Most conversations about religion have one of two topics. Topic one, does God exist and how can this be verified? Topic two, how does God expect us to live?
By the second topic, I mean the all too familiar debates: What does God really say, if anything, about pre-marital sex? What is wrong with married couples using contraception? Surely God wants them to use the advances of science and to be free to express love without worrying about falling pregnant? And God doesn’t condemn people engaged in homosexual relationships, surely? He is a God of unconditional love and accepts everyone as they are?
Interestingly, common to both topics – and not just the second – is the fascination, and the fear perhaps, about what demands may be placed by God on you and me to change. If God exists, that may mean I cannot do as I please any more. If the Bible really teaches that pre-marital sex is not God’s Will, I may have to change. And I am not sure I am so comfortable with that.
These sorts of conversations are not new, nor are they by any means limited to discussions between Christians and Non-Christians.
In the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 19 v 3-8), we read about a conversation that Jesus had with the Pharisees who, in order to test Him, asked him a question about what demands marriage places on spouses. Could they divorce for any reason whatever?
We read how Jesus responds by bringing his audience to reflect on what God intended “from the beginning”. He surprises them with an answer that makes clear that the demands of marriage are much higher than they had believed until then, so high that even His own disciples exclaimed that “then it cannot be advantageous to marry”.
But Jesus does not flinch or back down. He knows the true depth of our hearts and the greatness we are capable of, and He wants His listeners to live life to the full.
And like Jesus, so the Church, and John Paul II in the catechesis he gave to the world between 5 September 1979 and 28 November 1984 that has become known as the “Theology of the Body”.
The wonderful gift of the Theology of the Body is that the conversations about how God expects us to live are no longer one-sided. What those conversations have been missing is a depth and an understanding of the real reasons behind the high and often difficult moral demands of the Christian faith, an appeal to the heart that is stronger than the immediate pull of doing whatever we want to do, or what secular reasoning recommends.
In the Theology of the Body we have an answer that is more attractive than what secular reasoning has to offer. It is not so much an answer, as the answer, the truth that is both old and ever new, that corresponds to the deepest desires of our hearts, and beckons to the same greatness of humanity that Jesus intended to stir to life in the conversation we read about.