TOB and the Interior Life

A week ago today I set off for the Malvern Retreat House in Pennsylvania to take my 6th course with the Theology of the Body Institute called Theology of the Body and the Interior Life with Fr. Timothy Gallagher.

I had asked Christopher West in a Facebook Chat what to expect from this course, since I felt like I was one of the few Catholics in the world who had not heard of Fr. Tim before. His response was:

“Fr. Tim Gallagher is one of the foremost experts in the country on Ignatian spirituality, particularly what Ignatius called “the discernment of spirits.” It’s going to be a crash course on how to discern the interior movements of our lives — how to recognize the voice of the Lord and any contrary voices in our lives. This is essential for the journey of the interior life, which is essential for living TOB. I’ll be making those connections for the class in particular.”

I’m here to say, Fr. Tim exceeded my expectations and, together with Christopher teaching the TOB specific portion as well as another priest who spoke on the Examen Prayer, this was probably one of the most fruitful and enjoyable courses I’ve taken yet.

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For those unfamiliar with the TOB Institute and the courses that it offers, a little background:

All of the courses take place at retreat centers in Pennsylvania. They run from a Sunday evening until Friday afternoon. They consist of 30 hours of teaching and the rest of the time is filled with meals, mass, prayer and adoration.

That’s the *structure* of it but that’s nothing compared to what happens in your mind and your heart as digest all of this. Because it’s not data or information that you’re learning – it’s so much more deep than that. This is literally life-changing. And it’s because it speaks directly to our heart.

This one was specifically on Discernment of Spirits and the Spiritual Exercises from St. Ignatius of Loyola. For more information on it, I’d recommend Fr. Timothy’s website as well as the *main* website called Discerning Hearts. For those who are more auditory learners, you’ll appreciate this site since all you’ll have to do is click on one of the many podcasts that Fr. Tim has done to really help you understand the exercises.

While attempting to summarize all that we learned in one blog post would be futile, (I wouldn’t even know where to begin!) I would instead like to share the BEST news about this retreat/course based on my last post from just a month ago: My GoFundMe Campaign funded this whole course entirely!

For those that don’t know, I was having some anxiety about paying for this course. I only had 3 courses left to obtain the full TOB certification and after a ton of prayer, I decided to start a Go Fund Me, simply reaching out just once to friends/family via email and posting to social media two or three times. I felt VERY uneasy about this because it’s not in my nature to ask for help, especially financial.

Much to my surprise, within 10 days, most of the course was paid for. Within three days of starting the campaign, the Institute granted me a small scholarship to the class as well. I was shocked and humbled and I’m incredibly grateful! I couldn’t get over how good God was to me with this journey.

I realized on the morning I was due to leave for the course (getting a ride with friends so I didn’t even have to put those miles on my leased car!) I was finishing up the 54 Day Novena for Our Nation. The novena consists of a rosary each day for twenty-seven days in petition; then immediately a rosary each day for an additional twenty-seven days in thanksgiving, regardless of whether or not the request has been granted yet.

Well, my petition was for funding for my TOB class. And on the final day of the novena, I was thanking Mary for interceding for me and granting this request. I don’t think this is any sort of coincidence – it’s clearly an answered prayer.

While it remains to be seen how the rest of the funding will pan out for my final two courses, I remain hopeful that God will provide.

For those wanting more information on Theology of the Body, I have updated my “Resources”  page with books on TOB and others.

Other links:

TOB Institute

Christopher West/Cor Project

Theology of the Body – What is it?

 

 

 

 

 

Using my gift of gab for good.

“What am I supposed to do now? Just tell me what to do!”

This is the PG version of my prayer a few weeks ago on the Feast of the Assumption, as I sat in front of the tabernacle at a tiny chapel at my parish. I had just come from the noon mass and attempted to pray in larger day chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, but it wasn’t doing much for me. So I changed venues and went to this smaller chapel (nicknamed the closet chapel because it’s about the size of a walk-in closet).

Gratefully, no one was there. I say gratefully because I proceeded to kneel down and sob openly for about 20 minutes. I had read just a few lines from the PA Grand Jury report the night before and managed to avoid most of the worst headlines from it the next morning. But apparently, the gruesome details I did manage to read by accident the night before crept back into my mind. And I was devastated. And angry. And frustrated. And at a loss for what to do or what to even ASK the Lord in this situation.

Eventually, my feelings of anger turned into actual prayers:

“How can I turn this into something for YOU? What can I do to channel this into something that helps to heal your Church that is going through a major crisis right now?”

