Four Icons to Depict The Marital Embrace and Theology of the Body



The Theology of the Body (TOB) is a compilation of teachings and writings which depict how our physical bodies are designed and created to reveal the glory of God on this side of heaven. In many ways, TOB is a mission statement for married couples—a spiritual foundation to understand the human heart, to grow in relationship, and to embrace our deepest desires for unity. 

Saint John Paul II presented his work on TOB in 129 “general audiences” during his papacy; countless theologians, teachers, and artists expand upon his work and share these truths in schools and communities today.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, ”Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words.” In collaboration with several TOB educators, four icons which reveal the Gospel message through the lens of Theology of the Body and the vocation to married life are shared below.



The Holy Family 

An icon of the Holy Family reveals the physical fruit of love between two humans who each offered their bodies entirely to the will of God. Though each called to self-sacrifice, man and woman participate in very different acts of cooperation with the spirit. As we gaze at the Holy Family, we recall how Mary, completely united with the Holy Spirit, trusted an angel and conceived the son of God with pure receptivity. Joseph upheld his masculine dignity and self-control through his entire life as he abstained from physically uniting with his earthly spouse. Joseph’s body was his source of leadership to provide, protect, and defend his family and his home. 

Like Mary and Joseph, every bride and groom is called to offer her or his body in unique acts of service for the sake of their marriage and family. Whether in receptivity, abstinence or offering, a surrender of the physical body in collaboration with God is fruitful and holy. 

The Ecstacy of St. Teresa of Avila 

The passionate union of man and woman in holy matrimony is meant to be a foretaste of the passionate union the holy person will experience with God in heaven. St. Teresa of Avila mystically experienced the ecstacy of this love in her life on Earth, as depicted in this image. Her heart was struck by the love of God and she was never the same. Her expression reveals the longing of every human heart for the ultimate union with God in heaven. 

And it is an experience that God wants to share with all of us, in some fashion anyway. While it may be true that relatively few experience this level of divine ecstasy in this life, something like this (and far beyond) is destined to be ours for eternity – if we say “yes” to God’s marriage proposal, that is.”

Joachim and Anne in the Immaculate Conception 

The icon entitled “The Immaculate Conception” depicts the moment of holy union between Mary’s parents, Saints Joachim and Anne. They stand next to their marriage bed in a loving embrace. The imagery and symbolism in this icon is rich with truth about the Theology of the Body and the pure union between man and woman. As we know, their union was so pure, so holy, that the fruit of their union was Mary, immaculately conceived without sin. Beyond the literal event of the image, “...this icon leads us to consider the possibility of real holiness and virtue in the marital embrace, not only as an intellectual idea, but as a lived experience.” This image teaches us about the our destiny for unity between man and woman, the masculine and feminine, and for the trinitarian love of bride, groom and God. 

The Wedding Feast at Cana 

The Gospel reading of the Wedding Feast at Cana is a common selection for Catholic weddings. Jesus’ first public miracle at this wedding offers many points of reflection. It emphasizes the celebration of marriage and covenant as a holy union. It reveals a dynamic of the relationship between man and woman, as depicted between Mary and Jesus. It highlights the intoxicating effects of abundant wine and of pure love shared with others.

The icon depicting this event is a reminder of this miracle’s glory and how its truth applies to marriages today. Through the lens of TOB, we recognize that holy union is a cause of great celebration; saying “yes” to fruitful love through the marital covenant yields an abundance of holy and joyful celebration from God.

About the Author: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Associate Editor. Stephanie’s perfect day would include a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more


Forever: An Interview with Jackie and Bobby Angel

No matter where you are in your dating life, engagement, or marriage, and no matter where you are in your spiritual life, the Father deeply desires to pour out his love over his sons and daughters; to know and be known by them in a singular, specific way. In every vocation, we hear the song of his love for us.

