Program #0276 for Wednesday, April 11, 2012: Damon Owens and the Theology of the Body

April 11, 2012

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Summary of today’s show: The Theology of the Body was the foundation of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate and an answer to the depersonalization and objectification of the human person in society in recent decades. Scot Landry and Fr. Matt Williams are joined by Damon Owens of the Theology of the Body Institute for an introduction to this teaching and discussion of a definition of love that moves beyond mere feelings to an act of the will and desire to make a complete self-gift of oneself.

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Matt Williams

Today’s guest(s): Damon Owens, executive director of the Theology of the Body Institute

Links from today’s show:

Today’s topics: Theology of the Body Institute

1st segment: Scot welcomed Fr. Matt to the show and wished him Happy Easter. They noted that Easter takes place over 8 days. Fr. Matt said on Holy Thursday he concelebrated Mass at St. Joseph in Holbrook and then on Good Friday he took part in the Hunger for Justice retreat in Nahant. He then concelebrated the Easter Vigil at St. Mary’s in Lynn with many of the teens from the Hunger for Justice retreat. On Sunday, he was back at St. Joseph and then celebrated Mass in the chapel at Bridgewater State College.

Fr. Matt said the Hunger for Justice retreat was wonderful. He said the receptivity of the teens and reverence and respect were powerful. He said the retreat began on Short Beach in Nahant with a lesson that salvation is impossible on our own and that God comes to save us. They then walked in a procession with the Cross to St. Thomas Aquinas Church. He said lots of people were drawn to what the hundreds of teens were doing. He said their actions proclaimed Jesus.

Scot said he saw many of the photos from the beach at

Today’s topic is Theology of the Body. Fr. Matt said Pope John Paul II began to write and reflect upon the Theology of the Body at the beginning of the sexual revolution. He believes this is a profound gift from God to speak to the hearts of all people, especially the young, to help them realize our lives are intended to be a gift given to another, and that gift is inscribed in our bodies. It speaks to the hook-up culture many of our young people are saturated in today.

2nd segment: Scot welcomed Damon Owens to the show. Scot asked him how Pope John Paul developed the Theology of the Body. Damon said like many of the major teachings in the Church, this developed out of a crisis. He said it takes time to delve into it. It responds to some of the worst degradation of humanity in history during the 20th century and it tell us what it means to be a human being.

Scot said Pope John Paul put these teachings forward in a series of 129 Wednesday general audiences over 5 years ending in 1984. He thought it was so central in our understanding of the human person and how we relate to each other. Damon said it is the culmination of his priesthood from his time as a pastor to theology professor to bishop and cardinal and then pope. It laid the foundation for the entire 25-year pontificate. Each encyclical shows how he unveils it and applies it to every facet of the world.

Scot asked Damon to define what is Theology of the Body. Damon said it is a body of teaching that is the fruit and implementation of the Second Vatican Council. It doesn’t replace the body of faith, but makes it accessible. It’s not a new teaching, but draws from our teachings to help us understand who Christ is and learn what hit means to be made in the image and likeness of God. The first part of the 129 audiences ask and answer the question of who we are, what is our identity. It starts with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eve.

Scot asked what are some misconceptions about what it means to be a human person debunked by John Paul. Damon said there is an overspiritualization and an overly materialistic view. John Paul said physical and spiritual are not working against each other, but they work together to bring us to the deepest truth about our identity. It’s a both/and not either/or.

Damon said they always begin with morality. Everyone asks the fundamental questions of morality, who can they love, how do they know if it’s true love. What they don’t realize is that they’re asking questions of identity more than morality. Questions of the moral law build on top of our identity. If we know who we are, we will know how to act. Many have absorbed a false identity, but they offer the dignity of masculinity and felinity, which have no parallel in our culture.

John Paul said love is an act of the will. We make of ourselves a self-gift, which Christ on the cross is the prime example. In marriage, we make a gift of ourselves as a state of life, where we literally learn how to love and become love by the acts we choose to make and pledge of our being to another. We need to be on our knees asking God how to love with his love.

Fr. Matt said we’ve been called to live our lives as gift, which comes from John Paul’s philosophy of personalism. Damon warned that many of these ideas are deep and profound and hearing them the first time can be intimidating. But we have to recognize the full depth of what John Paul is calling. We are mde in the image and likeness of God, male and female. God created masculinity and femininity out of that image, when God is neither male nor female. God is a communion of divine persons and being made in the image and likeness of God, he has given us the capacity to love as he loves. The language of our bodies shows what we are called to as male and female is a call to communion. We are not meant for solitude. When we love like God, we become what we love like, we become God.

Damon said John Paul said overcoming the dominance of sin, the temptation to concupiscence is the beginning of the accessibility of eternal life won by Jesus Christ. The challenge is to live purity of the heart. We have to dig deep to things that move our heart. We have to seek, will, and do the good. We have to have a singularity of learning how to love.

Purity is not simply following rules or avoiding some things. It is the singularity of our posture toward God, serving him our of love, not out of a sense of obligation.

Fr. Matt posed a hypothetical about what to say to someone we know who is having sex outside of marriage. Damon said there should be a necessary affirmation of the longing for love and desire that it shown in relationships, even these ones. What they’re seeking is good and true and beautiful. But there has to be an acknowledgment that they will never find it if they don’t follow the calling to the greater dignity of love. Scot said wherever you are in life is an opportunity to begin again with God.

Damon said marriage is a major theme in the Theology of the Body because it conjures up the lived encounter. It’s a universal natural institution in every human community. As Christian,s we see God placed it there from the beginning. It gives us a spiritual truth about how we live our lives. Marriage is beautiful and gives us a union in which a full human person can come into being.

Scot said statistics show that about half of all marriages end in divorce. Theology of the Body tells us that our vocation in life is lived out through our state in life and the truth is that the heart of marriage is self-gift, not selfishness. When he hears about divorce, it’s often a story of one or both of the spouses living selfishly.

Damon said society says love s what we feel and it places us at the center of the universe as the measure of what’s good and worth fighting for inasmuch as it benefits me. But Theology of the Body speaks of willing, not wishing, the good of another. This describes all different aspects of self-giving love. Not just giving something of self, but giving totality of self. The beauty of an act is measured by the depth of self-giving. We cannot love if we don’t suffer. We don’t look for it, it comes to us anyway. But we see that suffering is not evil in itself. Love embraces suffering.

Fr. Matt said when he meets with engaged couples, he asks them what they mean when they say, “I love you.” They usually respond with how the other makes them feel. But that won’t sustain them long term in marriage. He said young people are influenced by Hollywood’s vision of love. Damon said Titanic is a good example. On the one hand, he gave his life for her. On the other hand,we recognize that there isn’t a sexual maturity or mature sexual love. The sign of that is that it moves from how the other person makes me feel to who the other person is. It moves from affection to identity. That attraction and affection isn’t bad, but we are called to grow beyond that immature state.

The second great vocation of living our masculinity and femininity is celibacy for the sake of the kingdom. John Paul says some who live the state in life isa fulfillment of masculinity and femininity. We have to see their supernatural origin. Loving as self-gift. Priest, religious, bishop have full possession of their masculinity and femininity that the signs of marriage are still there, but lived in a deeper reality. Priests are spiritual fathers, not as a Plan B. Spiritual fatherhood and motherhood is the Plan A for humanity, and some are also called to biological parenthood.

They discussed the resources available of the Theology of the Body, which was formed to teach everyone this body of teaching. They have weeklong Head and Heart immersion courses with world-class faculty.

On April 27 & 28, Damon will also be a speaker at the Eucharistic Congress for College Students & Young Adults.

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