It’s basically the prayer we probably all should/do pray everyday: “Thy will be done.”

The answer I received was pretty quick and simple: “Keep going.” 

Keep going with what? With my discernment of my vocation? Keep sobbing in chapels?! Can you give me a bigger hint here, Lord?

But then it became obvious to me: What have I been doing for the past 3.5 years? What  am I good at? What excites me and where do I really thrive? To be honest, as awkward as it is for many people, I actually LOVE to talk about chastity and sex and marriage to complete strangers. 🙂 I know, who woulda thought?

And from the feedback I’ve received, especially this past year, apparently people are responding well to my speaking engagements. You can view one of them here for a talk I did called: Engage the Culture – The Catholic Response To the Sexualization Of the Culture. Unfortunately, you can’t quite see my powerpoint on the screen, but at least you can hear me.  There are more/will be more of these as they are posted on the OLGC channel.

So with that affirmation, I asked what I needed to continue on with my “TOBsessive” practices.

And quite frankly, I need the certification in order to speak well to this teaching from JP2, but most importantly, to be seen as a credible resource.

The great news is that I’m almost done with the certification process through the Theology of the Body Institute: I’m just 3 classes away!

The reality is that the classes are not cheap. I’ve been blessed to be able to take 5 of them without really doing too much damage to the bank account. But these last 3 will be a bit of a challenge.

So after more prayer and wise counsel from people I trust, I decided to ask for help with the finances by creating a GoFundMe page. Several other TOBsessives have done this as well and so I figured, why not give this a shot?

Full transparency: Each class is $1,175 and you can see the price for yourselves right here: http://tobinstitute.org/programs/courses/

If you cannot give financially, I simply ask for your prayers. I know God is faithful and He always provides. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for whatever you give. I promise you I will continue to use the knowledge I’ve obtained from the 5 courses I’ve already taken to promote the Catholic Church’s teachings on human sexuality and always to speak the truth in love. I have seen firsthand and experienced how the power of the Gospel works in everyday lives.

TOB changes lives because it changes hearts. I’m a living testament to that and I would love to give this gift of transformation to others, with God’s help, as best as I am able.

In Christ,

Michelle

The Celebration That Never Ends

“Sport is a universal language that brings together peoples, and can help persons meet and overcome conflicts. Therefore, I encourage you to live the dimension of sports as the gymnasium of virtue in the full development of individuals and communities.” – Pope Francis

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It figures.

It figures that the one time my beloved city of Cleveland did something relevant and timely and AWESOME and RARE by winning a CHAMPIONSHIP, I was on a retreat.

Of course I was. Where else would I be?

In my quest to pursue the full certiication from the TOB Insititute, I decided it would be a great idea to take a week-long course for Theology of the Body in Pennsylvania. Day 1 of the retreat started the night of Game 7 of the Finals.

Great timing.

Now this may be starting out as a pity party for me, but hold on.

Yes, I missed out on high-fiving my family members and my friends who were watching the game at home or at bars or at watch parties. I missed seeing the team come home to thousands of people at the airport. I missed the million+ attended parade. I missed it all but there’s something to be said for social media at this point  – the pictures and videos I saw of all of this was a sufficient substitute for being there in person. I was never more proud of my city and fellow Clevelanders. And to completeley honest, I needed to stop idolizing sports. So this was actually a great way to detach from it and realize there is much more to life than sports.

But of course that didn’t stop me from watching the final 5 minutes of the game. 🙂

Those (very few) of us that watched the last moment of the game on our little mobile devices at the retreat center screamed and shouted and celebrated once that final buzzer sounded and the game was over. We remarked how it seemed like we were in disbelief. I know I was! I didn’t really celebrate until I saw about a minute or two of the team on the court. Then it became “real.” But even the next day, so many people remarked on how surreal it was. I myself even posted:

“Is this real life? Did this really happen? We WON something!?”

To the outsider, yes, it’s just sports. It’s entertainment. And those of us who are fans had nothing to do with the team winning this trophy. But when people, complete strangers, are crying and hugging each other and smiling and saying “We did it! We won!” you get this feeling in your heart that says, “We are united in this!” Even if it’s just for this one brief moment.

There are far more important things that will (and have) taken over the headlines in the week since the Cavs won this championship. I noticed one of my friends posted something on Facebook about how this world is so messed up (she used much more colorful language) when more people are celebrating the Cavs win than focusing on gun control in the wake of some recent violence in this country.

