Historic St. John's Parish, 94 Ridge St., Orange, will be the site of a four-part lecture series on Theology of the Body featuring author Christopher West. The series begins on Tuesday, March 6, 7:30 p.m. Call Damon Clarke Owens at (973) 847-0165 for information.
A leading voice on the subject is Christopher West, an author, lecturer and research fellow and faculty member of the West Chester, PA-based Theology of the Body Institute (Web site: www.tobinstitute.org). West will bring his knowledge and passion for the subject to a four-part lecture series at St. Joseph Parish, 94 Ridge St., Orange, beginning Tuesday, March 6.
Nationally known speakers like West and David Hajduk-a youth minister, who addressed the Youth Retreat Center in January-encourage their audiences, especially young adults, to follow the teachings first articulated by Pope John Paul II. Theology of the Body is the title given by Pope John Paul II to his 129 short talks for Wednesday audiences, which the pope delivered between 1979 and 1984. The discussions were a biblical reflection on the human body, sex, marital love and larger issues such as the meaning of life. The teachings of Pope John Paul II also focused on the biblical origin of marriage and sexuality.
According to a Theology of the Body study guide written by West, preswe are called to live in communion and the human body is an example of ultimate spiritual reality. "The marriage of Adam and Eve echoes the marriage of Christ and the Church. However, our culture is filled with images and propaganda emphasizing a purely physical and non-spiritual idea of love," he wrote.
The themes of identity and sexuality appeal to young adults and those growing into their faith. Theology of the Body also covers the vocation of marriage and can be used to heal and deepen existing relationships. "Marriage exists only as a sign that is meant to point us to heaven. According to the analogy, the wife is symbol of the Church and the husband is a symbol of Christ," West wrote.
West believes that this new approach to discussing sexuality draws more people into rediscovering their faith. "I think there is a new sexual revolution underway. It's picking up speed and it can't be stopped. Our world is so starved for love that often it is willing to eat out of a dumpster (pornography) to satisfy that hunger. The good news of the Theology of the Body is that it presents the banquet that truly satisfies the hunger," he explained.
For Hajduk, tracing the biblical reference to love, marriage and sexuality is essential. "Pope John Paul II believed that we have to go back to the beginning in order to show what went wrong (with human beings), the nature of sin, its impact on God's plan and how to restore God's plan for us," Hajduk said.
Theology of the Body is appealing, according to Hajduk, because it covers universal questions and ideas. "Everybody wants to be happy and have a fulfilled life. Everyone wants to find true love. For most, finding true love is equated to happiness."
For young people searching for meaning and love in their lives, the message of Theology of the Body appeals to their sensibilities, Hajduk said. "There is a lot of disillusionment and heartache. Theology of the Body reaches people's hearts and points them in the direction of the love they longed for. That is why it is so popular. It is hitting people were their heart is."
Church teachings on morality and sexuality can seem repressive and old-fashioned, but using Pope John Paul II 's philosophy examines Christian beliefs in a more understandable fashion. "Theology of the Body explains the 'whys' behind the 'whats.' It explains things using both heart and intellect, which is why I think the message is so moving. Pope John Paul II had a great sense of young people's desires," he said.
Hajduk used his experiences educating young people about the pope's teachings to write the book "God's Plan for You: Life, Love, Marriage and Sex," which was published last year. "The teenagers I work with are asking life questions such as: 'who am I and what is my future?' They are also coming to terms with their body and have a desire to be loved and affirmed. I wanted to bring this message to them and try to reach them in their language. Young people are bombarded with false messages of the meaning of sex and marriage."
As a former high school theology teacher and youth minister, Hajduk gave talks on chastity and family life before discovering Theology of the Body. "The teachings of Pope John Paul II had a profound impact on my life," he said. "When I started to read, I wanted to gobble up everything. Theology of the Body put a language to everything I had ever dreamed of expressing."
Opposing the societal pressures of premarital sex can be difficult for young adults, but Hajduk believes that his message is being heard. "Young adults really want to know what life is about. There is nothing more human and rational than wanting to know the meaning of life and love."
A resident of Warren County, Hajduk maintains a Web site: (www.davidhajduk.com).
Damon Clarke Owens of Joy-Filled Marriage (Web site: www.joyfilledmarriagenj.org) an organization based in West Orange, was instrumental in bringing the message of Theology of the Body to the archdiocese. As a national speaker and head of the archdiocesan Natural Family Planning (NFP) office, Owens asked West to speak in the March lecture series.
Damon Clarke Owens
Owens is working with West on a book about faith-filled marriage. "Theology of the Body approaches all aspects of Catholic faith and what it means to be a human person," Owens said. "It is a philosophy about what it means to be created and expressed in authentic love. It is the understanding that our bodies express and reflect who we are-made in the image and likeness of God. By knowing our own self, we come to know God. The body is not simply biological; it is theological."
Fourteen years ago Owens and his wife first learned about natural family planning and found that it enriched their lives. Now giving over three dozen talks a year throughout the country, Owens sees how the message of Theology of the Body has expanded. "It is a compelling and digestible way to view everything in our creed."
A Theology of the Body lecture was held last year at St. Philomena Parish, Livingston, sponsored by the archdiocesan Women's Commission (see The Catholic Advocate, April 12, 2006).
Call Owens at Joy-Filled Marriage (973) 847-0165 or 866-420-3017 for more information on the four-part series next month at St. John's Parish featuring West. The series begins on March 6 and continues March 13, 20 and 27. All four Tuesday evening programs begin at 7:30 and are slated to run for two hours.