“The Theology of the Body: A New Language for a New Generation” was the theme of the seventh annual Papal Colloquium at Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote on Feb. 2 during Catholic Schools Week.
Brian Butler, co-founder and president of Dumb Ox Productions, a non-profit organization dedicated to chastity and vocation formation for teens and young adults, was the keynote speaker.
The conference, hosted by the World Affairs Club at McDevitt, was coordinated by David T. Horn, chair of the English Department and moderator of the club.
A total of 220 students from 17 schools — both archdiocesan and private — attended.
The day began with Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop John J. McIntyre. His homily focused on the feast day, the Presentation of the Lord, by which he said, “We are strengthened and fortified by the word of God.” In his homily he told the students, “Do not be afraid,” recalling the writings of Pope John Paul II.
“Look at Christ and see Him as the key to understanding God our Father, and our lives,” Bishop McIntyre said. “An encounter with Christ today is seeing Christ all the more fully as part of His holy Church. Do not be afraid. Open up your hearts. Light dwells in you. Let it radiate more fully.”
Bishop McIntyre asked the students to share that day’s experiences with their classmates.
In a brochure on the papal colloquium given to the students, Dr. Salvatore DiNenna, president of McDevitt, wrote: “The ‘Theology of the Body’ is an understanding of the Catholic vision of sexuality that is changing lives and opinions about the Church throughout the world. Considered a pre-eminent work of Blessed John Paul II, ‘Theology of the Body’ offers people everywhere a renewed hope and enthusiasm in their faith and the gift of human sexuality. For some, it is a confirmation of what they have always felt to be true. For many, the ‘Theology of the Body’ is revolutionizing their understanding of love, relationships, God, the Church and their very selves.”
“The Theology of the Body” is the topic of 129 lectures given by Pope Paul II at his Wednesday audiences from September 1979 to November 1984. Pope John Paul II taught in the “Theology of the Body” that “authentic marital love is supposed to be a free, total, faithful and fruitful reciprocal gift between spouses.”
Butler, who has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in theology from Notre Dame Seminary School of Theology, used a series of slides during his animated talk to explain the Pope’s writings and teachings.
He is co-author of “Theology of the Body for Teens” and resides with his wife, Lisa, and their four children in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He talked about Original Sin and how God “would fix the problem,” citing the mission of Jesus Christ “to bring us back to the Father.”
Butler spoke of “the dignity of each other” and asked the question, “Have we forgotten what it means to be human?” He said that “God is on the sideline for many people” and challenged the students to recognize that “we are the pinnacle of creation, created in God’s likeness.”
Man was created in “spiritual purity,” Butler said, and “moved into transgressions, with the climax of salvation being bloody,” referring to the crucifixion of Christ.
Sin weakens the intellect and the will, Butler posited, using the analogy of a typical “love story” one would see in the movies or on television. Act 1 concerns personal relationship, that is, setting up the story line. Act 2 concerns search, struggle, drama and sacrifice. Act 3 brings us to reunion, peace and freedom.
“Act 2 is all about the pain,” he said. “What if life is just Act 2? A lot of people think this life is just Act 2.” It can lead to despair, he said, and is often dealt with through various medications.
The answer, Butler said, is to remember who Jesus is. “He leads us back to trust through worship and communion,” he said. In looking at sexuality, Butler used the analogy of Adam and Eve, explaining that Adam was drawn through Eve to God, and Eve through Adam to God.
“God wants to make his love visible to us,” Butler said. “Love is not merely a feeling. It is an act of will that consists of preferring, in a constant manner, the good of another to the good of oneself.”
Respect for the dignity of the person is the overriding theme, he said.
“Chastity is the sure way to happiness,” Butler said. “It says yes to love and all of its demands. The degree of love parallels the degree of responsibility one holds for one another. The opposite of love is treating a person as an object, a means to an end. Lust seeks the sensation of sexuality apart from a true communion of persons.”
Pursuing the good for another is mature love, Butler said. “A life based on freedom has to have a life based on trust. The deepest trust is communion with God,” he said.
Butler concluded by asking the students to read the line from 1 Cor. 6:16 printed many times on the front of the colloquium brochure: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?”
Following Butler’s talk, the students had lunch and prepared for afternoon breakout sessions with discussions centered on Butler’s keynote address and readings that participants had been encouraged to read in preparation for the day.
Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Glenside.