[Guest post by Debbie Staresinic]
Many who are familiar with Theology of the Body (TOB) know that St. John Paul II identified the problem with the modern world as a fundamental lack of understanding of the meaning and purpose of the human person. Said differently, if we don’t know who we are and why we’re here, we’re going to have a difficult time reaching our true destination. To fill that gap and thus open up the mystery of man, the Holy Father wrote Theology of the Body and delivered it in the form of Wednesday audience addresses from 1979-1984.
Less well-documented is St. John Paul II’s belief in the value of the Rosary to more deeply explore these same truths. In his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope St. John Paul II wrote about the anthropological significance of the Rosary. He said, “Each mystery of the Rosary, carefully meditated, sheds light on the mystery of man.” Hence, we can perceive the mutual effect that the Rosary and TOB might have in aiding our understanding of the human person. This is what fueled a project to bring these two devotions together in the form of Theology of the Body Rosary meditations.
[NOTE: This two-part series of blog posts is excerpted from Christopher’s new book Word Made Flesh: A Companion to the Sunday Readings (Ave Maria Press). The book highlights the next liturgical cycle (C) beginning with Advent, and subsequent cycles will be released before Advent in 2019 and 2020. Order the book individually or at our exclusive 50% parish bulk discount here (US shipping only at this time). Order the e-book version here.]
Let’s try to let this essential message sink in: the Song of Songs, this unabashed celebration of erotic love, expresses the essence of biblical faith. How so? The essence of biblical faith is that God came among us in the flesh not only to forgive our sins (as astounding as that gift is); he became “one flesh” with us so we could share in his eternal exchange of love. In the first of his many sermons on the Song of Songs, St. Bernard of Clairvaux aptly described marriage as “the sacrament of endless union with God.” The book of Revelation calls this endless union the “marriage of the Lamb” (Rv 19:7).
But there is more. Remember that pithy rhyme we learned as children: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage”? We probably didn’t realize as children that we were actually reciting some profound theology. Yes, our bodies tell a divine story; our bodies tell the story that God loves us, wants to marry us, and wants us to “conceive” eternal life within us. This is not merely a metaphor.
[NOTE: This two-part series of blog posts are excerpted from Christopher’s new book Word Made Flesh: A Companion to the Sunday Readings (Ave Maria Press). The book highlights the next liturgical cycle (C) beginning with Advent, and subsequent cycles will be released before Advent in 2019 and 2020. Order the book individually or at our exclusive 50% parish bulk discount here (US shipping only at this time). Order the e-book version here.]
Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living” (St. Bernard). If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, “open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24:45).
—Catechism of the Catholic Church, 108
The sacred words of Scripture are, of course, critically important to our faith. “Still, the Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book,’” as the Catechism insists (108). It is the religion of the Divine Word that “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14). Scripture, in fact, will remain a dead letter unless every word of it is read in view of the Word made flesh.
That is the purpose of the volume you now hold in your hands. Inspired by the scriptural vision St. John Paul II unfolded for us in his 129 Wednesday audiences from 1979 to 1984 that came to be known as the “Theology of the Body” (TOB), the brief, prayerful reflections on the Sunday readings in this book are intended to “open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures” by reading them in light of “the Word which is incarnate and living.”
In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus employs some extreme words to warn us of the seriousness of sin: “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna.” Modern adaptation: “If your iPhone causes you to sin, throw it away. If your laptop causes you to sin, get rid of it.” Yes, this is the seriousness with which we should seek purity of heart. But, let us also be clear on this point: If at first we must “pluck out our eyes” in our struggle against sin, “if we persevere in following Christ our Teacher,” says John Paul II, “we feel less and less burdened by the struggle against sin, and we enjoy more and more the divine light which pervades all creation.” In turn, this light affords “an ever greater awareness of the gratuitous beauty of the human body, of masculinity and femininity,” says John Paul II. “This is most important, because it allows us to escape from a situation of constant inner exposure to the risk of sin – even though, on this earth, the risk always remains present to some degree – so as to move with ever greater freedom within the whole created world [including in] our relations with … the opposite sex” (Memory and Identity, p. 29). Lord, give us eyes to see!