The Wonder of Theology of the Body

Author Leticia Soberón on John Paul II’s Groundbreaking Catechesis

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 11, 2004 ( John Paul II’s appreciation of the human body is yet to be discovered by a wide audience, says the author of a new book that looks at the Pope’s thought.

“Perlas: Teología del Cuerpo en Juan Pablo II” (Pearls: Theology of the Body in John Paul II), published by Edimurtra, is written by Leticia Soberón, a psychologist who analyzes the first cycle of 63 catecheses on the theology of the body, delivered by the Holy Father from Sept. 5, 1979, to May 6, 1981.

Soberón, born in Mexico City, works in the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, in coordinating RIIAL, the Information Network of the Church in Latin America. In this interview with ZENIT she explained her work.

Q: Why re-read teachings that this Pope imparted over 22 years ago?

Soberón: These teachings, which the Pope gave with his catechesis, were already very opportune in the years when they were imparted, but they are extremely urgent at present.

Q: What is John Paul II’s specific contribution to the topic?

Soberón: The Pope makes a gift to the world by enlarging its horizon of understanding of what the human being is with his body, a body with sexuality, which is image of God.

The Pope reminds us that “holiness entered the world with the human body.” It is a gift because he reminds us without fear, without traces of Manicheism, that God’s creation of the human body and reflection on human relations is much greater than the issues usually addressed in public addresses.

Those who hear these teachings will be able to be reconciled with themselves; they will feel happy and called to a wonderful task in the apprenticeship of love and relations with others.

Q: However, when public opinion addresses the topic of the body and the Church, everything seems to be reduced to a list of prohibitions.

Soberón: This book describes in a wonderful way the wonder of our existence as global, integral men and women, called to live in mutual communion.

The Pope teaches us to know ourselves and guides us on that human path, at times terrible and difficult, of interpersonal relations in which frequently good intentions and genuine love are mixed with desires to dominate, and with concupiscence.

Whoever is formed in this teaching understands himself much better and has a sort of compass to be guided in a relationship and to heal it through openness to Christ’s redemption.

It can be said that the Pope does not lower the standard of Christian demands in regard to the corporal, but makes it an occasion for a profound transformation, with no contempt or fear of the body.

Q: Why is this teaching not understood?

Soberón: Profound truths — and these are such — require listening, time and dedication. These messages are not for 10-minute consumption. Many people intuit this. Even nonbelievers greatly rejoice when seeing this clarity and this hymn of gratitude to the Creator for the beauty of the person in his totality.

The Pope touches many nonbelievers who might find in this book the clarity of his view of the human being, whom he sees as already saved and calls to seek salvation.

Q: What is necessary for this message to be lived?

Soberón: These catecheses should be used in all Catholic teaching — at least the Catholic — of children.

It should be present in the pastoral plans of family formation, in marriage teams and preparation for marriage, in apostolic movements, parishes, catecheses.

In this way one can succeed in reconciling the human being with his own reality and to make him capable of choosing freely, without being afraid of his own instincts, but without being a slave to them. By reading this message, by understanding oneself, and by being able to give oneself to the other in a full and worthy way, one is happy.

In one of the catecheses, the Pope points out that “happiness consists in being rooted in love.” Love heals shame. With the redemption, Christ restores and improves original innocence. This gives an incredible fullness to marriage and to all areas in which relations between men and women take place in society.

Q: This message resonates in a world that seems to be obsessed by sex.

Soberón: The Pope teaches that one must not be afraid of legitimate and normal attraction. It is natural and, in addition, responds to a call to communion between persons, that is, the body has what he calls “spousal significance.”

But at the same time he warns against an attitude of dominance, of use, which reduces the other to a thing, and strips him of his dignity as person — and be careful, because this can happen even within marriage.

This attitude, and the reaction it causes, does not correspond to the dignity that every person deserves in his body and totality. Therefore, the attraction is good in itself, but it must be purified and must allow itself to be guided by a radical respect, ordering itself to the communion of the persons and sincere self-giving.

Q: At the end, the book concludes with a passage from “Roman Triptych.” Why include the poems published by the Pope last spring if they are not a part of the cycle of catecheses?

Soberón: It is to show that the Pope has not abandoned this subject, which he addressed at the beginning of his pontificate.

He also published passages of the address he delivered in the ceremony on the occasion of the restoration of the Sistine Chapel, which he refers to as “shrine of the theology of the body,” and a very incisive passage from his “Letter to Families” on Manicheism, as something that obfuscates correct understanding of the Church’s messages on the human body.

In a word, it is a message that has spanned the whole of this pontificate and that we cannot ignore. The Pope himself points out that without this theology of the body one cannot understand the teachings of the Church on life and the family that followed the Second Vatican Council.

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For more information or to order Soberón’s Spanish-language book, contact

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