(Instead of responding directly I was inspired to write this post. So thank you for the inspiration, friend!)

Of course we should focus on preventing violence, ending terrorism, looking for cures for diseases, feeding the hungry, etc. The problems we have in this world are endless. But can we allow ourselves to celebrate for a brief moment?

Those that just want to despair and complain and lament that this country has its problems and we’re too busy celebrating a silly basketball game to take notice isn’t fair.

Where’s the allowance for joy to balance out all the evil being done in this world? Isn’t it nice, once in a while, to take a breather from the bad to relish in the good?

I think we can use the escape of sports entertainment to briefly take our minds into something “other worldly.” Some that feels like a dream, especially to the fans who live in the city that WINS.  Allow people to be joyful. Allow their smiles to bring back memories for you when you celebrated something with your favorite team or when you were with family or friends at a party, a wedding, a graduation, etc.

And here’s something you may not know: That dreamy feeling does last forever. But only in one place. It’s a place that puts a record breaking parade to shame. A place where the feeling of a championship win occurs every time someone enters there.  Some don’t believe it exists. But many of us do. And that’s what I live for. That feeling of never-ending bliss. That’s what keeps me going.

Dr. Bob Rice from Franciscan University at Steubenville wrote about this place that also served as inspiration for this post today:

Imagine this: You close your eyes for the last time on this earth, and when you open them again, you are in a different place. It is the most beautiful place you have ever seen. Before you is the finish line. As you head toward it, you see deceased family members calling your name and shouting for joy. You see angels and saints clapping and shouting louder and louder. Behind the finish line you see Jesus, with a huge smile and His arms outstretched. As you break through the finish line into his arms, all of creation erupts in song. He then puts you on a pedestal and, in front of all of creation, he places on your head the crown of life. It is the most incredible moment you will ever experience. And it will continue forever.

How beautiful is that?!?

I know not everyone believes. And it’s still hard for me sometimes to truly believe this, too.

But if there are people walking around just assuming there’s NOTHING at the end of life, well…what would be the point of all of this? What in the world are you living for if you don’t think there’s an endgame?

There’s gotta be an epilogue to this life.  That’s how I get through the depressing and dark times and awful headlines that I read every day.

I try my very hardest to live in the moment, knowing the ultimate celebration awaits us all. God-willing, I’ll see you there. And the best part?  EVERYONE GETS A TROPHY!!!

 

The Gift of: Life Renewed

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A picture of my favorite Saint posing with my favorite TOB Teacher, who will probably be a Saint someday. St. John Paul II, pray for us both!

Well this was unexpected.

It’s not everyday you hear that your mentor is coming to a chapel near you to give a talk about God, Sex, and The Meaning of Life.

But this evening I found myself driving speeding just a tad to hear Christopher West give a talk at Walsh University, just a little over an hour away from me.

Never mind the fact that I’ve read 3 of his books and attended TOB1 last summer. Never mind that I attended yet another course in August on Catholic Sexual Ethics and plan on attending TOB2 in June this year. Never mind that I am currently facilitating an Intro to TOB DVD series with over a dozen women from my parish. And never mind that I tend to introduce myself as “a crazy TOB gal” upon first meeting anyone with even an inkling of knowledge about our beautiful teaching. And did I mention that I’m pursuing the full certification so one day I can teach TOB?

Clearly, I am not ignorant to Theology of the Body.

So why would I skip out of work an hour early (sorry boss!) to drive an hour away to hear a talk on a subject I clearly know quite a bit about?

Because I can never get enough. And, as much as I think I know, there is ALWAYS more to learn.

I was thinking about this as I made the drive down there to North Canton tonight. I was grinning ear to ear, SO excited to get there and take it all in.

“Who in their right mind would be this ecstatic to hear a chastity talk?”

Probably because it’s SO MUCH MORE than a chastity talk.

And it hit me, sitting there in the pew tonight, listening to Christopher speak:

It takes your breath away.

And it hit me, on the way home, thinking and reflecting on all the changes that have occurred in me since last spring:

Theology of the Body healed me.

Why would I not be excited to hear about the very thing that cured me?

It never ceases to amaze me that I prayed for healing, I cried to God (sometimes out loud and in front of the Blesses Sacrament), to help me.

And it takes my breath away when I realize the work He did in me.

And it takes my breath away when I think,  “If He has the power to convert a huge sinner like me, then there’s hope for every person out there.”