We had the privilege of a conversation with Bobby Angel and Jackie Francois Angel, husband and wife authors of the recently released Forever: A Catholic Devotional for Your Marriage. Forever features six weeks' worth of daily reflections and questions for couples to read together (Lent could be an ideal time to dive in with your beloved), with the intention of drawing them nearer to the Father and illuminating the truths of the human heart that ring eternal, even in a culture of constantly changing attitudes and wedding trends. 

Read on for the Angels' take on these topics of learning to love a singular, specific person in your spouse, our longing to be known, Saint John Paul II's Theology of the Body, and their advice for engagement and marriage. 

Who did you write this book for? Is it just for married couples, or would others benefit from it as well?

We wrote this book for everyone! While specifically targeted to those already married, we wanted it to be accessible for people who are dating, engaged, newly married or married for 20 years, as well as any single person who wants to consume more content on the Theology of the Body and maybe learn some tidbits about marriage. Our hope is that this book could help people in all different stages of the journey, from an engaged couple getting married in the Catholic Church and getting reacquainted with the faith, to even those couples married for a long time who have studied Theology of the Body and are glad to have a resource that allows them to pray together nightly and learn more about their faith and each other.

You both do quite a bit of speaking and teaching to young adults around the world; what have you noticed in terms of contemporary young adults' attitudes toward and ideas about marriage? Did this play a role in how you wrote your book?

For those young adults who actually do want to get married (since so many young adults are foregoing marriage to just cohabitate), there is often this idea that marriage will solve all their problems or make that “ache” of the heart go away. We try to share that the best thing to do as a single person is to focus on being healthy--emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually--and to realize that marriage won’t make your problems (like insecurity or a habit of pornography use) go away, but rather magnify and exacerbate them.

In our book, Forever, we also try to show that God is the only one who can satisfy every desire of our hearts. Marriage is just a sign and foretaste of the Heavenly union and marriage with God in Heaven. Thus, if God is not “enough,” nothing will ever be, not even a fantastic marriage.

So, if single people can go into marriage knowing no human being, not even their spouse, is perfect like God, nor can their spouse heal or fix all their problems--like God and some therapy can--it will lay a much healthier foundation than having the previously stated notions.

Why did you choose to base your reflections on St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body?

We both experienced renewals in our faith through dynamic youth ministry programs as well as a secondary “jolt” of excitement in encountering the rich teachings of St. John Paul II. As people with very real desires and and that ever-present ache to know and be known, JPII retold our beautiful Christian faith by focusing on the call to union stamped into our physical bodies. Good news, indeed!

In an age where so much distortion and heartache comes from the misuse of our bodies, reading and learning the Theology of the Body was eye-opening and refreshing. It put to words that ache for communion and gave us a tangible way of integrating our desires, rather than merely fighting or suppressing them. It’s the Gospel re-told in a new way; it’s the antidote our fallen world needs. We both drank deeply of this vision before meeting each other, so beginning a relationship and a marriage--and now a family--with this understanding is a tremendous grace and responsibility. We feel blessed to be able to share it with the world.  

What role does prayer as a couple play in your marriage? What advice do you have for engaged couples and newlyweds on how to begin praying together?

Be patient with each other! You’ve likely spent decades praying on your own before coming together, so know that it’s a bit of a dance where you will step on each others’ toes. Communicate what you like to do together and also what you may prefer to do on your own. For example, maybe you like to do the rosary together but spiritual reading alone; or vice versa. Figure out what works for you as a couple and stick to it.  

Also, different seasons of life call for changes. If you’re blessed with children, your prayer rhythm will change. Make the most of the time you have; quality over quantity. Look at children as an opportunity of prayer (and purgation!) instead of obstacles to your prayer. 

If you could give one piece of marital advice to the brides and newlyweds reading this interview, what would it be?

Communication, communication, communication! Learn how to communicate well with God, and learn how to communicate well with your spouse. Communication with God is what prayer is, and being honest with God about your hurts, brokenness, desires allows a lot of healing and freedom.

Communication with your spouse is essential! Learning how to argue in a healthy way, learning each others’ love languages, and communicating your desires and expectations in every area of marriage (from how to raise children to who does what part of the housework to what pleases each other sexually) is essential to growing in love for one another and having a marriage that lasts “‘til death do us part.”

