Theology of the Body

To Use or Not to Use That is the Question? A Commentary on the Work of St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body

By David Farias

       In the Theology of the Body, St. Pope John Paul II’s timely work he makes use of two terms which serve as an excellent backdrop for a more robust understanding of human sexuality, “subject” and “object.” These two terms are used to describe and give life and meaning to the marital act. When we think of the term “object”, we think of a thing with utility appropriated to it. Utility in an object can be looked at insofar that a thing is seen as a good when that thing serves a particular function to make us happy, or is seen as useful. Such as in the case with a fireplace warming up a cold house, or a lightbulb lighting up a dark room. These two objects, a fireplace and a lightbulb, serve a function to satisfy a real need, which is to remedy coldness and darkness.

       When the term “subject” is applied it breathes purpose and meaning to a thing and makes it the beneficiary of what we give and put into it. A subject is not like an object where we take from it what we find useful, but rather it is something that we give of ourselves to find purpose. St. Pope John Paul II, describes the sexual urge as good and necessary, for the reason that it is meant to be utilized as a conduit to what sex was designed for. Sex, generally speaking, is seen as a means to propagate the species. The sexual act properly understood, barring social distortions, is the act which bonds two people closer together, culminating in a new human life. The conjugal act as it is best known, commits the couple together in a lifelong union, both man and woman are seen as a new family, with the responsibility of raising new life.

“For this reason, man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh” -Genesis 2:24

       The sexual urge is a means to satisfy a higher good, an end in itself, that end being marriage and family. Sexuality is meant to be a gift to be given to one who is the subject of your love, not a hedonistic thirst selfishly needing to be quenched at the expense of another. The difference between use and love is synonymous with the term’s “object” and “subject.” A man can only love insofar that he gives of himself, the opposite of that being to take for himself. Unfortunately, there is a distorted view in society that takes the latter and makes it the perennial philosophy of the day. In this context the sexual urge becomes the ends and others become the means. A philosophy that leaves no room for self-denial or real authentic love. This is evident in the rotten fruit that this bad philosophy reaps, infidelity, divorce, children born out of wedlock, abandonment, abortion and most recently gender confusion. St. Pope John Paul II reminds us that man and woman come to know the fullness or their identity by coming together in the “one flesh” union with both genders being distinct but compatible. Ultimately resulting in the use of the fullness of their distinctive powers which result in a new life. Therefore, identity being indeed tied to the body, but with a more metaphysical understanding through the compatibility of marriage. According to St. Pope John Paul II this union between man and woman is so intimately intertwined that it is also known as “knowledge.” Not just knowledge of the other but knowledge of yourself in another.

“Truly, Adam knew his wife Eve, who conceived and gave birth to Cain, “I have obtained a man through God.” Genesis 4:1

       The broken home is the precursor to Sodom and Gomorrah, a society lost. The remedy begins with the proper use of human sexuality and the proper understanding of love. Sexuality is a gift from God and is designed to be ordered toward the greatest good, the greatest love, marriage and family. This is what will ultimately satisfy and complete man and woman, as a partaker and a reflection of the divine love bestowed upon them by God. Real love demands self-denial and service. To make something the subject of your love means to serve and to deny yourself. We see this in the fruit that self-denial and service produce. Children coming from homes with two parents who love and respect each other are more likely to be more successful and productive members of society with successful marriages of their own.

“Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children in the faith, prayer, and all the virtues.” CCC 2252

“Parents should respect and encourage their children’s vocations.” CCC 2253 

       St. Pope John Paul II speaks of the dignity and worth of human life, and thus it is worthy to be the subject of our love. When we treat people as objects to submit to our selfish pleasures, we commit endless evils that result in death and destruction both physical and psychological. We need look no further than to the previous century to see how much life was laid waste compared to all previous generations. Or to see how much addiction and depression has plagued our society which prides itself on freedom of expression and individuality. In losing sight of what it means to truly love we descend to a hell we create ourselves. Sodom and Gomorrah repeat itself all over again. It begins with ourselves, in our lives and in our homes. There is a Natural Law which reflects the Divine Law of God and the more we try to emancipate ourselves from that law the further we descend away from the meaning of life and what is good.

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