There’s not enough space (and you, dear reader, don’t have enough time) to read about how much TOB changed my life. I’ve written bits and pieces here and here if you’d like to read just a taste of it. (Or, simply search “Theology of the Body” within the blog to find the rest).

The fact that I changed my blog to it’s current name should give you a pretty good indication that this was more than “just another book” that I just happened to read last year.

TOB saved my life, and I don’t know how else to summarize it better than that.

I know that doesn’t really tell anyone anything specific, and that can be frustrating.

But I always remember that Catholicism is a proposal. And TOB is a proposal. And so I can’t force you to learn it, but I can INVITE you to learn it.

So I invite you, whoever you are, wherever you are at in your journey, to take a look at TOB.

It won’t be easy because, after all, this is all very heavy and intense and uncomfortable sometimes. But that’s why we have some great resources to help us in our time of need.

The first is Jesus. (Duh) He’s our first “emergency contact,” if you will.

But sometimes, you need to talk this stuff out with people who are wise and considered the experts.

Your local priest will also be a great resource and can definitely help you navigate your way into the TOB world.

But for those that prefer to remain somewhat anonymous or like reading more than speaking:

This is where I will give a shameless plug to Christopher’s Cor Project and the TOB Institute.

These websites are the go-to sources for every body. Every state in life. Every budget.

  • The Cor Project is fantastic and well worth the $10/month investment to be a member. As a member you have access to his talks that you can download online and SHARE with your friends and family (Hello! Evangelizing for the modern world!) You will also get emails from him on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.  They include short YouTube videos as well as quotes and blog posts.

I spoke to a few people tonight at the talk who didn’t want to join because they “already have so many emails coming in each day.”

As a daily email addict myself, I found a solution to this problem: Make the emails part of your daily prayer. 

What I mean by that is if you don’t want to stop subscribing to other email lists like The Catholic Company or the USCCB or uCatholic or Matthew Kelly (I told you I was addicted), pick one to focus on in the morning. Even if you’re daily prayer is only 10 minutes, you can still find that time to be useful if you’re really reading and investing time to reflect on the message.

I’ve even watched his video’s during Adoration (headphones in of course) and THAT has proven to be very helpful.

  • The TOB Institute provides all the courses/retreats to the general public so you can become an addict like me further your own personal journey. I wouldn’t be doing a good job of spreading the message of TOB if I didn’t promote the courses. You don’t need to be a religion teacher or a parent or a priest to appreciate these courses. As you have heard it said repeatedly: Theology of the Body is for every body. Yes, that includes those of us who are single! This isn’t just for married folks, folks.

If you can only attend one in your entire life, you must make it to TOB1.  Period. Nuf said. Just go.


My life, in the past year, has totally changed. I remarked to Christopher as he was signing that picture of St. Teresa of Avila, (drawn by his 15 year old son, by the way):

“You know YOU started this Christopher. You did this to me!! You made me into this crazy TOB chick!”

I think I said Thank You. But in case I didn’t:

Thank You! I’m forever grateful for my new life.

 

 

 

 

Help Me To See

I’m not blind, but I’ve experienced “sight” twice in my life that I feel compelled to share.

The first was when I was taken to the doctor for an eye exam in the 4th grade. I had no idea I couldn’t see the chalkboard; it was my teacher who told my Mom that I was squinting to see it. When it was clear that I could barely read the eye chart at the doctor’s office, we went to get a pair of glasses.

I’ll never forget sitting in the chair at the optometrist. Before he came in, I looked into the holes of the giant machine that he would use to ask #1 or #2, #1,  or #2. (Anyone who’s been to the eye doctor knows all too well this process, it’s kind of comical).

Anyways, I took a peek and I remember telling my mom, “Wow!!! There’s a dog on that wall over there!”  I think she said something like, “Yes, that’s a picture of a dog, what’s the big deal?”  And I replied something like, “But…but…it’s DIFFERENT when I look through this thing. It’s like it’s magic! I can see the dog! I can see him!”

Having never had a need for glasses, she couldn’t understand what I was trying to say. I was trying to tell her that I could see every DETAIL of this dog. I will NEVER forget that dog. The picture is ingrained in my memory forever and the first image I saw clearly.  I recall thinking this machine that I was looking through must have been magic. I honestly didn’t understand the concept of SEEING CLEARLY.

After the appointment we went to LensCrafters to get my glasses. I remember picking out pink frames, thinking they were the “cutest” looking glasses, although I was dreading wearing them. Glasses, at age 9, were not “cool.”

“Do you see what I see?”