Jackie Francois Angel and Bobby Angel live in Orange County, CA. Jackie is a traveling speaker and worship leader, as well as a songwriter and recording artist with Oregon Catholic Press. Bobby is a campus minister and theology teacher at Servite High School, an all-boys' Catholic High School in Anaheim. They have traveled to speak both nationally and internationally to share their faith and present the Church's vision of life-giving love. They recently welcomed their third child. 


The Language of Complementarity



After my conversion--largely shaped by the future St. John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body audiences--but before my first serious relationship, I thought the “rules” of pursuit, along with men’s and women’s unique and complementary roles in it, were totally clear: men should pursue and initiate, and women should receive. It was simple, until it wasn’t.

The first time my now-husband Andrew asked me out, I said no. I’d recently ended a long relationship and knew I should take time to recharge spiritually and emotionally. At the time, we’d been friends for months, and I knew deep in my heart we would one day be married. He was perfectly understanding of my wanting to wait before we began dating, and said to tell him when I was ready.

None of my spiritual books had prepared me for this. The ball was squarely in my court, put there in a way entirely respectful and well-intentioned on my husband’s part. But I worried: I was more than comfortable having our feelings for each other out in the open, yet suddenly I was in the position of pursuing, rather than waiting to be pursued, as I discerned the proper time for us to date.

Conversion is a funny thing. It sweeps you up in divine romance, in all its goodness and beauty, then forces you to reconcile all that romance with reality.

In my case, I felt bound by the TOB-inspired nature of complementarity: as a woman, how could I tell this man I was ready to walk into what I hoped would be forever, without stepping outside the boundaries of what I thought was feminine?

As we began dating, that question of how to be feminine arose again during the times I wanted to take his hand first, the times I didn’t mind driving for our dates, and the times I wanted to treat him to coffee on my dining hall plan. Then, without my noticing, the questions started fading into the background. Simply as we settled into each other and forged an identity as a couple, an easiness and peace took over.

Like many goods that might initially seem like rules, the language of pursuit and complementarity now seems more to me, in reality, to be a roadmap to a flourishing relationship. At its root, pursuit is about freedom: allowing man and woman to each become more fully who they were created to be.

And while it’s true there are inherent and good differences between men and women, it’s also true each person is uniquely, unrepeatably made. The ways in which each of us lives out those differences speak to our individual strengths and virtues, and reality doesn't always fit neatly into spiritual boxes.

What I’ve come to realize, through the subtlety born of time and maturity, is that femininity doesn’t always mean always being the asked, never the asker; always the pursued, never the pursuer; always the comforted, never the comforter. It doesn’t mean being afraid to argue or voice strong opinions.

It means loving my husband, in his uniqueness, in the specific way only I can. Like any language, that of the complementarity between man and woman can feel foreign at times as you navigate the different seasons of your relationship and come to know the other more deeply. Through serious dating, followed by engagement and marriage, I’ve realized I should never take for granted that I’ve won my husband’s heart. He still deserves the best of me, and for me to express my love in the ways that speak most deeply to who he is.

Have you ever been in a situation like mine, overanalyzing the “man’s role” and “woman’s role” in your relationship? I encourage you to take the pressure off of yourselves. Simply by striving to give of yourselves and receive the other in the inherently unique ways men and women do so, you are living out your masculine and feminine identities. Make it a goal to be the best, most vulnerable, most honest version of yourself with your beloved, because when you’re living in the truth, you see who you really are--who you already were, all along.

Three weeks after he first asked, I was ready, at least for the moment, to put aside convention and go out into the deep. I sat on a bench outside our college library and asked Andrew to ask me out again. In that question, I wasn’t bound by rules; I was free. A true yes always is. "For freedom Christ set us free..."

About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more


Chastity and the Battle to Let Love Conquer Lust



If you ever imagined and prayed once your finger held an engagement ring, your relationship and spiritual life would soar to the heights and become less complicated, only to learn the truth sometimes more resembles the opposite, you aren’t alone. The love of man and wife is transformative and real, life-giving, with the power to transcend and change this world. It’s obvious why the enemy constantly snaps at the the heels of something so good, so beautiful, so much more powerful than death.

