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Archived Online Discussion
Topic: Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II's Theology of the Body
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Carl Anderson
Supreme Knight
Fr. José Granados
John Paul II Institute
Carl Anderson:
Thank you all for joining in this discussion of the theology of the body with Fr. Granados and me.

Mark Foley
Sullivan, WI, USA
What is wrong with Christophers West's interpretaion of TOB? Not being an academic his TOB explained has helped me greatly in growing in love of God and neighbor. Now I feel afraid that I have been learning from a faulty theologian? Can you help clear up this confustion in my heart?
Fr. José Granados:
There are many good things in the teaching of Christopher West, and it is no surprise that you have profited from it. The problem is more one of lack of balance which seems to be present in his talks. In my view, he insists too much on sexuality, without enough emphasis on the fact that sexuality refers us beyond itself, that it is symbolic, and cannot become the center of the focus. Phrases such as a 'Catholic sexual revolution' can give a wrong impression. Theology of the Body, in fact, is much broader than sexuality; it is mainly about the person, understood in the light of love, and the family as the place where the person comes to be himself. There is something that Mr. West can improve, and I am sure he will in his explanations.

Springfield, Mass., USA
For my part, TOB has been boiled down too far. Most people immediately limit it to sexuality. Though that is the most “provocative” element, at large it deals with being a person, i.e., a human in the image and likeness of God. How can this theme be made more understandable?
Carl Anderson:
I certainly hope that "Called to Love" is a step in the direction of making this more understandable. In addition, each of us in our own lives, has a responsibility to put the totality of the theology of the body into practice. How we treat our families, our coworkers, those with whom we interact each day is an important witness in this regard. As we say at the beginning of the book, "The body is not owned by a person, the body manifests fundamental truths about the person." It is up to us to make sure that this truth is not distorted.

Fr. José Granados:
We need to broaden the themes of Theology of the Body. John Paul II wrote about the whole of Christian life, what it means to be a Christian and to live the Christian life as an embodied being. The Pope wanted to bring two things together that our modern world tends to separate: our life and our faith; our human experience, and what we learn in the revelation of Jesus. What this means is that his proposal embraces the whole of the Christian vision of reality. How can we bring these two together? For John Paul II the answer was love. Love is the connection between our own life experience in the world, and the life of faith. We need love in order to know ourselves; we need love in order to know Christ and his message. In this context the body is important because it helps us discover the truth of love. The Pope said that the body is humble, because it does not point to itself. If viewed correctly the body always refers us to discover the dignity of the person and, in the person, God’s love. Thus, the TOB helps us to grow in love of God and neighbor.

Jim Barrett
Crescent City, California, USA.
I buy the phrase " is the way of man..."(page 14), but my church has always pained me when She refers, as you do, to "...mans...superiority over other animals" (page 28). Talk of superiority blinds me to what is being said about love. Is there a place for love from a wretched, inferior, man? My dog was a much better lover than I.
{I'm not quite done reading. Please site a page if this is answered in the book. Thanks.}
Carl Anderson:
As St. Thomas More says in the play A Man for All Seasons, “God made the angels to show him splendor.. .animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man he made to serve him wittily in the tangle of his mind.” When as you suggest a dog acts so well according to its nature, it is a shining example of perfection of God's creation. Our job in serving God is as Fr. Granados points out, with our minds. And part of that service is to to be good stewards of the rest of creation. And, in fact, that's why we begin "Called to Love" by calling for an attitude of wonder in the face of nature (page 9).