I will never forget walking out of LensCrafters to the car. I recall it was fall and the leaves were starting to change color.

Imagine seeing leaves for the first time. I know it’s hard to picture seeing something that you see every day but just imagine never having seen the leaves on a tree.

I could SEE! I could see every single leaf on the trees that we were walking past! And the concrete – I could see that too!

I was literally looking down at my feet walking on the sidewalk and noting to my mother, “I can see!! I can see the sidewalk!! I can see the leaves!!! Do you see them? Do you see that?”

I wish I could remember her reaction. I wish I could ask her if she remembers that day that I got my sight.

But most of all, I WISH I could have every person I know experience this newfound sight. It’s like being born again. It’s like realizing you are alive when this whole time before, you had been dead.

I recently came across a video from a popular speaker named Nicky Gumbel, and he discusses how he got glasses as an adult and HIS reaction is very similar to mine.  (Fast forward to 12:30 to SEE what I mean.)

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

I mentioned I gained sight twice in my life. The most recent time I found sight had nothing to do with a new pair of glasses. It has everything to do with looking at life through a different lens, a different perspective.

This “secondary” sight occurred when I read Theology of the Body for Beginners just 8 months ago. I knew something was happening to me as I read this book and took notes on it, which I have NEVER done while reading any book as an adult. I felt compelled to reflect on these words this man Christopher West, was writing. It was another experience of saying to myself, and sometimes to others, “Wow, NOW, I can see! I see things the way they REALLY are! THIS, this is what is truth!”

It was a few months later in June that “the scales fell off my eyes.” I had heard this expression before but never truly understood it until it actually happened to me. This experience took place during a week-long course through Theology of the Body Institute.. I recall telling myself and others, “I cannot un-see what I just saw. I can’t un-hear what I just heard. I will never be the same person I once was. I can see again!”

Where I once thought I saw love, I see lust.

Where I once saw truth, I now see the lies.

Where I once saw friendship, I now see possession.

Where I once saw harmless entertainment, I now see abuse.

Where I once saw freedom, I now see impurity.

But don’t get depressed and discouraged! There’s Good News to share:

Where I once saw rules, I now see freedom.

Where I once saw archaic teaching, I now see beautiful meaning.

Where I once saw restriction, I see chastity.

Where I once saw punishment, I now see blessings.

Where I saw an aged, celibate, old-fashioned man in Rome, I now see a Saint that I want to embrace in heaven and thank him for helping me to see.

Thank you God for my sight. I never want to be blind again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bound by Lust, Liberated by the Ethos of Redemption

I just found this passage recently from  Theology of the Body Explained – A Commentary on John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them by Christopher West

The subject matter is Celibacy and Solitude:

Christopher West and Pope John Paull II talk about remaining in the “ache” of man’s original solitudethe “ache” to which the Lord himself refers when he said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen 2:18). The conscious choice to refrain from marriage “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” becomes a powerful testimony to the fact that God and God alone can ultimately fulfill that “ache” of solitude. Men and women who vow to a life of celibacy devote their yearning for communion directly toward God.

I look at the “ache” and I am deeply attracted to it. And I recently figured out why I am so attracted to it:

“For those whose hearts are bound by lust, the idea of choosing a life of total continence is absurd. But for those who are being liberated from lust by the ethos of redemption, the idea of sacrificing the genital expression of their sexuality “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” not only becomes a real possibility – it also becomes quite attractive, even desirable.

This was me – I was the one who was bound by lust. But I experienced that liberation from lust by the ethos of redemption and let me tell you, it was an amazing experience that I wish EVERYONE could encounter. Because I now recognize that my life has been dominated by lust, I am now extremely excited about living the rest of my life as a celibate. I am welcoming the “ache” with open arms.

I don’t expect anyone to really understand this except maybe for fellow…celibates? 🙂 But for those who are single by choice, those who know that being married and having children is not the path you have been put on, I would propose to you, fellow singles, this life of celibacy for the kingdom. This is NOT a person’s way of saying that “marriage is too hard” or “dating is so tiresome” so therefore, “I’m just going to be single and celibate forever.” No, this is not that at all. This is choosing to live for something greater. For me, I am choosing to go down this path because I feel God calling me to it. For others, they might feel God guiding them to marriage and children. For others they might feel the pull to religious life. I have never felt a desire or yearning to have a family of my own. This feeling has never faded over time and I have never changed my mind even as I enter my late 30’s. This is how I have always felt and now I can finally put a name to it. Now I finally know WHY I never felt the pull to the other vocations – My singleness IS my vocation.

