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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XIX No. 1 Eastertide 2004
New Body Language
Teaching Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body"
by Mary Ellen Bork
Marriage, the indissoluble union of man and woman, is the highest human communication. This basic truth is now being challenged on nearly every front. In a society that sees sex as recreation and the body as a possession to be decorated and pierced as desired, parents and concerned citizens are looking for a language to express the Christian truth that the human body expresses the person and the two cannot be arbitrarily separated.
A study guide called "A New Language" is a welcome teaching aid that makes John Paul II's theology of the body more accessible to the Catholic layperson.
Dr. Mary Shivanandan, professor of theology at the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family in Washington, DC, with the help of some of her students, has laid out the key concepts of a Christian anthropology in her book Crossing the Threshold of Love: A New Vision of Marriage.
Dr. Shivanandan explains, "If we are to reclaim the beauty of God's vision ... we need to reclaim an understanding of the person and sexuality as gift to show us the true meaning of human love and life".
During the past two years the Washington chapter of Women Affirming Life has used the study guide with small groups and has had a positive response from young mothers and fathers, students and professionals wanting to hear about the biblical approach to human sexuality.
The unique feature of this approach is to help participants reflect on their own experience of life. Using biblical readings, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body", a "facilitator" helps the group to understand the anthropology that is the basis of the Catholic view of marriage and human sexuality. In these study groups, Catholics can learn more about how Pope John Paul II's theology of the body offers much-needed insights into the depths of human experience and the centrality of marriage in the development of a culture of life.
The course of study is divided into four sessions with six classes each. The groups of about ten to twelve people discuss the implications of Christ's answer to the Pharisees that "in the beginning" God created human beings with a plan for their happiness that is recorded in Genesis. They learn that "created in the image of God" -- male and female -- means we are called to a life of communion that reflects the life of the Trinity.
This approach to the human person shows the deep unity of body and soul explicitly denied by today's culture. Only when we respect this unity and allow the body to express our spiritual and moral life can we experience a real communion of persons that can make us happy. Marriage is the highest human expression of the communion of persons.
Study groups of "A New Language" are flourishing in several states, including New York, Maine, West Virginia, Florida and Oklahoma. Some people have expressed interest in starting groups in Baltimore, Northern California, South Dakota and Portland, Oregon. The program's organizers are attempting to coordinate these initiatives through the small office of Women Affirming Life in Washington, DC.
A workshop for "facilitators" of study groups for "A New Language" was held on March 27 in Washington, DC, led by Dr. Shivanandan with Donna Bethell, Mary Ellen Bork, and Suzanne Shaffer.
The workshop introduced new study-group leaders to the materials that will be used as the basis of study and discussion, and suggested teaching approaches. The program involves prospective leaders of groups in study of "A New Language" (all four sessions), that they be assigned a "mentor" to help guide their efforts, and that each prospective group leader sign a certificate of commitment to the Magisterium of the Church.
To access the study guide for "Session One" on the Internet, go to www.affirmlife.com/page.cfm?Web_ID=79 (broken link).
For more complete information, visit the Women Affirming Lifeweb site, www.affirmlife.com (broken link) or call the Washington office at 202-962-0040, fax 202-289-2502. An intern is in the office on Tuesday mornings and all day on Fridays.
Mary Ellen Bork, a member of the Voices editorial board, is a writer and lecturer on issues affecting Catholic life. Mrs. Bork has Master's degrees in English and Theology, and taught religion for many years. She is married to Judge Robert Bork and lives in McLean, Virginia. Mrs. Bork is a member of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Campaign for America, and serves on several other boards, including the John Carroll Society and Women Affirming Life, and is past president of the Thomas More Society.
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