The Father's grace is always at work in the world, and it's surely preparing to rain down on Southern California in specific ways yet to be experienced. From today through this Sunday, September 25, the Theology of the Body Institute is hosting their biennial Theology of the Body Congress, in Ontario, CA; a gathering open to hundreds of ministers, missionaries, students, leaders and enthusiasts, both lay and clerical. Each time it takes place, the Congress intends to break open the wellspring of riches found in Pope St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body (TOB) audiences in light of a particular theme or issue.
The theme of this year's Congress is "Love, Mercy, and the Gift of the Family," and its mission is this:
The 2016 TOB Congress will propose a powerful vision of sexual complementarity that reaches the core of what it means to be human, made in the image of the God Who truly is a Family - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Through presentations from experts in the field of TOB, participants will encounter God’s plan for fruitful, self-giving love, which lies at the very heart of what the family is meant be, as well as ways of ministering to the human family on the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and sociological level.
The Congress' list of featured presentations reads like not only a dream list of Catholic speakers and theologians, but a prescription for the wounds our culture currently suffers in these areas. It's medicine; healing; delivered not with despair or complaint but with great joy and hope for restoration. Jen Settle, Managing Director of the TOB Institute, answered a few of our questions about an inside look at preparation for the Congress and, particularly for Spoken Bride readers, about TOB in regard to vocation, engagement, and marriage.
The theme of this year's Congress is "Love, Mercy, and the Gift of the Family," which is so fitting in light of Pope Francis' recent calls to the faithful. How did you all decide on this as the theme, and in a nutshell, how do you and the Institute view love, mercy, and the family in light of TOB?
As we were discerning the theme for this year’s Congress, the planning for the World Meeting of Families in our Archdiocese was in full swing, and so was the Holy Father’s call for the Synod of Bishops on the Family. We saw a great opportunity to connect Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body to the resulting documents coming forth from the Synod. We also saw the great connection with Pope Francis calling for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Love, Mercy and the Gift of the Family seemed to be a great fit for all of those events and movements in the Universal Church.
Love and mercy are at the heart of the family. In our world today, all families are in need of a deeper understanding and living out of love and mercy within their domestic church. The Theology of the Body is an in-depth study of love and family. The theme of mercy relates to the Lord’s gift of redeeming what Pope Saint John Paul II calls “historical man.”
Historical man is the human experience of love and sexuality after the Fall of Adam and Eve--this is all of us. We need the Lord’s mercy to have a deeper understanding of our call to be a gift in our vocation, through the gift of our sexuality.
The Congress is hosting a wealth of amazing speakers: Christopher West, Sr. Helena Burns, Matt Fradd, Dr. Angela Franks...can you share any stories about your experience working with these men and women in preparation for the event?
I have been given such a gift by the Lord to work alongside men and women who love the Lord, love the Church, and Her teachings. These speakers are so personable.
They are men and women, just like us, striving to live God’s plan for life and love through the Theology of the Body. They each, with their unique gifts, talents, and experiences, deeply desire to share the Good News of the Gospel through a deeper understanding of our identity and vocation.
I am always amazed to see their humility, prayer, joy, and deep conviction that TOB is the new evangelization for our time.
For those of us who aren't fortunate enough to attend the Congress, will any of this year's resources eventually be available? If not, we'd love any recommendations of other resources that speak to TOB and its intersection with the culture.
You are co-leading a talk, "Love Looks Forward: TOB and the Single Life!" Would you care to share part of your testimony with our readers?
Last summer, I gave a talk at the Theology of the Body for Young Adults week with Dumb Ox Ministries in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was a talk on living single in community. In it, I shared my personal journey of discerning marriage and family and how I went about searching for a spouse in all the wrong ways--paved with good, Christian intentions, but nonetheless, the journey was filled with a misunderstanding of marriage and my calling to live it out.
I saw all men as potentially “the One,” and saw them for how they could fulfill the need for affirmation and completion of my vocation. I didn’t see them as God was calling me to see them: as my brothers in Christ; someone to love for who they are, not for how they make me feel.
When I learned the Theology of the Body, it changed so much for me. It changed how I saw men. It changed how I saw myself. It literally changed my vocation.
Although I felt called to marriage and family, the Lord was calling me to a different marriage and family than I had imagined my whole life. I came to understand that the Lord had planted that desire for marriage and family in my heart and had every intention of fulfilling it--just not in the way I'd thought. Through the Theology of the Body and much prayer and discernment, I came to understand the Lord was calling me to become his spouse and a spiritual mother to many by becoming a Consecrated Virgin, living in the world.