There’s another nugget of wisdom from TOB:

“Celibacy is not only a matter of formation but of transformation.

The Holy Father recognizes that a proper examination of the way in which the celibate vocation is formed, or rather “transformed” in a person would require an extensive study beyond the scope of his analysis (see TOB 81:5)”

And this is why I cannot explain my feelings adequately. How someone becomes or chooses celibacy is so transformative, that a deeper explanation is needed.

I’m actually excited and thrilled to live out the rest of my life as a celibate. And I couldn’t possibly feel this way and this wouldn’t be happening at all if it weren’t for the grace I received after finally attending confession at the TOB retreat last month. After 15 years of living a lust-driven life, I finally have that weight lifted off my shoulders and now I can focus on living an authentic life. The life I was called to live, to be the person I was called to be.

Ahhh, the joy of freedom!

Bonus material: I came across this video from Jackie Francois about the Ache of Singlehood – Worth watching for those who are single AND married. Pretty sure she and I share the same brain. 🙂

 

Living In The Ache

The mystic is the one who allows himself to feel the deepest depths of human desire and chooses to “stay in the pain” of wanting more than this life has to offer. For the mystic, the true pleasures of the world are a welcome but only dim foreshadowing of the ecstasy that awaits him in the life to come. He can live within that “ache” (what the mystical tradition calls “the wound of love”) because of his living hope that his “soul shall be satisfied as with a banquet” (Ps 63:5), a banquet that lasts forever and will fulfill his every desire beyond all earthly imaginings.

The truth is, we’re all called to be “mystics.”  – Christopher West – Fill These Hearts – God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

I guess I’m a little crazy because, I for one, am longing to live in the ache. As soon as I heard it and read about it, I decided “This is ME! This is for me. This is what I am called to do.”

I didn’t always feel this way of course. I never even believed we are all called to holiness. I thought that sounded like a bunch of garbage and just something “really holy people” say to us sinners to trick us into going to confession. So when my buddy Dan got up to speak in front of bunch of us at a retreat and said that God calls us all to holiness, I started to think, “But how? How are you people attaining all this holiness?! What makes you so special?”

Turns out, most people don’t know this truth because they were raised as either stoics or addicts. Probably not 100% true stoics or true addicts in the sense that you’re probably thinking. But stoics as people who were told that their desires or urges were bad and they should be repressed and shoved down into the depths and never spoke about or felt. Addicts were taught that you only live once so you might as well act on those urges and desires as much as you can. But by the way, this doesn’t guarantee happiness. It rarely does, actually.

So where’s the middle ground? Mystics. We need to aim to be more like them. The mystics directed their desires to God. Away from earthly things and towards the heavens. It may seem impossible, but I would offer myself as living proof that the power of prayer makes all things possible.

Desire is the faculty that not only pines after the divine gift, but also receives it when it is given, so the wider our desire, the more capable we are of receiving. Christ wants us to be as wide open to his gift as possible, stretched in our desire unto infinity, because that’s what he has to offer us: the wild ecstasy of infinite bliss. – Christopher West – Fill These Hearts – God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

Wild ecstasy of infinite bliss? Now that’s some good news.

The Body is a Sign of the Divine Mystery

If you’re just joining us, be sure to read my last post to get “caught up.”

“You are made in the image and likeness of God.”

This statement was implanted firmly in my brain starting in Freshman Religion class. I remember thinking “I know this is true, but I’m still not quite sure what it means.”

I don’t think my 14 year old brain could process it. And this is probably true of a lot of teenagers.

I knew my life was a gift from God, but I also remember thinking, “But what does God have to do with my parents conceiving me?” In other words, what do Sex and God have in common? I literally had no idea the two were connected, as strange as that sounds to me 23 years later.

Now, after reading TOB, something finally clicked.

Human nature is both spiritual and physical. We aren’t spirits “trapped” in our bodies. The Church has always maintained that we are embodied spirits, or spiritualized bodies. Through the profound union of body and soul in each of us, our bodies reveal or “make visible” the invisible reality of our spirits. But it does even more. Because we are made in God’s image, our bodies also make visible something of God’s invisible mystery.  TOB For Beginners

God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange. CCC 221

And here’s where this all comes together –

God created us male and female so that we could image his love by becoming a sincere to gift to each other. This sincere giving establishes a “communion of persons” not only between the sexes but also-in the normal course of events- with a “third” who proceeds from them both. In this way, sexual love becomes an icon or earthly image in some sense of the inner life of the Trinity. TOB for Beginners

Whoa.

