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The Theology of the Body: An Interview (Part IV)
Fr Walter Schu, LC, on controversial issues related to theology of the body.

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The following is a continuation of Kelly Luttinen’s interview with Fr Walter Schu, LC, on the Theology of the Body.  In this section, Fr Walter expands on some controversial issues—abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and priestly celibacy.

25. In the United States, with the debate over healthcare reform, the issues of abortion and euthanasia are front and center. And we are also struggling with the debate over embryonic stem cell research. These issues are not just limited to the US.  How does an understanding of Theology of the Body bring clarity to these issues?

An understanding of the theology of the body, along with John Paul II’s related teachings in his book Love and Responsibility which he wrote while he was Bishop Karol Wojtyla, clarifies one fundamental truth.  The dignity of human persons is such that the only adequate response they merit is that of love. Persons can never be treated as objects or regarded as a means to someone’s ends.  Their dignity lies in who they are, created in the image and likeness of God, not in what they possess or are able to produce.

Each human person possesses this dignity from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. As a result, both abortion and euthanasia are intrinsically evil acts, and can never be justified under any circumstances. It follows as a consequence that it would be immoral for any healthcare bill to support or foster in any way, especially through federal funding, either abortion or euthanasia. This would be a grave violation, not only of the natural moral law, but also of the freedom of conscience of citizens who rightly consider these practices to be evil.

The same principle makes clear the intrinsic evil of embryonic stem-cell research, no matter how good the intentions of those who do the research, no matter how laudable the goals they seek, which include curing cancer, or Parkinson’s disease, or other grave illnesses. A human being possesses all of the rights and dignity of a person from the moment of conception.  In order to obtain stem cells, embryonic stem cell-research always involves the destruction of a human embryo, who is a living human being in his or her earliest stages. So it entails the direct killing of an innocent human being, which can never be justified, no matter how great a good is sought.

26. Obviously, another major issue is the understanding and definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.  Can you discuss how Theology of the Body helps us understand why same-sex “marriage” is not possible?

Same-sex “marriage” is not possible, because marriage is not simply a human institution that we can modify or redefine at will. Marriage was instituted by God himself, when he created the first man and woman before the dawn of recorded history. Marriage entails the exclusive gift of one man to one woman, and vice versa, in their entire person, their whole “self,” over a lifetime. This “law of the gift,” this call to self-giving love is inscribed in our very nature, which John Paul II calls the “language of the body.” Husband and wife, by their total self-giving love in marriage, bear wonderful fruit in bringing forth children, in creating a family, a new community of love, which confirms and deepens their own communion of life and love.  This fruitfulness images the fruitful, self-giving love of the Blessed Trinity, the communion of persons in love that is God himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Just as Shakespeare’s works raised the English language to new heights, the language of the body is a beautiful poem of love. 

There is one thing man and woman cannot do, however, and that is to change the language of the body itself. This language is inscribed in our very being by the Creator. There are two and only two ways to be a human person: either as a man or a woman. The gift of self between husband and wife is expressed and made incarnate in the act of conjugal union, in sexual intercourse between the spouses, when the two become “one flesh,” with the intrinsic fruitfulness that is inscribed in this act.

Same-sex partners are incapable of a true act of sexual union. They cannot become “one flesh” and cannot bring forth children. This reality reflects the fact that they cannot live out that exclusive gift of one’s entire self in married love, which only a husband and wife are capable of, due to the language of the body inscribed in our very being as man and woman created in the image of God.

The fruitful gift of one’s entire self to the other in love that takes place in marriage is possible due to the authentic complementarity between man and woman. This complementarity is not only physical, but also extends to the sphere of the emotions and even to the very depths of the person. This complementarity is patently lacking between same-sex partners.

27. During the last decade in the US, there has been the problem of clergy sexual abuse, and a call for an end to the celibate priesthood.  Theology of the Body helps us understand and appreciate celibacy in way that many scholars, including Christopher West, claim can bring healing and understanding to these problems within our Church.  How do you respond to this? 

As both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have reiterated, clergy sexual abuse is an abominable crime that violates the dignity of the human person at its deepest core.  The cause of this abuse is not to be found in the practice of celibacy, however. Christ himself, the perfect man, invited those who received a special call from God to follow and imitate him by living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity (in the form of celibacy), and obedience.

Sexual abuse is obviously a failure to live out faithfully the commitment to celibacy. The sexual abuse crisis has forced us to pose the question once again: Can we even hope that fallen man is capable of living out such a high ideal as celibacy, the way of life of God’s own Incarnate Son?  Left to our own human strength, we certainly could not hope to be faithful to this ideal.  But in his theology of the body, John Paul II vigorously reaffirms an essential truth of the gospel: Christ has not abandoned us to our own human resources and frailty.  By his saving death on the cross and triumphant resurrection, he has redeemed us both in soul and body. He has brought about once and for all the redemption of the body.  With the strength that flows from the grace of Christ’s death and resurrection, a grace that must be continually renewed through prayer, the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and a constant practice of asceticism and self denial, redeemed men and women are indeed capable of imitating Christ in faithful, lifelong celibacy.

Theology of the body also helps us to live celibacy faithfully by revealing the deep, inner meaning of this noble ideal. Celibacy and married love are not two parallel tracks, which never approach each other.  There is an intimate relation between them. They foster and support one another.  When will the ultimate fulfillment of marriage take place—that sacramental sign of Christ’s love for his Church, for all of humanity? Paradoxically, it will occur in heaven, where “they neither marry nor are given in marriage,” by Christ’s own words in the gospel (Mt 22:30).

How is this possible? In heaven, marriage will be fulfilled when Christ, the Bridegroom, receives from each one of us the gift of our entire self as members of his Church, the Bride.  Christ in turn will give himself totally to each one of us.  Through that total gift of ourselves to Christ, we will also give ourselves to every other person in heaven, John Paul II’s beautiful description of the communion of saints.

In the life of a celibate priest, celibacy also embodies the priest’s complete gift of himself to the Church, his only spouse, whom he seeks to love with the love of Christ himself.  The priest strives to live out this love in universal charity, in sacrifice and self-giving to each member of the Church without distinction or favoritism.

Thus, married love, which is supremely fruitful in bringing forth children, helps to reveal the spiritual fruitfulness hidden in celibacy, as priests and religious become spiritual fathers and mothers to countless persons through their prayers, sacrifices, and self-giving. Celibacy, in turn, helps make clear that the fruitfulness of marriage is not just physical, in bringing new children into the world.  It is also a spiritual journey, as husband and wife strive to aid one another and their children to live that complete self-giving love for Christ, which alone is the source of our true fulfillment and lasting happiness, both in this life and throughout eternity.



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