During my own engagement, I was suddenly more aware of spiritual warfare than ever before. In times past, to be honest, I’d always considered attacks from Satan more of a superstition than a reality, yet here came a hurricane of self-doubt, anxiety about the future, and particularly for my fiancé and I, battles with purity. At the time, I was serving a mission year as a chastity speaker, and my boss told us to expect a battle.

Photography:    Petite Fleur Studios

As I began my mission, and as my husband-to-be and I embarked on thirteen months of long-distance dating and engagement, we struggled constantly, spending our rare visits arguing about wedding matters and staying up too late, too physically close--sex was a line we were resolved not to cross, yet we’d inch closer to that line than we’d intended, all the same. The deeper I fell in love with him, the more I wanted to express that love fully.  

Don't misunderstand me. Desire for your beloved is good and it’s holy, but of course, its fullness is ordered toward marriage. Before engagement, our physical relationship was something I was proud of. The degree of purity my fiancé and I had preserved had deeply healed me from a past relationship, and I could honestly say I'd never felt lustful towards him, never felt the desire to overpower, to take from him, or to reduce the truth of who he was.

But the human heart is a battlefield between love and lust. When authentic love is what you prize and when you’re able to rise above the culture’s message that being lusted after is desirable, you still might find yourself sliding into habits of lust and use without even meaning to, and find yourself wondering if you’re worthy of your vocation. That’s a lie.

When I was with my fiancé--and even when I wasn’t--I couldn't get the enemy off my back.  Between my engagement and my work, I was determined to be pure in my thoughts, words, and actions, to become ever more free and fully alive. Yet I found myself constantly going back to confession for what felt like the same old sins, and there were a few times I just broke down with anxiety.  

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a day when Our Lady's conception crushed the head of evil, I was consumed with anxiety about my worth as a woman. Rather than looking to Mary as a perfect model of faith, beauty, and purity, I saw her as an unattainable ideal whom I could never come close to imitating. How could I--so imperfect and so unworthy--be a real bride when it was her who was the real one, the one seeking the will of the Father in all things and embodying a perfectly integrated sexuality? It became increasingly difficult to not view my marriage as a finish line I couldn't wait to just stagger across, when the whole fight would presumably be over and I could stop feeling so fake, keeping my battles a secret. Another lie whispered in my ear: if only they knew.

The world wonders why, if chastity is such a fight, not to just give in and plant a white flag in the sand. But I knew I wasn't just following the rules. I was so internally convicted of the right path, knowing it was the best way to show my love.

So live in encouragement. Live in the tension of awaiting the full expression of your love for one another on the day you become man and wife--become one.

Believe with your whole heart you are good. You are worthy. You are also human, and the Lord delights in our humanity, flaws and all. Looking back, I'm sure now that through every attack on my purity, I was receiving graces I didn't even know about. Ask for the grace to refuse your temptations, to silence the part of you that feels unworthy, and to endure whatever trials your relationship is going through. Run to his mercy as many times as you need to, and be renewed. The Father is so loving and so gentle with us. Remember to be that with yourself, too.

A Benedictine monk told me once to combat spiritual warfare by standing between the pillars of Our Lady and the Eucharist. He said when we recognize darkness, say, Evil, I reject you. I claim victory. I claim the Cross. 

I made a consecration to Our Lady in college. Sometimes I forget that behind every perfectly worn chain or Miraculous Medal is a very imperfect woman. I am inadequate, strengthened only by grace. These devotionals aren’t so much a desperate tether to stay close to her, I’ve realized, as much as a reminder that she has also chained herself to me. A loving mother never gives up on her children. Rest in her loving mantle, cling to her son, and even while storms rage and the battle continues, you will know peace.

