by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Many pundits speak of a culture of war in our nation. In doing so, they make reference to an ideological struggle over which moral values should be the foundation for our society. At the core of this struggle is how we understand and define love.
The entertainment industry, in some ways, reflects and, at the same time, attempts to shape our cultural values. If you take a seemingly innocuous form of entertainment and compare the content of television sitcoms of 50 years ago with today, the shift in the cultural moral compass becomes readily apparent.
Contrast the depiction of family life and moral values found in “I Love Lucy,” “Father Knows Best,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Leave It to Beaver” with “Frazier,” “The Golden Girls,” “Seinfeld” and “Scrubs.” (I apologize for probably being at least a generation behind the current sitcoms. I also confess that I have never actually watched an episode of “Scrubs.”) In the sitcoms of the ’50s and ’60s, happy marriages were the norm. In the more recent sitcoms, rarely are the main characters married. Moreover, sexual intimacy outside of marriage is considered normal and desirable. This is true not just for young people, but senior citizens as well. The so-called sexual revolution that began in the late 1960s has become the status quo of 2011.
The development of the contraceptive pill, of course, was considered the scientific “breakthrough” that made the sexual revolution possible. For many, this made obsolete the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding the essential two ends of marriage: 1) the unitive — resulting in a deep union of the marriage partners, bringing about not just a oneness in body but a union of heart and soul; and 2) the procreative — an openness to life, making it possible through a couple’s expression of love to become co-creators with God of an entirely new and unique human person.
With the availability of effective contraception, it was considered archaic to limit genital sexual expression to the marriage covenant. Hence, in post-sexual revolution popular entertainment not to be sexually active was considered odd or something to be pitied, rather than the fruit of virtue and wisdom. The healthy fertility of a woman is now categorized as a disease, as evidenced recently by the determination of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, that “contraception” (including the abortifacient drug ella) is to be considered an essential preventive medicine, according to the recently enacted Health Care Reform legislation.
It was in the midst of this cultural shifting of moral values — not only in the United States, but throughout the Western world — that Pope John Paul II developed what has become known as the theology of the body. At the beginning of his pontificate in 1978, Pope John Paul II used the forum of his weekly Wednesday catechesis in St. Peter’s Square to articulate for the church a thoroughly biblical vision of what it means to be a human being — body and soul. For five years, he would use this weekly catechesis to teach the beauty of the Christian vision of our humanity.
Pope John Paul II recognized that central among the many dangers threatening human beings at the end of the 20th century was a distorted view of our humanity — one that not only endangered the lives of individuals, but of civilization itself. For those who have eyes to see, we can recognize everywhere the tragic consequences caused by the distortion of our humanity underlying the sexual revolution, e.g., high divorce rates, low birth rates, the high percentage of children born out of wedlock, epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases, high levels of abortion as well as teen pregnancy, record numbers for child sexual abuse, pornography as the fastest growing addiction, etc. Nevertheless, our culture is generally in denial about these negative after-effects as well as the high human and cultural costs to so-called free sex.
John Paul II’s approach in the theology of the body was not to focus his energies on condemning all that is wrong and harmful with the prevailing cultural values, but rather inviting those willing to listen with an open mind and heart to pursue what is true, noble and beautiful. The theology of the body does not contain innovation in its theological content, but is quite original in the way in which Pope John Paul communicates ancient Christian truths.
Pope John Paul’s Theology of the Body rejects both the distorted notion of the human person found in contemporary culture formed by the sexual revolution as well as the very different, but also fundamentally flawed, notion of our humanity found in what is popularly described as Puritanism. While coming from polar opposite perspectives, both of these mistaken views miss the beauty of the biblical understanding of our humanity.
While the theology of the body was first proclaimed more than 30 years ago, the church is still digesting this rich articulation of our Catholic faith. In recent years, the Lord has raised up a number of individuals who have devoted their creative energies to making the truths of the theology of the body more accessible to the average person. Among these gifted teachers of the theology of the body is Christopher West.
Tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. in Yardley Hall at Johnson County Community College, Christopher West as well as Mike Mangione and the band The Union will present an Evening of Beauty and Reflection on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I encourage you to attend. If you or someone you know is struggling with understanding the church’s teaching about human sexuality, this is a must event. It is an evening that aims as much to inspire as to inform about our beauty and dignity as human beings (body and soul) created in the divine image. For ticket information, please visit the website at: www.FillThese Hearts.org.
Also, Michael Scherschligt will be devoting his 7 p.m. first Thursday lecture on Nov. 3 at Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park to: “The Theology of the Body: the Teaching of Jesus on Sex, Marriage and the Dignity of the Human Person.” I apologize for last month, in my column, incorrectly identifying Michael Scherschligt’s lecture being on Wednesday night. I hope no one showed up a day early!