What We Mean by “Sacred Embrace”

Posted by Christine Burrows

Contrary to popular belief, modern Catholics do not think of sex as bad, shameful, or sinful. In its proper context, Catholics love sex, so much that we regard it as sacred. Ours is a counter-cultural faith, and this is Exhibit A.  For those of you unfamiliar with The Theology of the Body, this is a brief primer to whet your appetite.

It may help to begin by stating clearly what Theology of the Body is NOT.  It is not about the casual, recreational, self-focused sexual encounters portrayed in contemporary media.  It is not about the objectification of women that fuels the pornography industry.  It is not about “scoring”, “getting off” or any of the other vulgar measures of our cultural self-degradation.

The Theology of the Body is the fundamental Catholic teaching on human sexuality, borne of the writings of Pope John Paul II.  The Pope began this work in 1979 and devoted five years of his pontificate to helping us understand God’s word as it relates to sex within sacramental marriage between a man and a woman.  Few Catholics are aware of it or can claim to any real understanding of it. (Not surprisingly, even fewer people outside the church have even heard of it.)  Which is a shame, because it is a beautiful, intensely intimate portrait of what God intended for us before The Fall.

  • Christopher West is a contemporary expert on Theology of the Body, having spent years unpacking it and presenting it in everyday English to those of us who don’t have the time or talent to fully understand John Paul II’s words.  Check out his videos and books at www.christopherwest.com
  • At the core of Theology of the Body is the truth that God gave men and women complementary bodies, and that “our bodies tell a story, the most beautiful story imaginable.” (Christopher West). Our bodies are uniquely designed and have special characteristics which give us the ability to unite physically and to procreate.
  • A second important premise to Theology of the Body is that we are all searching, longing for something. As Catholics, we believe this longing is to understand and embrace our God-given purpose: to know, love and serve God on Earth and to live happily with him forever in Heaven.
  • When we put together these two basic premises, we see that sex (so intimate, intense, and with the miraculous potential for new life) may actually be a way to quench that longing. The problem with lots of the sex that’s happening today is that it’s distorted, selfish, and incomplete – and has little to do with living out our purpose on Earth. It may satisfy a physical longing, but it doesn’t come close to satisfying our deepest longing to know, love and serve God.
  • Theology of the Body teaches us that sexual intercourse (the marital embrace) is a unifying act between a man, a woman AND God. It is an act of faith, open to God’s will and intervention. Not simply an opportunity to feel good in one another’s physical company, nor the means to getting pregnant. It is a sacred bond that gives us a glimpse of heaven, the uniting of our bodies in accordance with God’s word and his plan for us. It requires trust, submission, the love of one another and the love of God. It is a spiritual encounter of the highest order.

WOW!! That’s heavy stuff, and truly just a teaser. There’s more, much more. Stay tuned here, and dig deeper elsewhere. I dare say that once you “get” Theology of the Body, you will begin to change your entire worldview.  Moral issues will become clearer. Relationships will become more important. And selflessness will become a daily goal. Just imagine if… when… we ALL get it!

Can I have an “AMEN!”

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2 thoughts on “What We Mean by “Sacred Embrace”

  1. I second that – AMEN! Great introduction to TOB. I only wish I had more time to really absorb and understand this truly beautiful theology.

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