About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more


The Embodiment of a Bride: A Reflection for the Feast of the Assumption



As I’ve grown into my vocation through its seasons of engagement, marriage, and motherhood, wearing these roles lightly at first, like a new sweater, until they become familiar--if not at all times comfortable--Our Lady has frequently been at the center of my prayer life. As daughter, spouse, and mother, she’s our ideal of earthly perfection.

Rae and Michael Photography

Rae and Michael Photography

And make no mistake; Mary’s perfection, her identity on the whole, is an inspiration to contemplate. Yet often, I find myself wondering what individual personality traits and quirks of character lay beneath the pious images and titles. I wonder what her daily life was like in Nazareth: What were Our Lady's hobbies? Were Mary and Joseph ever bothered by each other, and did they simply ignore bad habits or correct them with perfect charity in their sanctity? What sweet rituals and traditions did the Holy Family have? Did Jesus have tantrums as a toddler?

I think the reason so many questions about Our Lady’s unique heart, particularly on this day of her Assumption into heaven, arise in my own is that on some level I want to identify ever more with her in our shared roles as wives and mothers. While I’m more than aware how short I fall of Mary’s flawless obedience and purity of intention, beholding her as an ideal stands as a constant reminder to me of what I’ve promised in my wedding vows. She is a tangible, human example, an embodied woman whose body was received into the heavenly banquet on this day. What joy must have resounded through the heavens in her reunion, for all eternity, with her beloved son and husband.

Throughout engagement, and on through my days navigating newlywed life and new parenthood, I’ve grown so aware of how easy it is to believe the enemy’s lies that I’m not good enough; not as a bride, not as a wife, not as a mother. I say this to you as much as I say it to myself:

Look to Our Lady as a stronghold of truth; the truth of who you are and who you were created to be.

In her Yes to bearing the Son of God, Mary redeems each of us, and perhaps redeems us as women in a particular way. Eve’s giving in to the first lie--the possibility that God might not be enough to satisfy, that we ourselves might not be enough for him--is turned on its head in Our Lady’s humble fiat, the freely given surrender of her will out of complete trust in the Father. She desires only what is of God, who is truth himself.

What fruits, then, can you gain from this joyful feast, specifically in your identity as a bride? Again, for me, Mary’s bodiliness comes to mind. Her body and soul were seamlessly integrated, without the shadow of sin, in such a way that she is the total embodiment of beauty, of obedience, of faith.

Pray about ways you might put yourself, body and soul, at the service of love, in a way that befits your current state (engaged, married, or as a mother): through physical affection for your fiancée, husband, or children, offering chronic or temporary pain or health issues for the intentions of your beloved or your wedding guests, through embracing late-night wake-ups with an infant. Know and believe that you are enough. When it gets hard to believe, fix your eyes on our heavenly mother, our sister. You are a gift. From me to you, Happy Feast Day.

About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more


An Encounter With Beauty: Thoughts on TOB, Art + Marriage with Artist Michael Corsini

In anything created there resides a spark of the divine. Any work of human hands is due the Creator himself, a reflection of his perfect beauty. And creation brings forth life.

Life-giving, too, is our identity as man and woman, bride and bridegroom. We are the Father, the maker's most cherished creation, loved and willed into existence in a breathtakingly specific way. His children; his fingerprints.

Michael Corsini is a husband, father, artist, speaker, musician, and worship leader whose daily work and family life speak to the intersection of art, creation, and divine intimacy. A convert to the Catholic faith and former brother with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFRs), Michael's work is infused with the Theology of the Body.

At Spoken Bride, we strive to constantly pursue and share with you all that is beautiful, true, and good in love and marriage. When we recently happened upon one of Michael's sketches for a future oil painting, A Theology of Marriage, we found ourselves drawn in and had to find out more about the image and the artist behind it. Michael answered a few of our questions, and it's our honor to share his truly stirring thoughts on beauty, art, and vocation.

As a man whose life's work is to create, it's evident that your spirituality is informed by a love for beauty. How does this awareness of the beautiful inform your spiritual life, your marriage, and your family life?

Beauty is the theme of my life and is always surprising me. I find that authentic beauty is very elusive, and because of our human condition, it takes effort to seek it out.

