Last weekend my husband Adam and I had the pleasure of enjoying a seven course degustation menu, complete with wine pairing, at one of our favourite restaurants. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge foodie and have a great appreciation for a good drop (sadly on this occasion this pregnant lady had to live vicariously through her husband), but this place was ‘next level’. Not only did the food come out looking like pieces of art, but the unusual flavour combinations and textures quite literally gave us a little taste of Heaven and God’s immense love for us with each and every bite.
What do I mean by that? I might need to lay out some background first, but the short answer is we had our ‘Theology of the Body lenses’ on throughout our dining experience.
So What is ‘Theology of the Body’?
Now I’m not suggesting you need to go and upgrade your glasses prescription. However I’ve discovered there is a way in which you can start to “see” this world we live in more clearly.
Theology of the Body (TOB) is the name given to a collection of 129 Wednesday Audiences which Pope Saint John Paul II (JPII) delivered over the first five years of his papacy. This catechesis is a Bible study on human embodiment. If you’ve ever wondered: Why do we have these bodies? What is the meaning of our humanity? Why did God make us male and female and call the two to a “one flesh union”? Why did Jesus take on a human body? Then this beautifully rich teaching is something you’ll want to delve into.
We live in a society which tells us that what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter. Just take a look at the entertainment industry – the majority of content seems to be aimed at pleasure seeking and self-gratification. You only live once right?
Wrong! If our bodies truly don’t matter then our Catholic faith doesn’t hold up, because everything in our faith hinges on the incarnation. “The Word was made flesh.” “This is my body given up for you.” “We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.”
From Head to Heart
A few weeks ago, the Evangelion team had the privilege of virtually attending the Theology of the Body Institute’s ‘TOB 1: “Head and Heart” Immersion Course’ led by Dr Christopher West.
This is a TOB course like no other. Held in the format of a retreat over a two week period, this course not only unfolds this beautiful, rich teaching, but provides opportunities to practically apply these truths in our lives and even uncover and start to heal past wounds.
As someone who has studied TOB for over six years I was surprised by how many new insights I received. The retreat format and the regular LIVE Q&A sessions really helped to let some of the beautiful truths of the teachings sink right into my heart, which allowed me to identify areas of my life in which I can work on with the help of these insights.
While some of the insights were more personal in nature, I wanted to share with you three which really stood out to me and can have practical application in each of our lives.
The sacramentality of the body
One thing that really touched me was the understanding of what our bodies can reveal to us – in particular what the body of Jesus can reveal. JPII explains in his thesis statement of the TOB:
“The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it” (TOB 19:4)
The Catechism goes on to explain:
In the body of Jesus "we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see." (CCC 477)
God “impressed his own form on the flesh… in such a way that even what was visible might bear the divine form." (CCC 704)
If you’ve watched ‘The Passion of the Christ’ you have some idea of the amount of wounds the body of Christ had to endure. Both physically and emotionally. While the scourging scene is absolutely unbearable, some of the most painful parts for me to watch were the mockery, ridicule, rejection and betrayal our Lord had to endure. He really has been through every sort of pain we could imagine enduring in this life.
I often find myself complaining about my wounds, in particular the pain from my ongoing back injury. Something that hit me hard was when Christopher told us to ask Jesus to show us His wounds. How does He do this? By showing us our wounds.
Imagine how close we can get to Jesus when we embrace our wounds and unite them with His suffering in His Passion. This just made me think, WOW my back pain is nothing compared to the pain He would have endured carrying the weight of the cross on His back. Christopher encouraged us not to reject our wounds, because they actually are Jesus’ wounds. He loves us through our wounds, so I try to now embrace my pain as a gift I can offer up back to Him.
“…when you feel miserable inside, look at the cross and you will know what is happening. Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you.” (Saint Teresa of Calcutta)
Earthly Marriage is Practice for the Heavenly Marriage
My marriage is practice for Heaven? This was a brief ‘WOW moment’ for me. I’ve been married almost six years, having studied TOB this whole time and this only just clicked for me when it was expressed in this way.
It was when Christopher was explaining how TOB is not just for married people, and he brought the beautiful consecrated celibate men and women to the front of the room. He pointed out that not everyone is called to earthly marriage, but every single one of us is called to the heavenly marriage and that these men and women were living out this calling right here already.
The reason why understanding TOB is important for everyone, is because as humans how are we supposed to have any idea how to prepare for the heavenly marriage unless we have some sort of sign pointing us in the right direction? This is what the sacrament of marriage is meant to be!
Not only is my marriage to Adam supposed to point our children and others to Heaven, our marriage also is my own specific path to sanctity, i.e. practicing for the Heavenly marriage. How do we do this? By loving our spouse as Christ loves His bride, the Church.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25)
That’s a pretty high bar, but it is great encouragement to find daily opportunities to die to myself and put the needs of my husband above my own. If you’re not married yet, it’s never too soon to start practicing self-denial and being a gift to others.
You Can Find God on Your Dinner Plate
Now back to the exquisite feast my husband and I delighted in – what was it about that meal that gave us an experience of the Divine?
During dinner I remember Adam thanking me for having such a passion for fine dining and wine tasting as he probably would have never bothered with an experience like this of his own accord. Which made me think, why did God give me such a passion and appreciation for food?
Yes God gives us our passions, so they are not bad in and of themselves – He gave us creation to experience and enjoy. Of course we mustn’t misuse creation or over indulge. But ultimately we can recognise these passions as a yearning for the Infinite, for God Himself.
Putting on our ‘Theology of the Body lenses’ when we experience the beauty of a sunset or the perfect pairing of exquisite flavours and textures with every bite of a meal, can really elevate us to experiencing the Beauty of the Lord.
St John of the Cross tells us that since we are creatures, we need creatures to mediate the Creator to us:
“My Beloved is the mountains, The solitary wooded valleys, The strange islands, The roaring torrents, The whisper of the amorous gales;” (The Spiritual Canticle, XIV)
After about the third course of our meal Adam sat back in reflection and said to me, “It’s like we’re being pulled up to a higher plane. The purity and perfection of this meal just lifts you straight up.”
We talked about wishing this dining experience could be more than an annual occurrence, but quickly realised an over indulgence would take away from the appreciation of the gift. The gift of beauty, and having a tiny glimmer of the love God has for us and the immense ecstasy that awaits us in Heaven.
The next time you have one of those moments where the beauty of creation stops you in your tracks, take the opportunity to tune into what the Lord may be stirring in your heart.
If you are interested in learning more about Theology of the Body we encourage you to look at the courses run by the TOB Institute: https://tobinstitute.org/programs/certification-program/
Christopher West will be joining us on Evangelion’s ‘Curiously Catholic’ podcast on 27 Feb, 11am (NZT). Be sure to join the Facebook live stream on our page!
For some locally run courses please also check out the TOB NZ website for details of upcoming courses and registration information: https://theologyofthebody.nz/courses/