When St. John Paul II delivered his iconic talks in what came to be known as Theology of the Body, he wanted the world to better understand the meaning and purpose of humanity from a holistic perspective.
The series of lectures, delivered in his Wednesday audiences between 1979 and 1984, presented a study of how the human body revealed God. He explored topics such as the sexual complementarity of man and woman, the nature of marriage and chastity. He also further explained the Church teaching on contraception found in St. Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae.”
Rachel Leininger was two years away from being born when John Paul II delivered the last of his talks — in essence, she never knew a world without Theology of the Body. After college, Leininger became the chastity educator with the REAP Team, the archdiocesan youth retreat ministry. She became the second person to have that position, created just a year after John Paul II’s historic pastoral visit to St. Louis.
As a chastity educator, Leininger’s role is to help young people understand how to live lives with chastity at the center, using the framework of the Holy Father’s teachings in Theology of the Body. Chastity, she said, isn’t just about how we use our bodies, but rather a virtue that is all about respect for self, others and sex itself. It encompasses purity of body, heart, mind and soul.
“It’s a lifelong virtue for all vocations,” she said. “Married, religious, single. Many people get stuck on the ‘no sex’ part — it’s not just what you do or don’t do. It’s about what you say, the way you joke around, the way you dress, the way you behave on social media.”
Leininger also tells young people that chastity isn’t about past decisions, but the present and the future. “Anyone at anytime can choose chastity and start living it for the rest of their lives,” she said.
It’s important to remember the sexual revolution had just taken place when John Paul II began his talks on Theology of the Body. “The world was changed by no-fault divorces and birth control pills and the prevalence of abortion, and all these things,” Leininger said. “But the lens that he focused on was ‘Here’s what it means to be a man, here’s what it means to be a woman, here’s what it means to be fully human — and to have a healthy, integrated body, mind, heart and soul.’”
Leininger sees John Paul II’s teachings as a way of bringing healing to a wounded culture. “It’s very much trying to have an ounce of prevention being a pound of cure,” she said. “We’re learning that you can have more, you were created for better. Putting these teachings into practice is going to make you … a more whole person
Theology of the Body resources
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/catholic-teaching/theology-of-the-body.cfm
The Cor Project: corproject.com
Theology of the Body Institute: tobinstitute.org