Fr. José Granados:
Christianity reveals something crucial that God loves man for himself that the human being is the only creature on earth whom God loves for himself. Only the human being raises the question of his own identity, and can reach out to God in love. We must remember that love is more than a feeling or instinct, such as it appears in animals. Only mankind can love God in a reciprocal relationship. We can reflect on our love, on God, on meaning and on life and death, and this sets us apart.

pineville,la.rapides parish
does the catholic church accept homosehuality or not?
Fr. José Granados:
We must make a distinction that is very important. Persons with homosexual tendencies are accepted into the Church, a person who has an inclination and is struggling to live chastely. But homosexual acts themselves go against the true nature of sexuality, against the truth of love. In the Bible we read that the Creator made the human being male and female. In this sexual difference man is called to discover the path towards true love. A person who has homosexual tendencies may have very serious struggle, but he must never forget that he is also “called to love”, that he can attain in his life the fulfillment of true love. The Church offers him a place where he can find a way towards fulfillment, which certainly includes suffering, but a suffering that purifies and makes life greater.

Harry Z
Los Gatos
How do you sum up years of teaching by John Paul in one book? What is the message Knights can take away from Theology of the Body?
Carl Anderson:
Let's remember two things about John Paul II. First, he is a very creative thinker. And, for example, in the theology of the body, he is crossing the threshold of some very new and exciting ideas. Second, he remained as priest and bishop, first and foremost a teacher and catechist. So reading John Paul II is a two way street. We have to persevere and not expect him always to be an easy read. And so, while his Wednesday audiences on the theology of the body are sometimes very difficult reading, other documents, such as his letter to families and his apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, are not so different. One of the fundamental ideas of John Paul II is the communion of persons, which is fundamentally, the imitation of Christ, which draws as its model, the relationship among the three persons of the trinity. We see this at one level, already existing in the Knights of Columbus through our dedication to the principles of charity, unity and fraternity. These for Catholics, must ultimately find their source in the life of the trinity. Thus, as Knights of Columbus, we can see how our own commitment helps us better understand this idea of John Paul II, and, at the same time, how his vision can enrich our own lives.

Fr. José Granados:
For the average Catholic Knight, the message is that charity - love - is the meaning and goal of our life. John Paul II’s attempt (as summarized by a friend of his, who is also a professor at the John Paul II Institute) was to explain all of human life, and indeed all of reality, in terms of love. Now, the problem is that the word 'love' can be used to mean many different things. John Paul set out to look at what is true love and what is a false understanding of love. He told us in TOB how to approach closer to the truth of love; he gave us a map to find the true fulfillment of love and to avoid the obstacles in the journey of love. John Paul also said that Christ is the center of love and thus invited us to go back to the source, to go back to Christ. It is important to add, and this is crucial also for the life of the Knights, that the family is the school of love, the place where we learn what true love is, and so the Knights should defend the family, and live life in the family in a true and authentic way, and in this way move toward the truth of love. In the family we learn to receive love from God, to give love to others, to be fruitful in our love.

College Park, Md.
John Paul’s teaching is profound, but it’s often unsearchable to the everyday Catholic. How can this concept be presented to better penetrate the modern culture?
Fr. José Granados:
There are many different writings of John Paul II in which he uses different ways to communicate his message; his encyclicals, his letters, his plays, his poetry. Some are more understandable for some than for others. The idea is that we need to study and to expound on what the Pope is writing, which is part of the reason for this book. Another example is that Pope Benedict said that he will not write much and so make the writings of JPII more well-known.

What can Theology of the body do for marriages? How does the pope view women and their relationship with men?
Carl Anderson:
Theology of the body represents the radical difference between the Christian vocation to marriage and what is normally understood by the secular world. It is also important to remember that the theology of the body comes from Pope John Paul's close work and friendship with many married couples that he knew in Poland while he was a young priest. The need for a Christian understanding of marriage is present even in his earliest works and plays, and he viewed the relationship between men and women as one that is complementary.

