Learning lessons about our bodies

Learning lessons about our bodies Selma Blair

St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body isn’t just about sex. That might seem unlikely to those who’ve only ever encountered specific introductions to the late Pope’s biggest area of catechesis, or who’ve only ever heard caricatures of the late Pope’s teaching, but it’s important to understand for all that. Emily Stimpson at thecatholictable.com in a post entitled ‘The Gift of the Body’ offers a fascinating testimony on how the Polish Pope’s teachings helped her in her struggles with anorexia.

“This is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week,” she begins. “On Instagram, I’ve been talking about how, after a six-year struggle with anorexia, the Eucharist transformed my understanding of food (I’m also giving away five copies of The Catholic Table over there this week). But it wasn’t just the Eucharist that helped me. Just as the Eucharist transformed my understanding of food, the theology of the body transformed my understanding of my body.”

Until she was 25, she said, she valued her body solely in terms of weight and numbers,  but encountering the Theology of the Body gave her a profound lesson. “It taught me that my body wasn’t a problem to be controlled; it was a gift to be cared for. It was me – as much a part of who I was as my soul and as much a gift as my soul,” she writes.

Her body had been given to her, she realised, so she could do all the things she loves, to love and to serve others, to express her feelings to those she loves, to appreciate the splendour of God’s creation, to worship God, and to make God known in the world. We have all been given our bodies for these reasons, she says, and it should be treated as holy places to be tended with love.

It’s a fascinating and enlightening piece, and could serve as a good introduction to Theology of Body for those who view it with suspicion even now, thinking it is somehow ‘all about sex’.

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It’s peculiar what kind of insights one can find in the most unlikely places across the internet, including the revelation that even damaged bodies can be real gifts. Given how before Christmas vanityfair.com had published an execrable piece by John Cornwell entitled ‘Pope vs Pope: How Francis and Benedict’s simmering conflict could split the Catholic Church’, it was intriguing to read Julie Miller’s ‘“There’s no tragedy for me”: Selma Blair’s transformation’.

Detailing how the Hollywood actress’s world had been rocked by a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, the article reports Ms Blair as having moved through the pain to a place of serenity.

“As Blair sees it,” she writes, “there’s a humility and a joy I have now, albeit a fatigued joy’.”

The diagnosis utterly changed her life, Ms Blair says. “The doctor said, ‘Your life will forever be different.’ And I was like, ‘Well, thank God.’”

Noting the people with disabilities can be invisible to many, she says it’s important to be seen and to share her story.

“There’s no tragedy for me,” she says. “I’m happy, and if I can help anyone be more comfortable in their skin, it’s more than I’ve ever done before.”

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Just who are the laity these days?

In a commonwealmagazine.org piece entitled ‘Beyond personal piety: The laity’s role in the Church’s mission’, Fr Michael Sweeney OP argues that the Church at large needs to fully understand and express who the laity are, and what their roles are in the Church.

When thinking of the Church, he says, it’s normal – too normal – to think of the Church as made up of clergy, religious, and laity.  “According to this reckoning, the laity are defined in a negative manner: they are the ones who are neither ordained nor members of religious orders. If one is a Catholic, and neither ordained nor a religious, then one is lay; it cannot be helped,” he says.

Leaving aside how unordained religious are themselves laity, the point stands, and it’s an issue that needs thinking about. The laity are not just leftovers.

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