Theology of the Body teachings introduced to Syracuse Diocese

By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

It is an illusion to think we can build a true culture of human life if we do not … accept and experience sexuality and love in the whole of life according to their true meaning and their close inter-connection.
— John Paul II

The Syracuse Diocese is witnessing a dramatic change in spirituality due to the teachings of Theology of the Body, a series of 129 lectures given by Pope John Paul II during his Wednesday audiences between 1979-1984. It was the first major teaching of his pontificate and the complete addresses were later compiled and published as a single work: The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan.

Papal biographer George Weigel said it best when he described Theology of the Body as “a kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences … perhaps in the twenty-first century.”

Pope John Paul’s collection of lectures has started a sexual counter-revolution that is changing lives around the world. Through an in-depth reflection on the Scriptures, Pope John Paul attempted to answer two universal questions: “What does it mean to be human?” and “How do I live my life in a way that brings true happiness and fulfillment?”  Theology of the Body facilitates the rediscovery of the meaning of life.

In his collection of talks, the pope focuses on the beauty of God’s plan of the union of the sexes, shifting the discussion from legalism to liberty. Theology of the Body is a message of sexual salvation that is available to everyone. It is a liberating teaching.

The teachings of Theology of the Body clarify the church’s stance on marriage, the family and human sexuality, instructing Catholics that the goal of life is oneness with God and that a human being’s body is a physical expression of the divine, that humans are involved in an eternal exchange of love with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and that humans express God’s love and receive God’s love through their bodies.

Lisa Hall, Syracuse Diocesan Director of Respect Life Ministry, noted that the pope didn’t say that sexual relations is a bad thing — it is good if it is done in the way God intended it. The desire for love is a good thing.

“What I love about John Paul’s vision is that we are not biological human beings,” Hall said. “We are human beings whose bodies and spirits are fully integrated.”

Father Joseph Scardella, director of the Syracuse Diocese Office of Ministerial Formation and Liturgy and RCIA, agreed. “Our bodies are good and we have to uphold that dignity,” he said.

Scardella was impressed after reading the book, Theology of the Body Explained, by Christopher West, a leading teacher of Theology of the Body. “It’s so powerful and it’s very compelling,” said Father Scardella. “Personally, I have l learned so much about the marriage covenant and what it means to love my vocation.”

Father Scardella began to teach Theology of the Body in the diocese’s Formation for Ministry program last spring. “People are on fire with it,” said Father Scardella.

Sharon Flanagan, Syracuse Diocesan Abstinence Program Educator, started teaching Theology of the Body to high school students in January 2008. “Kids are responding very well to the curriculum,” said Flanagan. “One young girl told me that it was the most important class she had ever had.” Flanagan said that there is a Theology of the Body retreat scheduled for the teens in the Southern Region of the diocese on Nov. 7.

Hall added that each of the resource centers in the diocese have been stocked with Theology of the Body DVDs which are available to everyone.

A Theology of the Body workshop will be offered Nov. 14 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Christ the King Church in Liverpool.

In addition, Father Scardella will teach a six-week Theology of the Body course Nov. 3-Dec. 8 at St. Ann’s Church in Syracuse.

Father Scardella and Hall are eagerly awaiting a Theology of the Body seminar which will be presented by Christopher West on Nov. 4 at Immaculate Conception Church in Fayetteville from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. “He is a premium instructor and a sought-after speaker,” commented Hall. To register for this seminar, go to the diocesan website,

West is a faculty member at the Theology of the Body Institute, a certified catechist through the Archdiocese of Denver and an instructor of marriage preparation through the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C, who is now based in Lancaster County, Pa. West has written three books which have become Catholic best sellers — Good News About Sex & Marriage, Theology of the Body Explained and Theology of the Body for Beginners.

“Theology of the Body is for anyone who is looking for authenticity, peace and joy,” said Hall.

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