Recover the sense of beauty of the human body

by CHRISTOPHER WEST /

I’ve been reminded again and again throughout the course how much is at stake in the rampant confusion – both in the secular world and in our churches – about the meaning of the body, sexuality, gender, marriage, and the family. As one of my theological mentors, the late Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, observed:

When [the Gospel] is lacking in a person or in a culture, the barometer where its lack is most clearly seen is the attitude towards the body… Indeed, … it is the desperate confusion and disarray with respect to human bodiliness, as shown in human sexuality, that shows the need for evangelization… This absolutely inseparable relation between the Gospel and the experience of the body … can be seen in the fact that from the very beginning the greatest enemy of the Gospel has been the attempt to separate Jesus Christ from the flesh [see 2 Jn 1:7]… The whole heart, the scandal, the newness, the stunning wonder of the Christian proposal … is that the Word – the Logos, Meaning, Sense, Beauty, Truth, Goodness, Destiny – has become flesh. The person who accepts [this] … knows that an attack against the body … is an attack against the very secret of God’s life. And so that person develops a passion, a passion to come to the help of suffering bodies. … That sensitivity is in the end the decisive proof that evangelization has occurred. 

This suffering abounds in our post-sexual revolution world. If the essential goal of the sexual revolution was to sever the natural link between gender and the generation of human life (with contraception and abortion), the goal now is to sever the natural link between human life and gender itself. Despite all claims of “liberation” and the supposed triumph of “human rights,” a de-gendered world can only degenerate.

Both steps, both ruptures in our humanity – the rupture of gender from life and the rupture of life from gender – are rooted in a “new Manichaeism,” an ancient and vicious heresy in which body and soul are put in radical opposition. Severed from spiritual reality, we no longer experience the body, sexuality, and fertility as a “great mystery” (Eph 5:31-32). Instead, we come to experience them as a “great misery.” In turn, we no longer experience gender (gender literally means “the manner in which one is designed to generate”) as something to revere, but as something to reject.

When we fail to appreciate the profound unity of body and soul, we no longer see the human body in light of our creation in the image and likeness of God. Rather, we reduce it to a thing to be used, exploited, manipulated and even discarded at will, forgetting that that body is not just “a body” but some-body. Within this milieu, as Saint John Paul II observed, the human being “ceases to live as a person and a subject. Regardless of all intentions and declarations to the contrary, he becomes merely an object.” Tragically, he continues, we have lost

the basis of that primordial wonder which led Adam on the morning of creation to exclaim before Eve: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). This same wonder is echoed in the words of the Song of Songs: “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes” (Song 4:9). How far removed are some modern ideas from the profound understanding of masculinity and femininity found in divine revelation!  Revelation leads us to discover in human sexuality a treasure proper to the person, who finds true fulfillment in [marriage and] the family but who can likewise express his profound calling … in celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of God.

We are living in dark times indeed, but let us never forget that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). We are people of hope and the Bridegroom is preparing a great springtime for his Bride (see Song 2:11-13). How do we pass-over from this winter to the promised springtime?

If we can recognize in the above the diagnosis of what ails the modern world, we can also recognize the cure. Here it is: we must recover a sense of primordial wonder at the divinely inspired beauty of the human body; we must come to recognize in the human body the revelation of the human person whose dignity demands he never be used, exploited, manipulated or discarded; we must rediscover the treasure of human sexuality and gender as a stupendous sign of the divine image in man, and as an invitation to use our freedom to live this divine image through the sincere gift of one’s life in marriage or in celibacy for the kingdom. And we do all of the above precisely by pondering the profound understanding of masculinity and femininity found in divine revelation, found in God’s Word … made flesh in Christ. 

This is what Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is. And you are part of a microscopic percentage of people on this planet who even knows this salvific teaching exists. What will you do with that responsibility? 

The Cor Project exists to help men and women around the world learn, live, and share this teaching. Learn more by watching our new short film.

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