Recently I gave a mini-retreat to middle schoolers. We had a blast, and they learned an incredibly important truth—the body matters! It took several minutes of me asking them question after question…until in sunk in and one boy finally responded correctly with “The body.”
“How do you know you are…hungry, thirsty, sleepy, sick, tired, angry, scared?” THE BODY!
“How do you know you are… human, a teen, not 2 years old, related to your parents?” THE BODY!
“Boys, how do you know you are boys?” (snickering, of course, so I answered,) BOY BODY!
“Girls, how do you know you are female?” GIRL BODY!
Then, the rest of the time, they knew the answer had to do with the BODY, for the body does indeed matter. Holiness, gift of self, all of life has to do with the BODY!
What they didn’t know but what they now have ingrained in their imagination is the takeaway from St. John Paul II’s theology of the body: a sacramental view of reality. Why is this so essential? It’s because this is the way God chose to encounter us—through the visible which brings us into contact with the invisible God. Pope Benedict calls it the “transparency of the biological, through which man can glimpse the spiritual and eternal” (Theology of the Liturgy, 158, Ignatius Press).
I concluded the retreat by asking them, “What is the closest we can be to God on earth?” They didn’t know why it was the answer, but they answered, “The body.” And then they realized—they receive the Body of Christ into their very bodies. Through their own bodies, they encounter God. Jesus says, “This is my body,” meaning ALL of him; He is a Gift. The children—and all of us—respond to Jesus who says, “This is my body.” All of us receive his gift and respond with our own bodily, loving actions, having encountered the God of the universe, a personal God who loves. THIS is the theology of the body.
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