Priest urges correct understanding of JPII's 'Theology of the Body'

Fr Gregory Gresko OSB CNA US Catholic News 5 31 12 Fr. Gregory Gresko.

In a new guest column, Fr. Gregory Gresko discusses how a flawed interpretation of Blessed John Paul II's seminal work on human sexuality can lead to a fundamentally wrong understanding of sex.

Known popularly as the “Theology of the Body,” the late Pope's Catechesis on Human Love is “profoundly beautiful,” but at times “subject to misinterpretation,” warned Fr. Gresko.

In his column, the avid blogger, scholar and chaplain of the Blessed John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C., examines Christopher West's newest book, “At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization.”

Fr. Gresko begins by calling West's definition of lust problematic, as the author describes it in his new book as a “disorder of the heart.”

While this is certainly true, Fr. Gresko says, West falls short in his interpretation by failing to clearly define what is meant by “heart” and whether or not he fully takes into account human concupiscence – or “the tendency to sin.”

Fr. Gresko says West claims that “a more complete spousal understanding of the 'body' provides the key to rectifying the sinful diseases of the 'heart.'”

But such an attitude, he writes, overlooks a human's tendency towards sin, which is “objectively present in the body” even after Baptism.

The priest points out in his column that even the most virtuous saints “had to wage battle daily” against sin. Therefore, assuming that lust or other disorders of the heart can be completely removed from the spousal act, as West seems to suggest, is false.

In order to fully understand Bl. John Paul II's works, one must realize that he often wrote and taught in terms of analogy, Fr. Gresko says.

He points out that in much of his work, West lacks “an adequate concept of analogy” while discussing spousal union.

“Understanding this latter concept analogically, the conjugal relation stands as an image pointing to the deeper reality of the Trinity, revealing God in our human world in a new and different way.”

Essentially, the family and the relationship between husband and wife on which it is founded, represents an “analogy of the Trinity” but not the Trinity itself.

Overemphasis on the sexual act can eclipse humanity's relationship with God, which is first and foremost that of Father and child, he explains.

“As a child of God, man has a relationship with Him that then gives him the capacity to be in relation with another human being,” Fr. Gresko says.

In other words, the emphasis should always be on the individual and God and then the individual and the other.

West risks confusing Catholics in his emphasis of the conjugal act as the ultimate expression of union with God and by stating that “nothing is shameful.”

“West's presentation fails to account adequately the positive aspects of shame,” which are found throughout the late Pope's works.

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Fr. Gresko says that such an oversight fails to bring enough attention to the fact that married couples can still struggle with lust, a teaching for which John Paul II received much criticism.

Overall, Fr. Gresko says, in order to properly interpret the “Theology of the Body,” the Magisterium should ensure that Bl. John Paul II's teachings are “never used to condone searching for sexual satisfaction” by ways that are essentially “not conjugal” or that objectify the other spouse.

Although much clarification is necessary to properly “reclaim the body for the new evangelization,” he writes, Catholics have the necessary tools to do so through the teachings of Bl. John Paul II.

Read Fr. Gresko's full article here.

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