Have you ever heard anyone describe sex like this? Yeah. Pretty awesome right? It gets better.

As St. Paul says, quoting from Genesis, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

This passage from Ephesians 5 is a key text- perhaps the key text- for understanding the body and sexuality “theologically.” Christ is the one who was sent by his Father in heaven. He also left the home of his mother on earth. Why? To give up his body for his Bride (the Church) so that we might become “one flesh” with him. Where do we unite sacramentally with Christ? In a most profound way in the Eucharist. TOB for Beginners

Confused? Don’t be! It’s simple really.

When all the confusions are cleared and the distortions are untwisted, the deepest meaning of human sexuality – of our creation as male and female and our call to communion – is “eucharist.” John Paul II describes the Eucharist as “the sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride.” God created us male and female right from the beginning to live in a “holy communion” that foreshadows the Holy Communion of Christ and the Church. In turn, the gift of Christ’s body to his Bride (celebrated in the Eucharist) sheds definitive light on the meaning of man and woman’s communion.

The Spousal Analogy

The Bible begins with the marriage of the first man and woman and it ends in Revelation with another “marriage” – the marriage of Christ and the Church.

And here is what we learn from the Pope’s Theology of the Body: God wanted this eternal “marital plan” to be so plain to us – so obvious to us – that he impressed an image of it in our very being by creating us male and female and calling us to become “one flesh.” TOB For Beginners

So two things to take away from this:

1. God is a communion of love

2. We are destined to share in that exchange (God wants to “marry” us – Hosea 2:19)

There is so much more to be discussed here but it is my hope, my dear readers, that you now have an idea of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. I understand it’s a difficult idea to wrap your head around, and one that is never going to be understood completely due to our limited brain power, but that’s why it’s called the “mystery.”

Fitting in My Faith: I look at Eucharist differently now that I have read TOB. Now I understand why it’s a sacrament. Now I understand why marriage is a sacrament. Now I know why the Church takes it seriously, and now I appreciate it even more when I hear the words, “This is my body, given up for you.”

I also appreciate life, my own life and the lives of others, much more greatly. I don’t think of how we are created as just “sex between two people who love each other.” And 9 months later, life. It’s much more than that. It’s a sacred union. It’s not gross or disgusting or bad. It’s awesome and it’s miraculous and it’s a small, tiny, itty bitty taste of what heaven is going to be like. No, we won’t be having sex in heaven, 🙂 We’ll BE in heaven, we’ll be in UNION with God! We’ll be married to Him!

This is the purpose of sexual union in the divine plan: to prefigure in some way the glory, ecstasy, and bliss that awaits us in heaven TOB For Beginners

I don’t know about you, but understanding why we were created, makes me have greater faith of the heaven that awaits us all.

to be continued….

-Michelle

“In the beginning, it was not so.”

The body expresses the person. We have to go back to the beginning, before sin distorted things. That is the standard. That is the norm. The Pope proposes an “echo” of the beginning exists within each of us. TOB for Beginners

John Paul maintains that, despite sin, an “echo” of God’s original plan remains deep within every human heart. In his TOB, the Pope aims to help people peel away the layers of debris that cover the true desires of their hearts so that this “echo” can resound. The more it does, the more our subjective experience harmonizes with objective reality. The more that echo resounds, the more we can read the “language of the body” and the desires of our hearts “in truth.” People who come to understand the Pope’s TOB cannot help but recognize the inner movements of their own hearts being laid bare. It rings true. “I can identify with this,” they respond. “I experience life this way. This is what I desire. TOB Explained


For as long as I can remember, I have always felt like I was trying to play catch-up.

What do I mean by that? I mean that feeling you get when someone tells a joke and everyone laughs but you don’t get it but you’re too shy to say anything. That feeling of everyone raising their hand in class because the answer is easy and simple but you don’t raise your hand because you have no clue what’s being taught. That feeling of seeing your friends and people your age getting married and having kids and you haven’t even had a serious boyfriend yet.

Part of this, looking back, was due to my age. Maybe I should have been held back in school by a year. I was one of the “young ones.” Do you remember the kids in your class that were JUST celebrating their birthdays when you started a new grade? I was one of those, being a September baby.

This feeling never really left me. Up until recently, I still felt like I was behind the times. Slow to catch on. Not getting the joke. Appearing perplexed and confused when everyone else has taken the test and handed it in and I’m still stuck on question number 3.

