CATECHIST AND PARENT ALERT: I invited Bill Donaghy, a Curriculum Specialist, Instructor, and Speaker for the Theology of the Body Institute to give us a quick summary of some of the ideas behind the TOB and the Institute’s upcoming congress.
Lisa: Hey, Bill! Thank you, so much, for taking the time to lay a foundation for our readers in understanding what the TOB is all about and learning more about the upcoming TOB Congress.
Briefly, what is the Theology of the Body?
Bill: The Theology of the Body is a refreshed, renewed vision of the beauty and dignity of the human person and our universal call to love and communion, which is written in our very sexuality as male and female. It is a penetrating series of meditations on both Sacred Scripture and human experience by St. John Paul II that reveals our fundamental call to become a gift, and through this gift, to fulfill the very meaning of our being and existence!
Lisa: Sounds incredibly rich. What is the Theology of the Body Institute?
Bill: The Theology of the Body Institute is a 501(c)3non- profit, educational organization promoting the Theology of the Body at the popular level of both the Christian and the secular cultures. Through graduate level courses, on-site programs and clergy training, Theology of the Body Institute seeks to penetrate and permeate the culture with a vision of true sexuality that appeals to the deepest yearnings of the human heart for love and union.
Lisa: Would you share the journey that led you to work at the Theology of the Body Institute?
Bill: I was privileged to be a part of the World Mission Jubilee in Rome in the year 2000. By “chance” I was chosen to represent the United States along with 11 other representatives from other countries as a symbolic image echoing the original 12 apostles. We were seated near St. John Paul II for the World Mission Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s on October 22, and each received personally from him a mission cross which he placed over our heads. He said that we must “bring Jesus back to our country.” Needless to say, I was ruined after that day! How could I not dedicate my life to the New Evangelization? I found myself consuming his written works, and speaking around my little part of the world about the great things God was doing in the world. This mission spread throughout the USA, and when the Theology of the Body Institute was formed, I was invited to become a speaker for the Institute on St. John Paul II’s beautiful teaching the Theology of the Body. It was the most natural progression for me. God placed it on my heart, all I had to do was say YES!
Lisa: What an incredible witness. I know so many people whose lives were transformed by contact with St. John Paul II.
What is the greatest need in our culture today?
Bill: Great question, and I think it’s a simple answer. We need communion. We need to see and know each other, to love each other. St. Augustine said it best over 1600 years ago! “The deepest desire of the human heart is to see another and to be seen.” I think our over-stimulated, techno-holic culture has become so obsessed with screens and gadgets and quick downloads, we’ve forgotten this most basic human need… to see and to be seen. To know and be known by another. This takes time, and vulnerability, and honesty. But it so slakes the thirst of our hearts for communion!
Lisa: Great point. In teaching young people, we really need to meet them where they’re at and find a way past their screens.
What motivates you to do what you do?
Bill: I guess I’m motivated by beauty, ultimately. The beauty of life, of creation, of other people, and of God Who I think is playing a kind of “hide and seek” behind and through it all with us. The Theology of the Body has really been such a personal gift for me, to see with this kind of “sacramental vision.” It’s captivating to think and to experience that everything speaks; literally everything can become a vehicle for God to communicate His Mystery to us, culminating in the Eucharist. Life is such a gift. It becomes a romance when we realize He is the Lover seeking us His beloved.
Lisa: Amen! Take this even further for us; explain, using your own experiences, how you have found that every human heart has the same desires?
Bill: I think it’s been my own love of music, and art, and movies that has helped me to plug into this universal ache for communion and love that we all feel. It was Van Morrison’s tune “Into the Mystic” that really moved me as a young man. I think I was 16 years old. I felt this pull in the center of my chest into something, Someone, that was so big. Much bigger than me! Bigger than I could contain actually. It was scary, and beautiful, all at the same time. Then you read your philosophers (the ancients are the most clear headed I think). And the poetry, and the love that makes saints and mystics. You start to see our beautiful diversity but in and through our unified desire for a oneness. Our hearts are restless, Augustine said, until they rest in Him. I have found this to be profoundly true.
Lisa: The news is awful, these days. How might we unite beauty and suffering in our broken world?
Bill: You just have to watch the most beautiful movie that was ever made (which is about suffering) and you’ll get it: The Passion of the Christ. You’ll find that authentic beauty gives you in fact a kind of pain. The pain of longing that says “You were made for more. This world cannot contain your heart! Listen, and even in sorrow, hope!” To quote Dostoyevsky, “In the end, Beauty will redeem the world!”
Lisa: Can you explain what a Culture of Life is and what it looks like?
Bill: I think an authentic Culture of Life is a place where the other person is more important than me. It’s a place that rejoices in life, in beauty, in innocence, in the wisdom of old age, in our strength and in our vulnerability. The Culture of Life is anything but boring! It sees everything as a gift, and all of those gifts are calls for us to rise up and out of ourselves for others. That’s really why we are here after all! We are here to be a gift and to see others as a gift.
Lisa: Do you think the general attitude towards sex and sexuality is improving or getting worse?
Bill: Well, that’s a tricky question. I used to think it couldn’t get much worse, but I think the saying is true, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” We have so disintegrated our identity, our hearts and our bodies and our souls. We are seeking meaning and purpose and a point to it all, and that’s a good thing! I just think that there’s really only one place left to go: to the healing. The prodigal son at some point, turned around and made the journey home. I think the general attitude towards sex is starting to reveal its utter shame and hollowness. We are still hungry. We need redirection, a sexual reorientation. And the Father is running out to meet us, in the body, with St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body! What a grace-filled time to be alive!
Lisa: I agree, totally. Do you think the teachings of Saint John Paul II have the power to restore our culture and build a Culture of Life?
Bill: I have absolutely no doubt that Theology of the Body is the antidote. After my first encounter with it in a Catholic bookstore at age 16, in 1986, and a reawakening after many years (in 2000), it has spoken to my heart and healed me. It has a powerful grace in it, a gospel shock, a solidity and a weight of glory that is exactly what our tired world is looking for. God gives the Church just what She needs when she needs it. All we have to do now is open up our hearts, and receive it.
Lisa: A lot of people are really excited about the 2016 TOB Congress. Tell us why it’s causing such a buzz.
Bill: This is an incredible opportunity that offers everyone the chance to hear world-renowned speakers/experts on a variety of topics through the lens of TOB. Our theme this year is “Love, Mercy, and the Gift of the Family.” It will take place in Ontario, California. Some of our speakers are SR. HELENA BURNS, BRIAN BUTLER, JASON EVERT, MATT FRADD, ARCHBISHOP GOMEZ, SR. REGINA MARIE GORMAN, DR. JOHN GRABOWSKI, DAMON OWENS, MATT PINTO, JAKE SAMOUR, JEN SETTLE, DR. PIA DE SOLENNI, DR. EDWARD SRI, ROSE SWEET, CHRISTOPHER WEST, KATRINA J. ZENO, and more!
The talk categories include catechesis and evangelization, marriage and family, pastoral ministry, philosophy and theology: covering topics like married life, healing, divorce, same sex attraction, celibacy, kids and sex, the new feminism, daily life, the Eucharist, and more! You can learn more at TOBcongress.com
Lisa: Exceptional line-up! Thank you, Bill!