Fr. José Granados:
TOB can help people first understand the great vocation of marriage, how it is a sacrament, which means that it draws from the love that unites Christ to the Church. Many times the tragedy is that we don't live our vocations to the full, and TOB reminds us of the great gift we have received through marriage. In this view, marriage is a way to heaven; through loving your spouse you are building up the civilization of love and you are heading towards union with God. Regarding his view of women, John Paul speaks about the 'genius of women' in his encyclical “Mulieris Dignitatem.” Man and woman have different gifts, and both of them together build up one another. In particular, the woman is called to discover, as a mother, the true dignity of the person, as an absolute gift from God, and to promote this dignity. She is a witness, in the midst of the family of the world, of the sacredness of life, and therefore, she points towards God’s presence in the midst of human love.

Claire Gilligan
Port Reading, NJ, USA
For those of us who have been touched by the beauty of the Theology of the Body, who are already doing our best to live this way: How do we interact with others in our lives who are publicly living lifestyles blatantly at odds with this teaching (e.g., cohabitation, homosexual relationships)? Do you have any suggestions for how we can love them and invite them to the fullness of truth without judging them and alienating them?
Carl Anderson:
Pope Benedict XVI has made very clear that true freedom comes from saying "yes" to Jesus Christ. It is the freedom from sin, the freedom that comes with choosing God, that is so beautiful and that we should present to those around us by the witness of our example

Fr. José Granados:
The first thing in every Christian way of transforming society is to be a witness. Love has its own force, its own strength. That is why John Paul said to families, "Families, be what you are." By living out in the world our Christian faith as individuals and in the family, we are already witnesses. Sometimes this witness will require suffering or sacrifice, but it is always fruitful. Then we need to learn the roots of our faith, why we believe. In this way we can explain the message of faith, the truth and the happiness that it brings.

Robert J. Fallon
Brooklyn, New York USA
A wonderful and articlate offering of a complex subject. Do you feel that the theological spat opened up by Christopher West will muddy the water and understanding of JPII's basic message and your academic rendering of the same. If so, how can the knights even the playing field and enter into the debate or should we?
Carl Anderson:
The purpose of a theological discussion is not to score points, but to deepen our understanding in the service of the Church. The public discussion holds the promise of clarifying the teaching and presenting it to a wider audience, if it is conducted in a respectful way, and focuses on interpretation rather than personality. We wrote this book to give people like the Knights and their families an accessible introduction to the theology of the body. I would hope it would be used by pastors and especially pre-Cana ministries for couples planning for marriage.

Fr. José Granados:
I hope this debate will clarify the richness of what JPII said. The object here is to be faithful to the fullness of what he taught, rather than reducing it to one particular aspect. We hope to show that the whole TOB is about the challenge of living out the whole faith in the heart of society. The central focus should be the family, as the place where we learn who we are as human beings. The focus of this debate will bring to the forefront the whole message -- which takes time and witness to explain and communicate, but is much more fruitful and long-lasting.

Dave Babbitt
West Springfield
Can you explain the concept of the "communion of persons"?
Fr. José Granados:
Communion of persons is a way of talking about the truth of love, what love is all about. When I give myself to the other and am received by the other in true love, then we become one, something greater is created, in which we do not lose ourselves, but to the contrary, are fully affirmed. To this union of true love, in which we communicate ourselves to the beloved and in this self gift we are affirmed, we can give the name of communion of persons. When we use the name communion of persons we want to say, also, that love is open to God, that only in God we can really love fully the other. The paradigm of this communion is the love of the Trinity, in which three Persons are One in their mutual gift, yet remain three distinct Persons. This divine love is reflected in the communion of the family, in the relationships between parents and children, spouses, siblings...

New Haven, Connecticut, Unites States
In discussing the role of the domestic church in promoting a civilization of love, you observe that "the family is not made to close in on itself but to radiate outward toward a greater horizon. ... If the family refuses to go beyond its own boundaries, contenting itself instead with the pursuit of purely private goals, it ceases to be a true family" (page 226).

Do you have any practical recommendations for how married couples and families might witness to the theology of the body in a public way?
Carl Anderson:
Isn't the point of the theology of the body to understand better our call to be a loving individual, fulfilling our vocation to love? And so the purpose would be how in understanding the theology of the body, we are better able to witness to our vocation to love. It's not so much about witnessing to the theology of the body, but about witnessing to our Christian vocation to love, which is the call of each of us.

