Let’s start right out with the tough question: how does this all apply to single people? There’s a heart-breaking comment from a single reader on last week’s post in the series, "An Education in Being Human," asking that very question.
Some other readers jumped in with excellent answers to her wonder, "Where exactly do I belong?" I still feel like my answer is slightly inadequate. In part, I assured her that, "Those called to the single life have a role to play just as those of us in the married life or with a religious vocation. You can give birth to love through acts of service, prayer, and giving of yourself to those in need, just as truly as I give birth to children."
It sounds like session six, which I get the pleasure of hearing next Monday, will really address this in more depth…because I understand this reader’s question, as it does sort of feel that if the theme of the entire first week is that man and woman were created to image the eternal triune love of God in their bodies, so much of that is dependent upon the two becoming one in marriage. I know it’s not, but it’s not always easy to articulate using West’s imagery from the Theology of the Body (TOB). I’d love to hear more of your thoughts in the comments here, or you can click [reply to this comment] at last week’s post and the single reader will get an email with your response as well.
God’s Innermost Secret
Christopher West called one of his audience members to stand in front on stage – remind me to never sit in the front row if I get to hear him speak – and asked the audience to "look at Andrew’s body." As expected, he was received with uncomfortable giggles. "Why laugh?" he asked. "Is it any different if I asked you to look at Andrew versus look at Andrew’s body?" (photo source)
If we look at a person, what do we see? We don’t have a lot of choices – we see their body, and only their body. Certainly the soul is an integral part of being human, but we cannot see it. We see the body. Looking at a person is looking at their body. Here’s the beauty: When we see another human body, we see a reflection of the mystery of God.
"If the main principle of the TOB is that the body is a ‘sign’ of God’s eternal mystery, what is that mystery that the body signifies?"**
"It is the mystery of Trinitarian Life and Love – of God’s eternal Communion as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is also the plan ‘hidden from eternity in God’ (Eph. 3:9) that man is destined in Christ to share in God’s eternal bliss."
"God has revealed His innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 221)
It is built into our bodies that we yearn for God, we yearn to be fulfilled by participating in this eternal exchange of love. It is our destiny…and also an opportunity for sin. So many times in our world, people seek fulfillment for that yearning in places other than faith: sex, food, power, money, personal pleasure…
"We are created for the Infinite. We miss the mark – sin – when we seek satisfaction for this yearning in finite things."
"We are created to yearn for sex, in a way, so the culture’s way of seeking fulfillment is misguided, but not entirely mistaken."
God’s Mystery Revealed Through Spousal Love
Scripture contains many descriptions of God’s love for His people, but it is bookended by the image of marriage: Adam and Eve in Genesis and Christ and His Church in Revelation. Of all the beautiful ways God demonstrates His love for us through the things of this world, the Sacrament of marriage is the best image of His Love, although still falling far short of reality and an inadequate representation of the infinite.
Right in the middle of the Bible, the Song of Songs complements the bookends with love poetry. If you’ve never read it, you’ll notice it’s about a man and woman, about sexual love, and it’s beautiful and pure – just the antidote our society needs!
Now this may be a tough analogy for men and single women, but bear with us here – just trust that we cannot perfectly apply an imperfect human analogy to the eternal love of God. It’s just the best image we have to work with.
"God loves us like a husband loves his bride. He wants to fill His bride with eternal life," in so doing impregnating the bride (us!) with His own Life.
God’s plan is to espouse us to Himself (see Hosea 2:19). He wants to "marry" us! That’s where it may be difficult for men to get on board, but look: "God wanted this eternal plan of love to be so obvious to us that he stamped an image of it in our very being by creating us as male and female."
Is this a sexual thing? Not like we’d think of it in our culture. Erotic love – from the Greek word eros, one of four words the Greeks have for love, is and always has been meant to express divine love, agape in the Greek, the highest form of love that gives completely of itself. Any eros without agape, sex without God, is just an empty image (and usually a sin).
"’For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church." (Ephesians 5:31-32)
"The Church cannot therefore be understood…unless we keep in mind the ‘great mystery’ …expressed in the ‘one flesh’ [union] of marriage and the family." (from Pope John Paul II’s 1994 Letter to Families)
A note: does this mean that you’re not a member of the Church if you’re not married? No! We just need to look at the image of marriage – an inadequate one at best – to learn about the love of God for His people. It is God’s love that we are all called to participate in, not marriage. Marriage is just a teaching tool.
Limit of the Analogy
The image of spousal love is going to be helpful to our study of man’s relationship with God, but it is limited:
"In no way is God in man’s image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is not place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective ‘perfections’ of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 370)
"God’s mystery ‘remains transcendent with respect to [the spousal] analogy as with respect to any other analogy, with which we try to express it in human language’ (Theology of the Body 95). At the same time, however, there ‘is no other human reality which corresponds more, humanly speaking, to that divine mystery’" (Pope John Paul II 1988 homily).
Although far short of God’s love, it is still the least inadequate of all analogies.
The Spiritual Battle
"If this is God’s true plan for the body and sexual union, why don’t we typically understand things this way?" Because Satan’s greatest trick is to make us think he’s not at work, and if he wants to succeed in staining humanity with sin and darkness, he will attack that which is most important…without us noticing. "If you want to know what is most sacred in this world, all you need to do is look to that which is most violently profaned."
Do you agree? Isn’t it true that the sexual spousal love of marriage is in dramatic disarray in our culture?
It’s a serious spiritual battle if we’re going to understand this stuff.
- "God’s plan for the body is union, communion, marriage; this brings life."
- "Satan’s counter-plan for the body is separation, fracture, divorce; this brings death."
- "St. Paul’s first words of advice in fighting the spiritual battle: ‘Gird your loins with the truth.’" (Eph. 6:14)
Even as a single person, one is called to purity, to respect the love of marriage and not mimic it outside of marriage, to share with others the divine love of God’s plan in so many ways.
"When spouses ‘unite as husband and wife, they…find themselves in the situation in which the powers of good and evil fight against each other.’ The ‘choices and acts [of men and women] take on the whole weight of human existence in the union of the two.’" (Theology of the Body, 115:2)
John Paul II’s TOB seeks to answer two universal questions:
- What does it mean to be human?
- How do I live my life in a way that brings true happiness?
This study will tackle both, using three sessions each.
**Anything in quotes that is not otherwise credited is from Christopher West, either the text of the study guide or loosely transcribed from his talk.
Questions to Ponder
- How can you uncover Satan’s evil work in the world as he attacks the beautiful mystery of human sexuality?
- How do you accept God’s offer of "marriage" to His Church, us, His Bride?
- How to explain the difference yet connection between "eros" and "agape"?
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