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Turn to Jesus (Article)

The Theology of the Body: An Interview (Part I)
Fr Walter Schu, LC, explains why JPII’s catechesis is revolutionary.

Fr Walter Schu, LC
Fr Walter Schu, LC

Cheshire, Conn. Father Walter Schu has dedicated much of his vocation to understanding and teaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB.)  (Read Father Walter´s curriculum vitae here.)  He is the author of The Splendor of Love, John Paul II’s Vision for Marriage and Family, which spawned the “Splendor of Love” Familia program. 

On November 4-5, 2011, the Legionary University in Rome, Regina Apostolorum, will be organizing a Congress on the Theology of the Body to attempt to give impetus to this vital teaching in Europe, especially among the Pontifical Universities. Father Schu and Father Martin Connor, LC, are working to help organize the event and bring in several well-known speakers from the U.S.  Speakers, tentatively include Carl Anderson, Dr. Michael Waldstein, Christopher West, Dr. Janet Smith and Dr. Mary Shivanandan. 

To create enthusiasm for the upcoming event, as well provide readers with a better understanding of this incredible catechesis from our late Pope, we are publishing excerpts from a previous interview with Father Schu conducted by Kelly Luttinen, Legion of Christ public relations advisor, during her former radio program, “Michigan Catholic Radio’s Ongoing Series of the Theology of the Body,” broadcast June 11, 2008.  Certain facts in the interview have been updated, and the end of the interview also includes some more recent information on current topics of interest such as the health care debate, same-sex marriage and stem-cell research. 

1. Father Schu, you are involved with formation at the Legion Novitiate?

Yes, I teach at our Novitiate and our Humanities College in Cheshire, Connecticut.  I teach Latin, homiletics, a New Testament course and two courses on Christology.

2. You also taught a little philosophy?

Yes, when I was studying in Rome. I was there from 1989 to 1996, and during that time I taught metaphysics, which is kind of like delving into the nature of “being” itself, into what it means to exist, and all of those “abstract” questions.  They are very intriguing when you start to delve into them.

3. You are a very busy man.  The research involved in writing your book, The Splendor of Love, must have been daunting.  The source list is an amazing compilation of work.  How did you have time?

That is a story in itself.  It took a little while, about three years. I was doing it part time while I was teaching.  It started out on a smaller scale.  I was going to do a summer course for some of the brothers on the teachings of John Paul II.  And then, as I got more into it, I realized these teachings of John Paul II on marriage and family, especially his Theology of the Body, were a whole world within themselves. And from there the idea came that this would be a beautiful resource for Catholics in general, to translate the Theology of the Body into a language for those who haven’t had a chance to study theology or philosophy, and to give examples and explanation and put it into a language they could grab hold of and start to live in their own lives.  That is the purpose of the Theology of the Body.  Those five years of Wednesday audiences from John Paul II were to reach the lives of Catholic families. 

4. There had to be a reason more than just the impression the Theology of the Body made on you that you felt called to do this?

Definitely.  I studied moral theology while I was in Rome, and one of those areas was marriage and family, and I sort of specialized in that when I was in Rome. One thing that sparked my interest in this area was my background, growing up in Minnesota in such a large and close Catholic family.  I always realized what a grace that was.  And I wanted to be able to help other families live that Catholic lifestyle, which is so rich and has so much depth to it.

5. In a nutshell can you tell us what Theology of the Body is?

Pope John Paul II delivered the Theology of the Body in a five-year series of Wednesday audiences in Rome during 1979 to 1984.  He took a couple of short breaks -- after his assassination attempt, and for the Holy year of 1983.  It is a teaching on married love and on celibacy -- because celibacy is also a part of the Theology of the Body – and also fruitfulness.  Basically the teachings center on the law of the gift – that God created us in our human bodies as male and female so that husband and wife could make a gift of their whole person, their whole live, to each other.  And that gift is embodied in the conjugal act of marital love. That act is a self-giving of the whole person to the other and a receiving of the gift of the other person.  This is very beautiful.  JPII goes so far as to say that the marital act of self-giving love is an imitation of the self-giving love of the three Persons of the blessed Trinity.  They are the supreme example.  The Father gives himself to the Son, and the Son to the Father, and out of that gift comes the Person of the Holy Spirit, who is Love itself.

6. This is fairly revolutionary idea in the history of the Church is it not?

Yes, because up until this teaching, it was pretty much viewed that a human person was an image of the blessed Trinity because of his or her spiritual faculties of intellect and will, which is certainly true. These faculties enable us to love, to choose freely to do the good and enable us to see the good and seek the truth in our life. This is how we image God as an individual.  But John Paul II said we actually image God even more directly in our call to live a communion of persons, “communio personarum.” 

7. Is this a new idea?

It is certainly a contribution of John Paul II, this idea that the call to love between husband and wife is not just a reflection of Christ’s love for the Church, but to reflect the love the Trinity.

8. What weight does this carry in the magisterial teachings of the Church?  Is it infallible?

No, but it certainly does have a high weight of authority within the Church.  It wasn’t arranged as an encyclical, but it was given as a series of Wednesday audiences. To help see what the weight is, one question you have to ask is “Who is the intended audience of this Theology of the Body?” I think it is safe to say it wasn’t just those Catholics who happened to be there for that particular Wednesday audience in Paul VI’s Hall or St. Peter’s Square.  The audience for these events was intended to be the universal Church, and it’s very clear from the nature of the teachings that John Paul II was speaking to Catholics everywhere. 

Another way you can determine the weight of the teaching is by looking at the subject matter.  And the subject matter here is catechesis.  Catechesis is one of the most important things a Bishop can do.  Here we have the Bishop of Rome, of the Universal Church, speaking to all Catholics on catechesis.  And another question you can ask is what is the subject of that catechesis? Here the subject is Marriage and Family, which is one of the central teachings of the Church.  So within the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium, this has a pretty solid weight in Church teachings.  It all builds up to that great defense of Humanae Vitae, which says every act of conjugal act of love between husband and wife must be open to new life. 

9. It has been said that this Theology of the Body is something that Church leaders will be developing for years to come.  Was Benedict XVII’s first encyclical God is Love influenced by Theology of the Body? 

Yes.  I think it definitely was.  I wrote an article for Homiletic and Pastoral Review, which was a look at the first part of this encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, where he talks about love as “eros” and love as “agape.”  In this you can directly see the influence of Theology of the Body.  God’s love is not just agape, which is disinterested love. God’s love can also be considered to be eros, similar to passionate human love.  You can see here a very clear reflection of Theology of the Body.

George Weigel has that beautiful line in his book Witness to Hope that says Theology of the Body is like a theological time bomb, and as it starts to go off, it is going to revolutionize not only theology, but also family life.   And thanks be to God that is starting to happen!  You see Christopher West’s programs, and programs like God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage starting to take off in parishes, and being used in Pre-Cana and Marriage prep programs. 

10. You mention George Weigel.  He did the introduction to your book.  How did that come about?

He got to be friends with one of the Legionaries in Washington DC and that is how I got to know him.  After I read Witness to Hope, it was very clear George Weigel knew how essential the Theology of the Body was in the Pope’s teaching.  I was in Rome at the time, and he was giving a conference at our university.  I told him about the project I was working on and asked if he would like to write an introduction to it, and he said that sounded like something he would be interested in. He asked to see the manuscript.  We talked about it.  He thought it was a worthwhile project and he was kind enough to write the introduction.

Interview continues here.



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