By Kevin Whelan
In order to make the Theology of the Body useful, we have to learn how to live it. I am convinced the TOB reaches far beyond human sexuality, it can effect every aspect of our lives.
In thinking about how to do that for men 30-50 years old, I decided to come up with a ‘Top Ten’ list. It’s not a real ‘Top Ten’ list, because it’s not funny. These are just ten things I find I am doing the help me live TOB. Since, as the Church teaches, I can only find myself by making a gift of myself, my body must be used for the benefit of others. These are examples of how I do that. These will probably change from time-to-time as my understanding of TOB matures. I offer them as possible new years resolutions and invite you to add your own in the comments section below.
So here, in reverse order of importance are the ‘Top Ten’ things I’m doing:
10 - Set an example of activity: Our bodies are built by God to move and to do things. It quite simply glorifies God when we use our bodies to this created purpose. I make use of the physcal capabilities of my body: I exercise, fix things and care for the house. Besides their obvious benefit, these are also physical expressions of love for my family. When I expend myself to make our home a better place to live, I’m speaking a bodily language that says, “I love you.”
9 - Play with the kids: Of everything I do for them, my children put the greatest value on my spending time with them. When I put ‘My Real Presence’ into something they care about (playing), the message is unmistakable.
8 - Let my family see me serve others: I teach best in what I do, not what I say. By letting my family see me make a gift of myself, I teach them to do likewise.
7 - Study Scripture and the Faith: St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Knowing scripture will lead me closer to Christ, but it also serves as a living example for my children about what I think is important. I send my children to one of the top Catholic schools in the US; the religious education is superb. Nevertheless, it is my goal that my children see no better expert in faith than me.
6 - Apologize and ask forgiveness: Fr. Benedict Groechel, CFR once told me that “Forgiveness is the heart of the Christian Family.” Forgiveness allows the family to maintain its unity; this unity also expresses God’s image. One of the greatest gifts God ever gave to mankind was the incarnation of His Forgiveness. In order to fulfill the mission given to our families, we should incarnate this forgiveness. I apologize and ask forgiveness for my mistakes, even with my children. It is never conditional; I never say, “I’m sorry I lost my temper, but you disobeyed me and blah, blah.” The ‘but’ negates the apology. I may have a desire to tell them other things, but forgiveness is always a more important lesson.
5- Tell my children I love them, bless and kiss them: My Dad died suddenly six years ago and I know for certain the last words we spoke to each other; we told each other, “I Love You.” I’m certain of this because we ended every conversation this way; I do the same with my children. I also bless them; each night as they go to bed. I make the sign of the cross on their forehead (as I first did at their Baptism) and offer the priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24-27. Our family is the “Domestic Church.” As such, I can bless my children as the priest in this church. A blessing “is a divine and life-giving action, the source of which is the Father.” (CCC1078)
4- We frequent the Sacraments (Mass - Reconciliation): I confess that I don’t understand people who don’t bring their children to mass. Maybe we should look at this from the standpoint of what we would be denying children if we miss mass. If we are not bringing them to Holy Mass, we are denying them the grace that pours from the altar; we are standing as a barrier between them and God. What better use of our bodies than to sacrifice our own comfort to bring our children to mass. Quite often in our home the men of the family (my sons and I) invite the women to join us in the Sacrament of Penance. The graces of these sacraments resound throughout our home.
3 - Live in the Hope of my Salvation: Pope Benedict XIV’s Spe Salve is a remarkable document. Most of it is easily readable and profound. Through it, we learn that if we truly have hope in our salvation, we will live differently. All my scheming to get ahead in life, suddenly makes no sense. Time spent in prayer becomes one of my most productive activities. Hope makes my vocation as husband/father the central drive in my life. I have found the theological virtues of Faith and Love easier to comprehend than the virtue of Hope, but Spe Salve opened my heart to a greater understanding of Hope.
2- Love their Mother and let them know it: My children need to see the physical manifestation of my love for my wife so that they can be assured of the love of God. Obviously, much of this manifestation is private, but they can and must see us hug and kiss each other. I also make sure they see the profound respect I have for their mother. My children must see and know with deepest certainty that I have given my life for their mother.
1- Pray - Pray - Pray: Praying has to be the center of our day. It is through prayer that we unite our every activity to Christ. Without this unity, our activities eventually collapse under their own hollowness. Everything is nothing without prayer. We not only need to pray, but we also need to let our families see us pray. The first thing I do every morning is to pray for the spiritual protection of my children and to offer my day to God. I pray the faith of my children, my fatherhood, my marriage and of course for my wife. I have developed the habit of praying for my family right after receiving the Eucharist; a priest friend tells me that with Jesus intimately with me, my prayer is never more powerful.
I certainly claim neither unique expertise nor research in this list. These are just things I’ve been doing to live out my faith. Above all, our faith must be active; that’s why we have a body. We must, in the literal sense of the word, ‘embody’ our faith. I offer this list of some of the things I do to encourage others.