But when it’s found, I think the most startling thing is that it has the ability to affect a radical response from human beings. I mean, beauty can make a man lay down his entire life and reveal to him a personal, unrepeatable mission that he willingly gives himself over to at a profound cost. Beauty makes you want to continually be in its presence, and it impels you to act.

Beauty is special too, in a way, for the artist. In my experience, the artist can only make himself available and open so that beauty can be received as a gift, without grasping it, and trying to make it into his own thing.

I think that marriage, the spiritual life, kids, it’s all like this. It’s all about the encounter with beauty, whether we are ready for it or not, whether we respond or not.

Because beauty is so humble, the scary thing, I think, is that it can be easily missed. Something so beautiful can be right before us and we miss the chance to let it enter in and change us. Mercy. Imagine being in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, walking down a dusty street and you nearly bump into a very tired young couple holding a newborn. They are poor, but have a quiet joy in their eyes. It would be easy to pass by and never give it a thought. This is what I mean. There in that moment passes the Source of all beauty, and it’s so small. This is also a source of pain in the heart of the artist. I am aware of my lack of awareness. I think in a way, the whole Christian life is a gradual opening up of the person to beauty.

You hold an M.A. in Sacred Theology from the JPII Institute, work at the JPII Shrine in Washington, D.C., and have several upcoming projects related to the Theology of the Body. Do TOB and the topics of marriage and family have special significance in your work?

Theology of the Body has not only held a special significance in my artwork, but even more so in my life. It is a gift that has illuminated my vocation! In all the most difficult moments of my reaching toward God to know my vocation, Saint John Paul II has been a father to me. Jesus' title of Bridegroom, and the gradual discovery that Christ wished to live his life in me, showed me the intersection of the desires of my heart and His own. Christ actually desires to live his life as Bridegroom in me!

My work is a kind of gathering up of my whole life journey and discovery, which includes these beautiful insights and inspirations as well as all my doubt and sin. When I work or sing, I feel myself alone before God and also part of the great mass of humanity, in all its present condition, reaching toward God. I am very interested in what modern man needs to hear from the Church at this particular moment in time and in the specific questions we pose to God and to ourselves.  

I think TOB gets at this more concretely than anything else as a re-presentation of the faith. A true new evangelization.

Your "Theology of Marriage" tryptych features scenes from our Fall and our redemption in the Gospels. We're eager to delve into the images and symbols you've used! Tell us more?

The central panel is key to reading the entire image. This is the image of the life of the Bridegroom and the Bride. The veil is torn open, and we see into the central mystery of the faith. Christ is on the Cross, pouring himself out. The Bride--Our Lady and the Church--receives this life. Her body is in the form of a chalice.

Through the Cross we see into the mystery of Heaven: the great fruit of the sacrifice. 

The idea is to show an immeasurable multitude in order to express the great fruitfulness of the Bridegroom and the Bride: children! Blood and water flow from the side of Christ and spill into the side panels. Husband and wife are shown giving themselves to one another adjacent to the image of the last supper, where Christ gives his Body and Blood to the disciples. Both are an image of the total gift of self.  

The side panels are an account of redemption history and are also read in light of one another. The left panel begins (top to bottom) with the creation of Adam in his solitude, the Original Unity of Adam and Eve, the Fall (turning from God and one another), the dysfunctional experience after the Fall (manifest as grasping and a lack of eye contact), and finally an image of Shame.

The right panel begins with the fall of David and his repentance. It moves down to the marriage of Tobias and Sarah. Here reading the panels in light of one another (from side to side) you see Eve reaching to the serpent and Adam to himself. Tobias and Sarah, in contrast, rise from their marriage bed with incense ascending to God, in order to extend themselves together to the Father. Redemption also lies in the Annunciation. The image of Our Lady receiving the indwelling Word--without grasping--is the redemption of Adam and Eve's moment of grasping through one another at the forbidden fruit on the left panel. The final image on this right panel is the Nativity.  I think this moment is profound; the revelation of the face of God! Here Joseph and Mary are present at the birth of Christ, in purity, seeing God face to face.  