It has been a long journey and the Lord has been ever gentle and faithful. On February 2, 2017, Archbishop Charles Chaput will Consecrate me as a Virgin, living in the world.
Without the Theology of the Body, I would have no idea what being a “bride of Christ” meant, or how I could live my call to spiritual motherhood.
After sharing my story with the young adults at that retreat, I was so surprised by their reactions. Praise God, He has spoken to their hearts and opened up ways in which they, too, hadn’t seen the opposite sex in a way that was loving. Many of them came up to me after the talk and shared profound stories of how others had hurt them by not seeing them as God does or how they now realize that they have not been seeing others as they should.
Adam Fusilier, with whom I am co-presenting the Congress talk, is a wonderful young man who works for Dumb Ox Ministries and he’ll be sharing his story of living the single life from the masculine perspective. I’m very much looking forward to us sharing our journeys with those in attendance.
Pope John Paul wrote, "Those who seek the accomplishment of their own human and Christian vocation in marriage are called, first of all, to make this theology of the body...the content of their life and behavior. How indispensable is a thorough knowledge of the meaning of the body, in its masculinity and femininity, along the way of this vocation!" Since Spoken Bride readers are, generally, women who have discerned a call to marriage, what thoughts, advice, or resources on TOB can you share specifically with brides and new wives?
I always encourage men and women who are discerning their vocation to marriage, who are preparing for marriage, or who are already married, to learn TOB. I have seen the effect it has on individual spouses and on marriages. The TOB Institute offers weeklong courses in the Theology of the Body. These courses are the marriage of a course and a retreat. There is in-depth study of TOB, but in the context of prayer, Adoration, the sacraments, and time to process, as a couple and as an individual, what the Lord is sharing with them through Theology of the Body. You can learn more about these courses and where we offer them on our site.
For those who aren’t able to attend a course, I encourage people to look at TOB resources through Ascension Press or The Cor Project. Fortunately, there are really wonderful resources that can be found through those, and other, apostolates.
We love sharing personal stories and encounters. Do you have any stories to share of engaged or married couples from your courses who have been notably impacted by TOB?
When I began working at the Institute, I had my personal journey of how TOB had changed my life, but I had no idea how it was changing the lives of people, of every age and vocation, across the globe. There are so many beautiful stories I could tell about how the Lord has brought conversion, healing and joy to people of all vocations, but I’ll share two short stories here (names are changed).
Bill and Julie came to a weeklong course in dire straits. They were separated after twenty years of marriage, and attending a course with us was their final effort to save their relationship. They committed themselves to taking the time between the teaching sessions to really talk through whatever the Lord was bringing up. They also committed to being totally open and vulnerable with each other. Throughout the week, they spent time together, shared the movements of their hearts, shared their hurts, prayed together, went to confession, and gave each other time for personal prayer and reflection. At the end of the week, they determined together that Bill would move back to their home and they would work things out. Bill and Julie came back for a number of retreats, and are still married to this day. They received much grace from their time with us and in their commitment to do the long and difficult work of healing with the Lord.
Joy and Tom attended our courses separately. Joy came to a course after discovering her husband of five years had been addicted to pornography since before they were dating. They had two small children and Joy was committed to helping Tom overcome this addiction and find healing, but she knew she needed healing, too. She needed to come to a deeper understanding of sexuality; her own and her husband’s. Later she would encourage Tom to attend a course, but it had to be his decision. He had to want it. Tom did eventually attend a course and was open about his struggles. At the end of the week, Tom shared that his understanding of his own sexuality and of women had been malformed by pornography, but that he was coming to a deeper understanding of masculinity and femininity. He and Joy re-committed themselves to their marriage, Tom sought help with his addiction, and they are still married--and expecting their third child.
I don’t want to give the impression that by coming to a course, every marriage will be saved. That is the Lord’s work, and it is a long and difficult work for the husband and wife.
It takes great courage to open your marriage to the Lord and the healing He desires. It takes great vulnerability and openness.
What I have witnessed through my work at TOBI is that the Lord loves us where we are, but desires our healing. I have seen couples, both engaged and married, overcome great difficulties to find tremendous joy and healing with the Lord.
Jen is currently serving as Managing Director of the Theology of the Body Institute. She has been part of TOBI since 2008 in various capacities, including Certification Course Manager and Director of Programs for the Internship, Certification, and Clergy Enrichment Programs. She has Bachelor and Master degrees in Theology and Parish Ministry from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Jen worked in religious education and adult faith formation for 15 years before joining the TOBI staff, teaching Theology of the Body throughout the country.