous according to somebody else's
scourge of pornography is another byproduct of this mentality. Both
the gross hard-core pornography trafficked in films, magazines,
and pervasively on the Internet and the soft-core pornography that
pervades the media, especially advertising, cheapen and distort
human beauty and sexuality. Those involved in any way in the production
and dissemination of pornography corrupt themselves and contribute
to the corruption of others by encouraging the moral evils of sexual
arousal outside marriage, masturbation, and the sexual abuse of
women and children. No society sincerely concerned with the well
being of its members can tolerate the evil of pornography.
At the root of many threats to and abuses of bodiliness lies concupiscence.
This is the tendency to sin remaining in us even after baptism.
It is not sin in itself but is the tendency to sin resulting from
disordered passions. As a result of concupiscence, we do not always
easily think, feel, and will as we should; often we are drawn, sometimes
strongly, to what isn't good for us.
makes cultivating a strong, active spiritual life imperative. Through
grace, God's supernatural help, it is possible to resist temptation;
and if we cooperate consistently with grace, disordered passions
over time are healed and brought into line. Especially helpful in
this struggle to win the authentic freedom of self-control are frequent
reception of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, a strong,
daily life of prayer, fasting and mortification of the senses, and
devotion to the Mother of God, especially by prayerful recitation
of her Rosary.
of Life as Total Gift
27. As bodily beings, we are called to offer our entire existence
in space and time to “God, our spiritual worship.” Two
ways of doing this, traditionally called states of life, are marriage
and celibacy (or consecrated life for the sake of the kingdom).
In marriage, a man and woman give themselves completely, each to
the other, in a stable, permanent commitment that lasts until death,
thus forming the community of life and love—the family—that
is the suitable place for the begetting and rearing of children.
As a community of persons, the family is akin to the community of
life and love that is the Triune God.
or consecrated life for the sake of the kingdom is another way of
offering oneself as a sacrifice pleasing in the eyes of God. This
charism also involves a total gift of self, by which one enters
into a nuptial relationship with Christ and his Church. This gift
empowers men called to celibacy to devote themselves fully to their
bride, the Church, and enables women to give themselves totally
to their spouse, Jesus Christ, in loving and serving him and the
Church. Both marriage and celibacy or consecrated life are ways
of making a bodily gift of self; both are ways to love as Jesus
loves; both call for total, intimate, unreserved love.
28. At the start of this pastoral I spoke of the familiar fact that
in the season of Advent and Christmas we celebrate the coming of
the Son of God into human history as Jesus of Nazareth. Because
he was born into a human family, we celebrate in a particular way
the gift of family life.
we also look forward in this season to Jesus' second coming at the
end of history. Together with Christians of every age we pray Maranatha—"Come,
between two advents, two comings of Jesus, we live in history. That
is to say: we live as bodily beings in space and time. Praying Jesus
will come to us in grace, to sustain and sanctify us and the entire
world, we respond to his advent in our lives by offering our selves
entirely to him—an oblation of heart, mind, body, and soul.
do this in communion with the whole Church extended through space
and time—those living and also those who have gone before
us “marked with the sign of faith or whose faith is known
to God alone” (Fourth Eucharistic Prayer). Especially we are
united with Mary of Nazareth, who already shares bodily in the Resurrection
of Her Son. In her we see the ultimate meaning and purpose of bodily
existence—total and complete union with Jesus.
human persons are bodily beings. Only a philosophy, a theology,
and a system of law that take the body seriously as an integral
part of who and what we are can protect real human beings and defend
real human rights. Pope John Paul II has pointed the way.
creates us as bodily persons. Jesus Christ, our brother in human
flesh, redeems us by his bodily life, death, and rising. By the
power of the Holy Spirit, we are called to rise with Jesus from
death and to live forever, body and soul, with God. Let us ask Mary,
who bore the Deity in diapers, who was and is Theotokos—Mother
of God, and who exemplified the meaning and dignity of the human
body for her Son, to be our model and patroness in the work that
at my Chancery,
December 8, 2002—2nd Sunday in Advent,
Most Reverend John Joseph Myers
Archbishop of Newark
Copyright 2002, Archdiocese of Newark
Used with permission