My new column at Catholic Mom: “The body reveals the person… Science can examine our flesh in minute detail… But no amount of scientific exploration can replace the truth that our bodies reveal us, giving form to our innermost being and unique personality. Our bodies are sacramental—they make the invisible visible.” (St. John Paul II, Theology of the Body)
Part of the brilliance of the Theology of the Body is that it forces us to think about how our bodies speak a language: we can speak the truth or tell a lie with our bodies. When husband and wife marry, they promise to love as God loves; freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully.
Have you ever been lied to? Deceived? Jesus was deceived by Judas. It was not a betrayal of words, but with a kiss…with his body.
When I was in high school, the drama teacher asked whether I’d like to be in the school’s one act play. The part she had in mind for me was a fairy; it only had one line at the end: “It will end happily; it will, it will!” At the time, I was very small person and I wore dark glasses. Even with the shimmery dress and fairy’s wand, I’m sure I looked more like a nerd than a fairy.
Each day for a week, we rehearsed the entire play. At the end of each rehearsal, the curtains closed, and I easily walked through to give my one line.
On the night of the performance, just as the play finished and after the curtains were drawn shut, I moved into position. As I pulled at the two sides of the curtain, it felt like they were sewn shut. I frantically struggled with it until, all of a sudden, it abruptly separated, and I plunged forward, right onto my knees, the audience roaring with laughter. I sputtered out my line, but with the noise of the crowd, no one could hear it. I turned around and when I got behind the curtain, I was on the verge of tears. That’s when a few of the cast members tried to console me by telling me how funny I was. Yes, I’m sure falling down in front of 300 people was funny. But, that wasn’t supposed to happen. Why couldn’t I get that darned curtain open?
I found out later that the cast had decided not to tell me that they were planning to hold the inner part of the curtains closed to keep me from coming out, then opening them after ten seconds because they wanted my stumble out onto the stage to be as real as possible.
I felt like a fool. I felt like my smallness was being mocked. I felt like my ability to be in the play was distrusted. And I didn’t like being deceived. What’s more, this lie was not just one of words. It was a physical act, causing me to struggle, experience panic, fall to the floor and produce tears of embarrassment and failure.
Fast-forward ten years into the future. My (Catholic) fiancé and I were having an argument, a big one. We had already decided not to have sex before marriage. Now he was insisting that we use Natural Family Planning instead of a ‘reliable’ method of birth control after marriage. I knew that the Church taught that contraception was immoral. But no one listened to the Church anymore, right? And NFP wasn’t effective, was it?
When he tried to explain that having sex with contraception would be a lie made with our bodies, I scoffed at him. I had been taught well by the public schools and the media. I was convinced that contraception was the responsible thing to do. He countered with, “If you used a diaphragm or I used a condom, I wouldn’t be able to ignore that a piece of latex was involved in our consummation. It should be you, me and God, that’s all,” and “if we used contraception, it would be like attending Mass with earplugs in our ears.”
My incredibly bright, artistic and 20-year-old fiancé tried to help me understand in layman’s terms what was so wrong with contraception. He seemed to know inherently that our bodies were so good, that we must treat them with respect and reverence. In the end, I still didn’t understand his idealistic views, but I trusted him (and the Church) just enough to agree to give up the idea of using contraception.
After we had been married for six months, I started to better understand what James was trying to explain. I experienced firsthand a marriage without contraception. My husband’s ‘language of the body’ told me that he loved me freely, without reservation, faithfully and fruitfully.
Our bodies do have a language and, with it, the capacity to tell the truth or to lie. But not just a simple, interpersonal language. It goes deeper than that. God communicates to us through sex. Human beings can be conceived from the one-flesh union of man and woman. When a life is created, God utters the word that creates this new human person with an eternal soul.
This teaching is an ideal, to be sure. Speaking the truth with our bodies creates a lifelong spiritual, emotional and physical bond that leads the couple in virtue and towards heaven…and it isn’t always easy.
The challenge is that many couples either ignore or are unaware of this ideal of speaking the truth with our bodies.
In the movie Vanilla Sky, of their sexual relationship, Cameron Diaz’s character says to Tom Cruise’s character: “Don’t you know that when you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise whether you do or not.”
With their bodies, a couple who uses contraception says, I take you to be my spouse, but I don’t take your fertility (or fruitfulness).
While it is possible for a same-sex couple to be free, total and faithful, it is impossible for a same-sex couple to be fruitful. Their union cannot by its nature be life-giving.
A couple who has pre-marital sex is often using contraception, so they’re not loving in a way that is fruitful or total. A couple who is fornicating is renewing vows that have never been spoken. Often, they’re not free because sex can become a conquest or a habit, and little by little, they can lose their sense of self-control.
When sex produces a life, it means that something went right, not wrong. Contraception isn’t 100 percent effective and unplanned pregnancies still occur. Some of those women have abortions when unplanned pregnancies happen. But even abortions are a lie. God has said that this unborn child is a person, but the woman says, “No, ‘it’ is not.” Children are the fruit of married life, of sex, and they deserve to live.
No one likes being on the receiving end of deception. I found this out firsthand. It is the same the world over.
Our bodies speak a language. In the same way that we can lie with our tongues, we can also lie with our bodies. NFP allows a couple to speak the truth with their bodies.
To learn more about NFP:
Copyright 2020 Ellen Gable Hrkach