Human Body Speaks the Language of Love, Says Pope
People who think the church’s view of the human body is highly negative may be surprised by the highly positive tone of a speech Pope Benedict XVI gave on this very topic May 13.
When Christianity’s positive vision of the human body is grasped, the greatness of the vocation to love comes into clearer view, the pope told participants in a meeting sponsored in Rome by the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He challenged the group to link the theology of the body to the theology of love.
The institute was celebrating the 30th anniversary of its founding by Blessed Pope John Paul II. He commissioned the institute to study and promote his writings on human love and the body.
Pope Benedict explained in his speech how our human bodies connect directly with our Christian vocation.
He urged the group to consider the reasons why linking the theology of the body with the theology of love can illuminate the meaning of the human journey in its various dimensions. In his view, establishing this link will serve as a means of finding “unity in the human journey.”
Our convictions about the human body’s worth influence the way human sexuality, marriage, family life and other forms of living the Christian vocation are understood, Pope Benedict made clear.
He told the group that “far from being opposed to the spirit, the body is the place where the spirit can dwell.” There is a tendency today to think of the human body as “inert, heavy matter,” he observed. But he said that “if we know how to listen, [our human bodies] speak the language of true love.”
Connecting his theme with the original creation, the pope noted how “the flesh received from God is required to make possible the union of love between man and woman, and transmit life.”
The pope insisted, moreover, that original sin “is not the last word about the body in salvation history. God also offers the human person a process of the redemption of the body.” The pope said that “the power of sin is not capable of obliterating the original language of the body, the blessing of life that God continues to offer when a man and woman are joined in one flesh.”
And the bodily incarnation of Christ, coupled with his gift of “this body for us,” points out the “depth of the theology of the body,” the pope said. Thus, in the Christian vision of things, human flesh can increasingly become filled “with light and the Spirit, filled with God.”
Connecting the human body with the vocation to love gives “new meaning” to the virtue of chastity and of marriage, Pope Benedict proposed. From this perspective, chastity “is not a ‘no’ to the pleasures and joys of life, but a great ‘yes’ to love as a profound communication between persons.”
The growth of that communication “requires time and respect” as people “journey together toward fullness,” he said. The pope encouraged the group to consider how the call to love is a call to become “a communion of persons.”
The pope’s perspective on the human body and love also allows the “true appeal” of sexuality to be grasped, he told the group. He said that human sexuality and love open upon a vast horizon of great beauty – open upon “the universe of the other person and of the ‘we’ that is born of the union, the promise of communion that is hidden therein, the new fruitfulness, the path toward God, the source of love.”
The marital union of a woman and man “in one flesh” becomes “a union for the whole of life, until the man and woman become one spirit as well,” according to Pope Benedict.
A basic point of his speech was that human bodies “hide a mystery. In them the spirit is manifest and active. They are called to be spiritual bodies.”
Yes, the human body also can assume “a negative language,” Pope Benedict noted. In other words, individuals can become wrapped up in themselves, acting out of selfishness and overlooking the demands of respect and genuine love.
“One hears talk of oppression of the other, of the desire to possess and exploit,” the pope explained. He added, though, that we know this “is not part of God’s original plan but, rather, is the result of sin.”
Finally, it is in the family that “the theology of the body and the theology of love are interwoven,” Pope Benedict said. In the family – “in the experience of the love we receive from our parents” — we learn “the goodness of the body, its witness to a good origin.”
In the family, he said, a “human person discovers that he or she is not in a relationship as an autonomous person, but as a child, spouse or parent whose identity is founded in being called to love, to receive from others and to give him- or herself to others.”