Today’s Sunday Pope Quote: a gem from Bl. Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the theology of the body. This is one to really chew on – it contains a wealth of wisdom about men, women, the body, and love. Note: when John Paul uses the word “sex” he means not the act of sexual intercourse but man’s sexual identity as male or female.
Bl. John Paul II: “The body, which expresses femininity ‘for’ masculinity and, vice versa, masculinity ‘for’ femininity, manifests the reciprocity and the communion of persons. It expresses it through gift as the fundamental characteristic of personal existence. This is the body: a witness to creation as a fundamental gift, and therefore a witness to Love as the source from which this same giving springs. Masculinity-femininity – namely, sex – is the original sign of a creative donation and at the same time the sign of a gift that man, male-female, becomes aware of as a gift lived so to speak in an original way. This is the meaning with which sex enters into the theology of the body.
- Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein, sec. 14.4; italics original, bold added
Happy Feast of Pentecost! Today the Church commemorates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles. This might come as a surprise, but Bl. John Paul II had quite a lot to say about the Holy Spirit in his talks on the “theology of the body.” Today’s Sunday Pope Quote, then, is a passage from TOB about piety, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Bl. John Paul II: “The Holy Spirit, who according to the Apostle’s words [St. Paul] enters into the human body as into his own ‘temple,’ dwells there and works with his spiritual gifts. Among these gifts, known to the history of spirituality as the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (see Isa 11:2), the one most congenial to the virtue of purity seems to be the gift of ‘piety’ (eusebeia; donum pietatis). If purity disposes man to ‘keep his own body with holiness and reverence,’ as we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, piety as a gift of the Holy Spirit seems to serve purity in a particular way by making the human subject sensitive to the dignity that belongs to the human body in virtue of the mystery of creation and redemption. Thanks to the gift of piety, Paul’s words ‘Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…and that you do not belong to yourselves?’ (1 Cor 6:19) take on the convincing power of an experience and become a living and lived truth in actions. They also open fuller access to the experience of the spousal meaning of the body and of the freedom of the gift connected with it, in which the deep face of purity and its organic link with love reveals itself.”
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006), no. 57.2
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote is from the collection of addresses by Bl. Pope John Paul II known popularly as the “theology of the body.” In this brief quote, the Holy Father is concluding his exegesis on Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees about divorce in Matthew 19:3-8. He’s calling attention to a phrase used by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae and re-emphasizing its importance.
Bl. John Paul II: “In the answer to the Pharisees, Christ laid out before his interlocutors also this ‘integral vision of man,’ without which no adequate answer can be given to the questions connected with marriage and procreation. Precisely this integral vision of man must be built from the ‘beginning.’
“This point is valid for the contemporary mentality just as it was, though in a different way, for Christ’s interlocutors. We are, in fact, the children of an age in which, due to the development of various disciplines, this integral vision of man can easily be rejected and replaced by many partial conceptions that dwell on one or another aspect of the compositum humanum but do not reach man’s integrum or leave it outside their field of vision.”
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (sec. 23.3)
About this series:
Every Sunday, the Marriage: Unique for a Reason blog will feature a short quote from either our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, or our late Holy Father, Bl. John Paul II (or occasionally another pope). These two men have given the world an immense treasury of wisdom about marriage, love, and the meaning of the human person, all of which are topics integral to the Church’s witness today. Their words are well worth reflecting on, as we have much to learn from these wise successors of St. Peter.
Today is the fourth day of National Marriage Week. On Tuesday, we reflected on what makes marriage unique, different from any other relationship on earth. Today the topic is more focused: why does sexual difference matter for marriage? In other words, why is marriage the union of one man and one woman?
What is sexual difference?
1) The call to accept one’s sexual identity as a man or as a woman
As we did before, let’s begin with the human person, with an authentic anthropology. Crucial here is the fact that to exist as a human person means to be embodied. (When was the last time you met someone without a body?) Echoing Bl. John Paul II’s terminology, we can say that the body “reveals” man and is “an expression of the person” (TOB, 9.4 and 27.3). In other words, encountering a living human body means at the same time encountering a human person. The body is not just a shell or a conduit for one’s “real” self but is intimately and inseparably united with one’s identity, one’s “I”.
