Telling Lies with the Body

Expert Christopher West explains Pope John Paul II's 'Theology of the Body,' a reflection on sexual love.

What does Pope John Paul II think about sex? Quite a lot--and papal biographer George Weigel has called his complex thoughts on the subject a "theological time bomb" that will reshape Christianity. Author and lecturer Christopher West has popularized the pope's "Theology of the Body" in the U.S. and beyond. West spoke with Beliefnet recently about Catholic sexual teaching and what he sees as a dawning "sexual counter-revolution."

What is the "Theology of the Body"?

"Theology of the Body" is the working title that John Paul II gave to the first major teaching project of his pontificate. He delivered it in 129 short talks between 1979 and 1984. It's a biblical reflection on the meaning of human embodiment, particularly as it concerns human sexuality, marital love and erotic desire.

The teaching is divided into two main sections: one, what does it mean to be human? Two, how do I live my life in a way that will bring true happiness? So the pope's theology of the body is a reflection on the universal questions about life-why do I exist? Why did God make us male and female? How do I find happiness? What is my ultimate destiny? Why is there evil in the world? How do I overcome it? All of those universal questions.

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How can this understanding of our bodies help us find happiness?

In the language of the pope, the body reveals the mystery of God. And that mystery, which has been fully revealed in Jesus Christ, is that God is love. God is love in the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The theology of the body means that our bodies somehow reveal the mystery of divine love in the world. How so? Precisely through the mystery of sexual difference and the call of the two to become one flesh.

So you're saying God is revealed in the relationship between couples?

In the mystery of marital union we have a sign here on earth of the eternal mystery of love found in the Trinity. A sign that reveals the eternal plan of God for humanity. That plan, to go along with this analogy, is that God wants to marry us. This is the reason he created us.

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