You are a convert to the Catholic faith, spent five years with the CFRs, and are now a husband and father. Care to share your conversion, discernment, and love stories?

When I was in college I had a profound encounter with a painting called the “Blue Madonna.” Long story short, I--who was not Catholic--had a loose understanding of who Mary was, but I found myself in the Ringling Museum weeping at the beauty of this woman. She led me out of an addiction to pornography and straight into the Church. Dostoyevsky said “in the end, Beauty will save the world.” This moment was a true example of his words.  

With a healing like this, I was zealous. Within two years I had joined the CFRs, which was truly one of the great blessings of my life. Though I loved my brothers and the life, I struggled through novitiate, and every year of temporary vows I wondered how to reconcile the increasing and specific desire for marriage welling up in me.  

I met my wife, Jessie, while I was a friar. She had been volunteering with the community long before I joined, and I was assigned to the Youth Center in the South Bronx for about six months where we served together. But soon I was off on another apostolate, where I was to remain for the rest of my years in the community.  We saw each other only occasionally during that time but remained friends. Jessie really had no idea what was going on with me and my discernment.  

She went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, found a white rose made of cloth, and received in prayer that it was meant for me, this religious brother she knew. As you can imagine, she was terrified to give a friar a rose…so she didn’t. For over a year and half! Meanwhile, I had been praying for a sign.

I was getting desperate for a concrete expression of God’s will. I had asked for a red rose to signify I should pursue the priesthood, and white, marriage.

Thinking how silly it all was, I was still hoping for the white. One of the friars, whom Jessie had confided her rose story to, told her she had better give it to me, because it didn’t belong to her! And so she did. That moment is precious to me. I knew what it meant, and she didn’t. I was overjoyed, and she saw that in me immediately. After I left the community, Jessie and I quickly discovered we had been living truly parallel lives during those five years and that in God’s beautiful providence he wove our lives together. I am continually grateful, even for the suffering of discernment.  

Even for the less artistic among us, can you suggest any resources or concrete ways to cultivate beauty in one's relationship, marriage, and vocation?

How about a farming analogy? I find it fascinating how many times Jesus used references to farming and agriculture to illuminate deep truths about God. In my family we do a little homesteading. It’s our great desire to live that life more intensely, more full-time, so the image of cultivation is very dear to us. We find in this way of life a deep unity with our vocation to marriage. There are many things here that will die or be severely injured if we don't attend to them daily--and not just our kids! It’s a kind of openness to life that is also an openness to being frequently inconvenienced by another being.

Perpetual awareness of weeds growing, produce which needs to be picked at the right time, and providence: to cultivate beauty in our marriage and family, we need to first prepare a place for it.  

And I recommend picking up something on TOB, even if the original text is too daunting. Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West is a good one!     

And lastly, we'd love to hear any wedding input from a groom's perspective! What piece of wedding planning or newlywed advice would you like to share with Catholic couples?

My wife and I didn’t sweat the details too much. We kept our wedding day pretty simple and focused on giving ourselves in the Sacrament. Most of our attention was toward making the liturgy beautiful, and to that we are indebted to many of the Friars and Sisters of the Renewal. We delegated a lot of details to trustworthy friends and family and let a lot of it go. It was the most beautiful day.  

I want to end with the words of St John Paul II, a true bridegroom of the Church. This is the best marriage advice I have heard.

“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.

It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.” ~ (Pope St. John Paul II, World Youth Day – Rome, August 19, 2000)

About the Author: Michael's latest musical release, All Things Hoped For, was recorded live as an Advent worship meditation and is now available. Listen to it here.

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The Heart of Humanity: TOB for Engagement and Marriage + The 2016 TOB Congress

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.

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.

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.

All of the presentations at the Congress will be available through Ascension Press, individually or as a whole. You can find the presentations on their website.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

It takes great courage to open your marriage to the Lord and the healing He desires. It takes great vulnerability and openness.

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.

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