GAITHERSBURG, Maryland, FEB. 14, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Mary Healy says she has the key to helping men and women in their relationships with each other.
Healy is the author of “Men and Women Are From Eden” (Servant Publications), a study guide to Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body.
In this interview with ZENIT, she discusses getting to the root of the problems between the sexes, and from there, finding the most effective solutions.
Q: With so many books coming from the secular press on relationships and the differences between men and women, where does this book on the theology of the body fit in?
Healy: The topic of the differences of the sexes never gets old, because in every generation men and women experience the challenge of relating to one another. Yes, there is an avalanche of secular books offering relationship advice, some of it helpful and some less so — and some that should be tossed in the trash!
But no advice really gets to the heart of the matter unless it goes all the way back to the beginning — to God’s original plan for man and woman, as it was unveiled in the garden of Eden, before the Fall.
And of course the only complete access we have to that original plan is through Scripture, authoritatively interpreted by the Church.
Pope John Paul the Great left the Church a great gift by presenting the biblical teaching on men, women, sex and marriage in a new and compelling way, in his catecheses known as the theology of the body.
The purpose of my book is to try to make the theology of the body accessible to ordinary people, and to give them a tool for studying it in-depth.
When people are introduced to the theology of the body, they usually find that it resonates with the deepest stirrings of their hearts and begins to transform their whole approach to relationships, from the inside out.
Q: The title seems to allude to the popular relationship book from the United States entitled “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” Is your book a Catholic version of that best seller? What inspired the title?
Healy: Yes, you caught the hint. The title is inspired by John Paul II’s insight — based on the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 19:4 — that the key to understanding who we are as men and women is found in the book of Genesis, in the story of Adam and Eve in the garden.
As John Paul II noted, the creation accounts in Genesis are “mythic,” not in the sense of being fictional, but in that they recount the events at the dawn of history using symbolic language so as to convey profound truths about God and the human condition.
Only by understanding those truths will we be able to fully appreciate our identity as men and women and fulfill our longings for authentic love.
Q: While much of what popular theories say about the differences between men and women is true, is there something lacking about how these theories view maleness and femaleness, and then the dynamics of relationships between the two?
Healy: The best that a secular approach can do is explain the biological, psychological and social reasons why men and women have trouble relating, and then offer practical advice for dealing with those differences. But as John Paul II shows, those differences are not merely accidental; they are part of God’s marvelous design for humanity. In fact, they even hold the clue to the meaning of our existence.
Our sexual complementarity reveals what he called “the spousal meaning of the body” — that is, the body’s capacity, in its masculinity or femininity, to be a vehicle and expression of self-giving love. Adam and Eve discovered that when they encountered one another and, in the words of Genesis, became “one flesh.”
So, God has stamped in our very bodies the call to a communion of persons, an exchange of love in which each person becomes a gift for the other.
But because of the Fall — our first parents’ decision to disobey God — the complementarity that God designed for life-giving union became instead a source of conflict. Ever since then, relationships between men and women have often been characterized by lust, selfishness, manipulation and abuse.
So you can see why relationship advice remains on a very superficial level unless it gets to the root of the problem, which is sin, and the key to the solution, which is our restoration to God’s magnificent plan through the grace of Christ. Once that key is found, then people begin to deal with the dynamics of relationships on a much more profound level.
Q: John Paul II explains that the response to the human being’s quest for happiness is to be found in the Garden of Eden. Can you explain this?
Healy: As Pope John Paul II explains, the story of our origins presents a vision for why we were created and what is the deepest purpose of our lives.
According to Genesis, when God wanted an image of himself in the created world, he didn’t fashion isolated individuals, but rather a married couple. This means that both are needed to complete the picture.
Why? Because it is their communion of love with one another that most reveals God! Only in the New Testament is the truth fully revealed that God himself is a communion of persons, an eternal exchange of love between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
And God has destined us to share in that exchange. This is the meaning of our sexual complementarity and of the vocations in which it is lived out, whether in marriage or in consecrated life.
By becoming a gift to one another in a communion of persons we learn to love and be loved as God loves, and so prepare to share in his life forever. This is our dignity and our destiny, and the quest for happiness depends on discovering it and living it out.
Q: Who is this book written for? Youth? Couples in crisis? Engaged couples? Can a beginner with no background in theology or philosophy understand it?
Healy: All of the above!
My book does not focus on practical advice, but rather on the doctrinal foundations people need to guide their practical decisions. It was written with the goal of helping ordinary people understand the theology of the body and apply it to their real-life situations.
John Paul II writes on a very theoretical level, but as a priest he had counseled hundreds of couples, and he well understood the issues people face. The theology of the body is not too abstract or difficult for anyone. It is true that those who try to put it into practice will find it very challenging on a personal level — in fact, eventually they will find that it is simply impossible without the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Even solid Catholics may find that it causes a revolution in their whole perspective on sex, marriage and relationships. But that is part of the whole point, because the grace to change is there for anyone who asks.
Regarding youth in particular, I have taught theology of the body to teens and young adults, and I have found them in every case to be extremely receptive to and hungry for these teachings. This generation has reaped the bad fruits of the sexual revolution, and they see the fallout in broken families and broken lives all around them.
Many of them are not impressed by the false promises of the permissive culture they’ve grown up in. They are ready for something new. The theology of the body gives them hope and enables them to pursue their vocation, whether to marriage or celibacy, with a deep sense of purpose and vision.
Q: What impact do you hope the book will have on the Catholic world?
Healy: I hope my book will help many people, both Catholics and non-Catholics, discover the theology of the body and the dramatic impact it can have on their lives. In Europe and America, Christians do not have a very good track record for presenting a lifestyle different from the surrounding secular culture — as shown by our statistics on divorce, abortion, contraception and premarital sex.
But that is beginning to change. I am convinced that as the theology of the body is embraced by the current generation, marriages will be strengthened, families will be healed, respect for human life will be renewed, and young people will be rekindled in their zeal to live for God.