7/17/2014 8:29:00 AM Show merciful love to others, work for the good of all, speakers urge
Catholic News Service photo
Deborah Savage, a philosophy and theology professor at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., gives the keynote address July 10 at the 2014 International Theology of the Body Congress in Philadelphia. Lay people, clergy and religious attended panels, discussions and keynote addresses during the July 9-11 congress that examined the meaning and relevance of St. John Paul's theology of the body.
Catholic News Service
PHILADELPHIA — Father Michael Gaitley reminded attendees of the 2014 International Theology of the Body Congress that Catholics are called, in body and soul, to show merciful love to others.
"The heart of theology of the body is that the body matters. What is concrete and personal matters. We're not just spirits, we're embodied spirits. We're to make visible the invisible reality of God," he said in a July 10 address.
"We are called in our bodies to reflect the self-giving love that is at the heart of the Trinity, and to put mercy into action," added Father Gaitley, a member of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.
More than 700 people gathered in Philadelphia July 9-11 to hear philosophers, theologians, clergy, religious and laypeople discuss the meaning and relevance of St. John Paul II's work, and how to implement it in daily life and a new evangelization.
The first major teaching project of St. John Paul's pontificate was a series of short talks given between September 1979 and November 1984 focusing on the meaning of the human body, authentic love, sexuality and marriage in light of biblical revelation.
Father Gaitley's speech highlighted a main focus of several breakout sessions and discussions during the congress: embracing and living the principle tenets of the late pope's theology of the body in daily life.
Emily Stimpson, Catholic author and freelance writer who focuses on topics related to marriage, sexuality and femininity, led a breakout session called "These Beautiful Bones: A Practical Guide for Living Theology of the Body in Everyday Life."
"Theology of the body shows us not only a different way of loving, but a different way of living. It's a guide that can help us navigate our way through this confusing mess of a world we live in," said Stimpson.
She likened the secular culture to a culture of zombies as in the television show "The Walking Dead."
"They are physically alive but spiritually dead. They don't know who they are. They don't see their dignity and their beauty. They worship youth and fear age. They worship stuff instead of God," she said. "The perpetual struggle for us is to retain our humanity in a world gone mad."
Among her numerous suggestions, she encouraged those in attendance to tune out distractions -- such as social media and cellphones -- and instead live more fully in the present moment.
"Social media can be great, but when not used properly it can be a distraction. When we're looking at our phone, we're communicating a message -- we're saying whatever is going on in the real world is not as exciting as cyberspace. We also lose opportunities," she said.
She noted how people who met St. John Paul in person often "felt like they were the only person in the world" because his attention was so focused on the person with whom he was speaking.
"Theology of the body calls us to be present in the world; we're made to be with people, to look them in the eye, to listen to them, and to recognize that we are staring at the image of God."
Stimpson emphasized the importance of caring for the gift God has given each of us in our bodies by exercising and eating right. But, she warned, "don't join the cult of the body. Don't worship muscles and fitness. It's a gift."
Go to Mass, adoration, confession and to every other sacramental opportunity that comes your way, Stimpson concluded. A culture that is spiritually dead can be "spiritually resurrected" by the sacraments.
Greg and Lisa Popcak led a breakout session that focused on applying principles of theology of the body within the family.
"We can change the world by capturing the hearts of our kids with theology of the body," Greg Popcak said. "A lot of people think theology of the body is purely academic, or just about sex -- it's more than that. It's meant to be lived."
Greg Popcak is the executive director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization that provides tele-counseling services to help Catholics through marriage and family problems. He and Lisa have written more than a dozen books on applying theology of the body to daily life, and host radio programs of the same nature.
"We are children of God raising other children of God, and he has a plan for us to do this," said Lisa. "We have to ask -- how can we make each other's lives easier and more pleasant? It's a mutual, self-donative relationship. You take care of each other, you live this idea of self-donation."
To live this theology within the family, the Popcaks suggested first that families worship together, and make going to Mass a loving experience. Praying together, too, "empowers children to know that they are prayer warriors," said Lisa.
The Popcaks emphasized the importance of authentic love, respect and genuine interest in each other within the family. Love is a promise to help others become all that God wants them to be and it also is working for the good of another person, the couple said.
They urged people put family first and quoted Pope Francis, saying, "Waste time with your children." Form a community of love in the family, by even doing the dishes or some other chore together, they said, because families are a witness and a sign of God's love.
When people try "to live out God's own love," they stand out in the world as witnesses, the Popcaks said.
"If we can do that in our families, it will shine out to the world and we can change the culture."