January 31, 2013



(by Sr. Helena Burns, fsp--originally printed in the “Engaging Faith” newsletter of Ave Maria Press)


It’s not a cliché to say that today’s young people are up against a lot. The breakdown of the family, divorce, remarriage, blended families and single-parents present profound challenges in teens’ formative years.

New media technology allows constant connection, information and creativity, but also has a dark side of addictions (e.g., porn and videogames) and dehumanization.

Teen sexual behaviors that lead to incurable STDs, infertility, heartbreak, inability to bond, cynicism about love, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, etc., are simply par for the course.

Record numbers of young people now self-describe as “unaffiliated,” “none” (no religion) or “atheist.” Young people are fond of saying that they’re “spiritual” but not “religious.”

Is there a comprehensive, consistent, Catholic approach to all these areas of young people’s lives, something that would tie them all together and offer a healthy, happy, holy alternative for the long haul? Yes! It’s called “Theology of the Body,” a gift from Pope John Paul II to the planet.

Our world no longer believes in what it cannot see. Our world no longer believes in religious authorities, sacred books and top-down systems. But our world has not given up on the body, sex, love, relationships and beauty. This is what they CAN see, what they DO know, what they ENJOY experiencing. John Paul II said: Fine! God is the Source of all these things! The Church is about all these things, too! And they are the BEST things in life (so the world has chosen well).

In his dual works, “Love and Responsibility” and “Male and Female He Created Them—A Theology of the Body,” John Paul II said: Let’s THOROUGHLY examine these five excellent things in the light of anthropology, philosophy, theology, Scripture, nature, and, of course, human experience, but we must be very HONEST about our human experience and we must be seeking AUTHENTIC human experience (because we can do things “wrong” for years and claim “but it’s my experience!” without gaining any true or practical wisdom from our actions).

By today’s tearing apart of sex and love, sex and marriage, sex and babies, we have created a culture of death. The definition of death is “the separation of body and soul.” Separating two things that absolutely go together, that are instrinsically united, results in spiritual and physical death. (To be “spiritual” [soul] but not “religious” [body] also rips the self in two.) Theology of the Body puts Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Theology of the Body begins with the fact that we ARE bodies, we don’t HAVE bodies. To HAVE something is to have a possession that is outside of us, something that can be used. To BE something is part and parcel of who we are. The human person=body and soul together forever (the resurrection of the body means we will get our bodies back)! What we do with our body we do with our soul, what we do with our soul we do with our body. We experience all of life through, with and in our bodies. Therefore, God must be accessible to our bodies, and He is. Not only did He become incarnate as one of us, but He remains with us in the Eucharist: God’s Body.

Certainly chastity, abstinence, and celibacy-outside-of-marriage is part of the message of Theology of the Body, but Theology of the Body doesn’t dwell on what we CAN’T HAVE, but rather what we CAN HAVE: true love and true sex. The world IS looking for true love and true sex, but if we don’t know what it is, how will we ever get there? Young people are in preparation, in training (or should be) for true love and true sex. It’s all about achieving our goals. If someone wants to be a soccer player, why go to basketball camp instead? Unfortunately, young people--by opting out of dating all together, being sexually promiscuous, not understanding the dynamics of male/female relationships and majorly delaying marriage--are in training for the opposite of marriage: a life of unwanted singlehood or marital discord, infidelity and divorce (not to mention the infertility that can be the result of STDs).

No one can deny that love/marriage/sex are a huge part of life, a kind of foundation stone. If we get it right, everything else in our life will go much more harmoniously. If we don’t get it right, we may be in for a lifetime of anguish and misery. Understanding what true love and true sex is is urgently needed today if young people and society in general are going to flourish. Theology of the Body is a big piece of that puzzle, or rather, “TOB” puts all the puzzle pieces of our everyday lives and Catholic Faith together in one of the clearest, most beautiful and complete visions of the human person ever.

Is it easy to live the Theology of the Body (or rather, conform ourselves to reality)? No. It’s one of the hardest things we’ll ever do, but it’s also the most “worth it” thing we’ll ever do, and young people are looking for a CHALLENGE (as well as MEANING). Sometimes I’m afraid young people actually LEAVE the Church precisely BECAUSE we were afraid to challenge them with the full truth, the truth that sets us free. Young people already love self-discipline because they play sports and musical instruments. Why are we afraid to show them how the self-discipline they already display so well can help them in the most important parts of their lives, too?

So much of catechesis in the past has stressed the spiritual, almost to the overlooking of the physical, almost to the encouraging of a radical split between the two! Not so with Theology of the Body. Theology of the Body STARTS with the physical in order to get to the spiritual. TOB starts with the concrete, the visible, what can be encountered and verified. Same conclusions, just a different method, perfectly adapted to our times.

Young people respond exceedingly well to TOB because it is such a positive take on the body, sex, love, relationships and beauty in a way they have never heard before--especially not coming from the Church!

Young people respond best to TOB when the following are emphasized and incorporated:
--the sacredness of sex
--the “language of the body” (fundamental, free, faithful, full, fruitful)
--God (divinity) interfacing with us (humanity), physically and spiritually
--scientific data regarding the body/sex

How can TOB cut across various subjects/disciplines? By always starting from the physical, from tangible facts, from “authentic” experiential knowledge. Mastering and memorizing some basic TOB principles, basic biblical texts, basic quotes from TOB texts, frequently referring to them, and applying them will help students grasp the concepts and be able to apply them to themselves and current issues (and they will blow you away with their understanding and original insights, of course).

NEED SOME QUICK RESOURCES? www.tinyurl.com/TOBresources


  1. Well articulated, as always!

    I have to ask--is the top photo a stock photo or are bangs making an unfortunate comeback?

  2. your sick ill be praying for you

  3. I love exercising and taking care of my body, it makes me feel good both physically and mentally. Great list,thanks.

    Costa Mesa Teenage Training