Further, to exist as a human person means to exist as a man or as a woman. The human body is fundamentally a gendered reality, not a gender-less (androgynous) one. And because the body is a deeply personal reality and not just a biological fact, being a man or being a woman is not just a matter of anatomical features or “the shape of my skin.” Instead, one’s sexual identity – as a man or as a woman – affects a person at every level of his or her existence (biologically, psychologically, genetically, and so forth). As the Catechism puts it, “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul… Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity” (CCC, nos. 2332 and 2333, emphasis in original).
2) An irreducible and dynamic difference
What does sexual identity have to do with sexual difference? Simply this: when we speak of sexual difference, we mean both the existence of two distinct sexual identities (man or woman) and the built-in mutual relationship between them. In other words, sexual difference has to do with the irreducible and dynamic difference of man to woman and woman to man.
Why “irreducible”? Because sexual difference is primordial, basic, and unique. It is fundamental to human experience and reality. Unlike other differences between people, sexual difference undergirds everything that we are as human persons, male or female. Sexual difference cuts across geographic, ethnic, and other differences, being in fact more basic than these other differences.
Why “dynamic”? Because sexual difference distinguishes in order to unite. In fact, sexual difference is precisely what enables communion between man and woman to exist at all. (More on this soon.)
Put another way, sexual difference is a mutually referential kind of difference – we know woman fully only by knowing man, and know man fully only by knowing woman. The differences between them do not just set them apart but hint at something more, at a call to communion between them. This call to communion inscribed in man and woman is part of what Bl. John Paul II had in mind when he wrote the following:
“The person, by the light of reason and the support of virtue, discovers in the body the anticipatory signs, the expression and the promise of the gift of self, in conformity with the wise plan of the Creator” (VS, no. 48).
Sexual difference, then, far from being merely a biological or anatomical fact, communicates a wealth of truth about the human person! If we have the eyes to see, as Bl. John Paul II urges us to, we’ll see in the human person’s identity as man and woman the “anticipatory signs” of the “gift of self,” or, using the language of the Catechism, we’ll see the call to love, which is the “fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (CCC, no. 1604).
Sexual difference and marriage
We are now well-poised to understand what sexual difference has to do with marriage. As a recap of Tuesday’s post, marriage is a unique relationship that has a number of essential characteristics (without which marriage wouldn’t be marriage):
- Marriage is total (gift of self)
- Marriage is faithful and exclusive (a truthful gift)
- Marriage is forever (the gift of one’s future)
- Marriage is life-giving (the gift of one’s fertility)
Sexual difference matters here: it is the ground (the foundation) of the capacity of husband and wife to exchange a mutual, total gift of their entire selves, a gift precisely at the center of what marriage is. Without sexual difference, this gift would not be possible. Put more specifically: the love between husband and wife involves a free, total, and faithful gift of self that not only expresses love but also opens the spouses to receive the gift of a child. No other human interaction on earth is like this!
Sexual difference, then, is not an optional “add-on” to an already existing entity called “marriage” (much like you might choose to add sprinkles to your ice cream – or not). Instead, sexual difference is at the very heart of what marriage is. It’s what capacitates man and woman to give themselves completely to each other as husband and wife. Sexual difference matters for marriage.
Interested in learning more? Check out the DVD “Made for Each Other,” its Viewer’s Guide and Resource Booklet, and all of the Sexual Difference FAQs. Also see the previous blog series on sexual difference.
 Even in circumstances when a person expresses ambiguous genitalia or departs from the XX/XY genetic standard, the anomaly is recognized precisely due to its discordance with healthy, normal presentation as male or female.
This is the fifth post in our series about sexual difference.
- Common misconceptions about sexual difference (part one and part two)
- Sexual difference in Scripture and the Catechism
- Useful phrase #1: asymmetrical reciprocity
In this post, we’ll look at a second helpful way of understanding sexual difference, one that is found in Pope John Paul II’s The Theology of the Body, where the Holy Father speaks of “double unity” or “dual unity.” (more…)
Today’s post is the second in a series about sexual difference.
In Monday’s post, we shed light on two popular (but misleading) claims about sexual difference: that it is a wound or curse, and that it is a societal construct. In this post, we’ll look at two more popular ideas about sexual difference.
Is sexual difference an unbridgeable chasm? (more…)