Seeing the Synod through the lens of "Theology of the Body"
It is providential that St. John Paul II’s first official “saint’s day,” Oct. 22, will come in the wake of the 2014 Synod on the Family.
John Paul was a prophet on marriage and the family. He knew exactly the importance of Church teaching on marriage, and he will be praying powerfully for that teaching to transform the world.
Here are five of the Pope’s prophetic teachings on the family that are even more relevant today than they were when he pronounced them.
1. Destroy the family and you destroy civilization.
Said St. John Paul II: “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
To St. John Paul II, everything depends on the family. The family is where we learn faith. The family is where we learn to love. The family is where we learn our nation’s culture.
The family is not just the foundation of society to John Paul II — it’s the glue that holds it together.
In Centesimus Annus, he wrote that “The individual today is often suffocated between two extremes represented by the state and the marketplace.” It is primarily families that “strengthen the social fabric, preventing society from becoming an anonymous and impersonal mass, as unfortunately often happens today.”
To a bureaucrat, we are a social security number. To a merchant, we are a dollar sign. We are of infinite dignity and value, to be loved unconditionally — but only our families ever come close to treating us that way.
2. Our bodies have a meaning.
Said St. John Paul II: “Families will be the first victims of the evils that they have done no more than note with indifference.”
The new fad today is to reinvent ourselves radically without reference to who we are made to be. But St. John Paul II had a deep understanding of the danger posed by refusals to take man as he is found.
His "Theology of the Body" saw clues embedded by God in our very bodies that show the enormous importance of marriage and the family. Fundamentally, John Paul’s "Theology of the Body" is the recognition that we are built for each other — man for woman, and vice versa.
His “nuptial meaning of the body” describes not just the sexual compatibility of man and woman but also the emotional and psychological complementarity of “feminine genius” and those sons of Adam who were “not meant to be alone.”
Only by being true to our bodies can we “become who we are,” in his memorable phrase.
3. Contraception changes relationships for the worst.
Said St. John Paul II: “The two dimensions of conjugal union, the unitive and the procreative, cannot be artificially separated without damaging the deepest truth of the conjugal act itself.”
The results of the contraceptive revolution have been devastating to families. Thinkers like Mary Eberstadt and Janet Smith has done an excellent job of showing how it has led to divorce, abortion, and a host of other ills.
It stands to reason: the more sex is reduced to recreation on the one hand, or a physical urge on the other, the less it speaks to the real needs of couples. In often frank language, St. John Paul saw especially the importance of “the moment in which a man and a woman, uniting ‘in one flesh,’ can become parents.”
At that moment, he said, “The two dimensions of conjugal union, the unitive and the procreative, cannot be artificially separated without damaging the deepest truth of the conjugal act itself.”
4. Witnessing to the family life is a primary call for the New Evangelization.
Said St. John Paul II: “To bear witness to the inestimable value of the indissolubility and fidelity of marriage is one of the most precious and most urgent tasks of Christian couples in our time.”
The greatest answer to the world’s questions and concerns about marriage and family, said St. Pope John Paul II, was to see it witnessed and lived by Catholics.
He used the word “witness” 40 times in his groundbreaking document on the Family in the Modern World.
The only way to “win” on marriage and family is the hard way. No one will follow Church teaching unless each of us becomes a “genuine witness,” a “credible witness,” a “witness of love,” a “witness of faith” — a “witness of a life lived in conformity with the divine law in all its aspects.”
5. Threats to the family are as urgent as threats to peace.
“At the start of a millennium, which began with the terrifying attacks of September 11, 2001 … one cannot recite the Rosary without feeling caught up in a clear commitment to advancing peace,” said St. John Paul II, then added, “A similar need for commitment and prayer arises in relation to another critical contemporary issue: the family.”
It was when Pope John Paul II made that urgent call that my own family, which had been spotty at best at praying the rosary, began to do so in earnest. This October, the month of the rosary, is a great time to redouble our efforts.
St. John Paul was indeed a prophet: Lose the family and you lose personal identity, real couple-love and solidarity, the love that holds society together.
Lose the family and you lose everything.
As Cardinal George Pell of Australia said at the close of the Synod, we are in no danger of losing our rich Catholic teaching on the family. “Our task now is to ask people to pause, pray, and catch their breath.”
St. John Paul II, join us in this prayer. Help us be worthy witnesses of the great and vital truths of the family that you expressed so eloquently — and so urgently.
Tom Hoopesis writer-in-residence at Benedictine College.