Conference discusses theology of the body

BRAINTREE -- A panel discussion that took place in the Philadelphia area on how to engage the modern world in the principles of theology of the body, the late Pope John Paul II's teaching on human sexuality, reached employees of the Archdiocese of Boston and parishioners from nearby communities via live streaming at the Pastoral Center recently.

The panel discussion was held on July 30. Panelists included Father Thomas Loya, Bill Donaghy, and Sister Helena Burns.

The discussion was the final event of the National Theology of the Body Congress, a nationwide gathering that brought together some of the leading national theology of the body scholars, was held at the Normandy Farm Hotel and Conference Center in Blue Bell, Pa. from July 28-30.

The archdiocese's Catholic Media and Faith Formation secretariats hosted live streaming of the gathering at the Pastoral Center. Speeches were streamed online throughout the days and were seen on the flat-screen televisions in the Pastoral Center's main auditorium.

"It is very exciting that we can do that and make it available," said Janet Benestad, the archdiocese's Secretary for Faith Formation and Evangelization.

The conference consisted of panel discussions and talks by noted scholars, religious, and clergy. Additional panel discussions broached topics of same-sex marriage and pastoral ministry. Keynote addresses analyzed how current American family law contrasts with tenets expressed in the theology of the body, and the effort to produce more accurate translations of the late pontiff's work.

Presenters included leading scholars such as Father J. Brian Bransfield, Janet Smith, Helen Alvare, Michael Waldstein and Father Roger Landry.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, celebrated the conference's closing Mass.

The July 30 discussion said that theology of the body is not a new and contrived invention, but rather a presentation of the original view of human life.

"Theology of the body is not the big idea, it's the idea," said Father Loya. "It is the delivery system for the only way to see all life and respond to all of life according to that vision."

He said that the late Pope John Paul II, in writing his theology of the body, penned a rediscovery of the "original" and "only way to see all of life."

The discussion also highlighted the differences in American cultural world views and those expressed in theology of the body.

Father Loya pointed out that while American cultural assumptions view the world in a "dualistic" nature, that the divine, or "invisible" is not integrated and separate from the physical, the Catholic view expressed in the theology of the body is that God is reflected in everything and that humanity should see that the divine is integrated with the physical aspects of the world.

He also said sexuality should be viewed in that way -- as "integrated and incarnational" -- and that a "dualistic" world view can lead to a denial of the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Donaghy added the high divorce rate to the discussion.

"The lens we have now is a broken lens," he said. "We have to take that off and see with the eyes God has given us."

Sister Burns, another panelist, said that both Catholics and non-Catholics alike have been affected by America's cultural assumptions.

"Even the people in the pews can be unchurched," said Sister Burns. "We all buy into the culture. We're all in this together."

The panel also presented ideas on how theology of the body can connect with modern people.

Donaghy said the theology can resonate with modern man because of its emphasis on the necessity to be in communion with one another, and Father Loya added that John Paul's teaching addresses people's need for intimacy and love.

"Intimacy is the one thing human beings cannot live without," Father Loya said.

The discussion also explored ways to reach young people today with these teachings.

Panelists agreed that theology of the body is part of the new evangelization called for by Pope John Paul II to re-evangelize formerly Christian areas or parts of the world that have rejected Christian ideals due to cultural influences.

Donaghy, the only layperson on the panel, said that the "truth, beauty, and goodness" of theology of the body should be emphasized and Sister Burns suggested the use of movie and television clips, such as from the controversial show "South Park" when communicating theology of the body with young people.

"It's what they're used to. It's the lingua franca," she said. "Hollywood has spent billions of dollars. Do not make them use their money in vain."

"We have to talk about sensitivity issues and graphic language," she added.

Father Loya also said that an emphasis on communion would be helpful in reaching atheists and agnostics with the late pontiff's teachings.

The advice given during the discussion resonated with Carol Galante-Dias, coordinator of the confirmation program at St. Rose of Lima Church in Rochester.

"I'm always looking to update the confirmation program," Galante-Dias said. "What better thing to bring into the confirmation program than theology of the body?"

"This fits with everything they do," she added. "I think the teens and young adults will connect with this greatly and they will catch on fire also."

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