Jacob M.
Dearborn Heights, MI
In our modern technological era, we increasingly see "friendships," "communities" and other relationships being created in a digital (impersonal) environment. In most cases, this is seen as a good thing. What, if anything, does the theology of the body have to say about technology and its use in communication today?
Fr. José Granados:
This is an interesting question. There is a study by Sr. Timothy Prokes on the subject of virtual reality with relationship to the body (we quote one of Sr. Prokes’ work in the bibliography of the book). Technology has a certain tendency to disembody our relationships; we need to be aware of this fact. The Theology of the body reminds us that the body mediates the interpersonal, that all of our relationships need to be embodied. Virtual relationships can become superficial, lacking in the need of time and real interaction. We need to humanize these devices and technology, to use them only inasmuch they foster real bodily communication. Only in this way can we measure whether they contribute to the truth of friendship or whether they remain in the surface.

Former District Deputy Robert Camilleri
Las Vegas, Nevada
Are there stages of love that a man and a woman go through as they age and mature? Why is same sex marriage antithetical to a civilization of love as described by Pope John Paul II?
Fr. José Granados:
Yes, there are stages. In fact, in the book we describe love as a journey. Every human person learns first to be a child (to receive himself from another), then he is called to become a spouse (to give himself to another) and then a parent, a father or mother (his love becomes fruitful). You go from learning to receive love as a child, to being able to give love as a spouse and parent. This means that to grow in love takes time: this applies to all stages of life, also to the relationship between man and woman in marriage. In Chapter 7 of the book we deal with this problem, “How Love Needs to Mature.” Our whole life is a journey with different stages in which we integrate little by little our desires so that we learn to love the other person in fullness and, in the person, we learn to love God. An example of this need to grow is the need to learn forgiveness. As love matures, you see more clearly the limitations of the other, you experience problems in the relationships, you become aware that forgiveness needs to be offered and received. The ultimate goal is to enter into the love of God.

Fr. José Granados:
Added Comments: Regarding same-sex marriage, the question affects the common good of society. The point is that marriage (the union of man and woman) has a unique contribution to the common good, and thus needs to be protected and preserved in its uniqueness. This affects primordially to the procreation and education of children, who come to be within this union between man and woman. In this way man and woman, as male and female, offer also their unique contribution for the construction of society. The union of man and woman points also towards the Creator of nature; it reminds us the importance of God’s present in our society and teaches us to be respectful with his creation. Marriage between a man and woman carries a social richness and capital to society that other forms of relationship do not give.

Bruce Goeser
Miami, Florida
Thank you for a wonderful book that is clearly written and supportive of Catholic values, especailly in regard to marriage. This Online discussion is well timed due to the current debate regarding the meaning of John Paul II's Theology of the Body. It appears that a popular teacher - Christopher West - may be exagerating or misinterpreting at least a portion of the John Paul's message. Could you please summarize this debate for us and provide guidance and additional resources for further reference? Thanks.
Carl Anderson:
Like Fr. Granados, I encourage you to look at the Pope's writings on this topic, particularly, his letter to families and his apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio. Also, his Angelus addresses, which make up much of his work on this subject, can be found online at our book's website: Also, on a more personal note, long before this controversy erupted, we wrote this book - Called to Love - to increase the breadth with which people viewed the theology of the body and precisely so that it would not become one dimensional.

Fr. José Granados:
I hope this debate will be fruitful for those involved and for the whole church, so that we can look deeper and recover fully the richness of John Paul's teaching. The best place to find the truth about Theology of the Body is from the Pope's writing themselves, of course. You may also look at the Knights of Columbus website, Headline Bistro, which carries a number of articles regarding this issue:

Carl Anderson:
Thank you all for joining us this evening. We look forward to hearing from you in the months ahead in our future discussions.

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