Papal biographer George Weigel once famously described St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body as “a theological time bomb waiting to go off.” The Theology of the Body Institute is eager to light the spark by sponsoring the 2016 Theology of the Body Congress, to be held September 23-25 in Southern California, on the theme of “Love, Mercy & the Gift of the Family.”
The Theology of the Body (or TOB) is the name given to a series of Pope John Paul II’s general audiences delivered in the early 1980s. TOB’s life-changing message is that our bodies and sexuality are glorious gifts from God, signs that we are destined for eternal ecstatic union with the divine. This year’s TOB Congress focuses on God’s mercy to heal our sexual brokenness, offering 25 workshops on topics like pornography addiction, divorce, homosexuality, infertility, and the “beautiful mess” of the family. Those who register by July 31 receive a discounted rate of $199.
Aleteia spoke to Congress speaker and TOB expert Bill Donaghy about the upcoming Congress.
- What is the Theology of the Body, and why is it important for the Church?
The Theology of the Body is a refreshed, renewed vision of the beauty and dignity of the human person and of our universal call to love and communion, which is written in our very sexuality as male and female. It is a penetrating series of meditations on both Sacred Scripture and human experience by St. John Paul II that reveals our fundamental call to receive the gift of life and then become a gift. Through this paradigm of gift, according to the late Holy Father, “we fulfill the very meaning of our being and existence”! In these days of deep confusion about our identity and the use and abuse of the gift of sexuality, TOB can bring the healing we need.
- Is the TOB Congress only for chastity educators and those in marriage ministry, or is it for everyone?
TOB is all about our identity and our vocation, so this Congress is for everyone! Every vocation and those discerning, every man and woman (single, married, celibate/consecrated) can come and receive an introduction to the Church’s vision of the human person, then experience how this beautiful vision is applied to a diversity of topics in a wide variety of talks and breakout groups.
- This year’s theme is “Love, Mercy & the Gift of the Family.” What unique insights can TOB offer us about God’s mercy?
Because St. John Paul II started not with the norms and rules for living the gift of our sexuality but with the heart’s experience of the truth, the TOB offers us a penetrating gaze into the human drama. We come to discover through a prayerful study of TOB, our own desires, struggles, and longings for God and for healing. We experience God’s mercy in this catechesis, and so that encounter with tender mercy flows straight into our encounters with others. In the words of the Pope himself, we “see and know each other with all the peace of the interior gaze.”
- What are some highlights of this year’s Congress?
We have a wonderful array of dynamic speakers and topics! We jokingly refer to the Congress as a #CatholicDisneyWorld as it is just an incredibly enriching experience. Networking with old and new friends alone is a highlight! We have a wonderful Spanish track this year, with a focus on the cultural challenges the Hispanic communities face in regards to TOB. And we have the blessing of hosting this Congress in the wake of Pope Francis’s latest apostolic exhortation, The Joy of Love (itself a tribute and a wonderful exposition on the Theology of the Body!).
- What are some highlights of past TOB Congresses, and what other resources does the TOB Institute offer?
Past Congresses have borne great fruit in exposing many hearts to this life-changing teaching of the Church. We’ve been able to spotlight some of the great leaders in this field, and we’ve watched interest in TOB spread internationally. TOB enthusiasts who want more can attend our week-long courses at the Institute in Pennsylvania. These “head and heart immersions” into the vision of St. John Paul II have truly become the greatest gift we feel we can offer. Surrounded by prayer and enriched by the sacramental life of the Church over a 5 day retreat/course, with a community of people from around the country and the world seems to us to be just what God desires in our time. In the words of St. John Paul II himself, “Family, become what you are… a community of life and love that will find its ultimate fulfillment in Heaven.”