Finally, after almost 37 years, I feel like I know something no one else does and I feel like I just skipped to the head of the class. I feel like I just solved every single question to every problem I have ever had in my entire life and I can’t tell anyone.  Not because I don’t want to share this news, but because I have no earthly idea HOW.  But over the next few week, months, years(!?!)  I will attempt to uncover this through this blog.

“Echo! Echo! Echo!”

What were the events leading up to this “discovery?” I would say the retreat at TOB Institute was the Main Event. But reading Theology of the Body for Beginners was the dress rehearsal. It was in this book that I finally was able to answer questions I have had in my mind since I was young, especially concerning sexuality, marriage, love, the existence of God, pretty much every question every person has but might be too fearful to vocalize it.

I just took two quotes from TOB and put them up there at the top of this page to help explain a little bit of this “discovery” and perhaps you, reader, have felt this too.

Disclaimer: In case it’s not obvious, I am no theologian. I am no best selling author. So this explanation will pale in comparison to the real deal, the actual Theology of the Body written by Pope John Paul II. If you want to “skip ahead” yourself, I encourage you to read one of Christopher West’s books. They will change your life.

Pope JP2 refers to an “echo” that we all have in our hearts. I think of this as a feeling of wanting to do the right thing, a feeling of love, a feeling of enormous longing. A feeling of “there has to be more than this.” And “I know that this is NOT what my life is supposed to look like. I know there is something more. I can feel it.”

This line that I underlined describes perfectly the feelings I had while reading TOB and continue to have now: People who come to understand the Pope’s TOB cannot help but recognize the inner movements of their own hearts being laid bare. It rings true. “I can identify with this,” they respond. “I experience life this way. This is what I desire.

In short, one can observe that the TOB seeks to answer two of the most fundamental human questions: What does it mean to be human? and How do I live in a way that will bring true happiness? TOB Explained page 74

I know what you’re thinking – Geez, this is some pretty serious stuff you’re saying here. I’m not sure I can handle all this theology! And you’re right, it is serious. But, I believe in my heart, that this teaching, this catechesis on the body by JP2, is what will save lives. It certainly saved mine.

To be continued….

-Michelle

What I’m Currently Reading:

Losing my religion for equality

From Rene Descartes to Caitlyn Jenner

The Body God Gave Us Doesn’t Lie

Chivalry Is Making a Comeback

Love, Tolerance, and the Making of Distinctions

 

Theology of the Body – Where Do I Begin?

I attended a retreat put on by Theology of the Body Institute called TOB1 – Head & Heart Immersion Course this week. It was located in Quarrysville Pennsylvania. But it might as well have been heaven. Because I seriously feel like that’s where I was. Not because of the location itself, although Black Rock Retreat Center is amazing and peaceful. But because of the material that was taught and the experience I had was definitely not of this world.

I think I lost about 2 pounds in tears. These were tears of redemption and joy, tears of sadness and mercy, tears of grace.

It was a literal transformation in my mind and in my heart. It’s very difficult to articulate. Especially when people are asking me, “So how was your retreat?”

The best I can do is what Christopher West, the author of various books on TOB and the leader of this course, suggested to all of us 120 students:  “What is Theology of the Body in 5 words?”

“God wants to marry us.”

Unfortunately, this explanation doesn’t suffice. It just gives you a small taste of what the message of TOB is.

“What does it mean God wants to marry us?”

“Is this about heaven?”

“Is this about death?”

“Is this about sex?”

I would say a resounding YES to all of those questions and more.

But I suppose to explain how I discovered TOB, I would have to start at the beginning. But even if I start at the beginning, it would take a book to write it all down. The good part is that I plan to write a book about this. But since that might take more than a year, and I want to get it all out, I plan on blogging about my journey to TOB here. Just as I documented my “Journey to the Stage” in my first figure competition, I plan to blog about my TOB journey as well on this site.

Both of these transformations are ongoing. However, this was the transformation of my heart which has made me see life through new lenses. It’s amazing and wonderful and scary and agonizing. All at the same time. I plan on revealing quite a bit about myself because, you see, for whoever reads this, has to know how this has changed me. And in order to know how it’s changed me you have to know me. As much as you could possibly know about me through my experiences, my childhood, my adulthood, my friendships, my relationships, my family, my everything.

I suppose my goal with these posts will be to introduce TOB to the reader in the hopes that they themselves pick up one of the books and begin to read them and become part of the TOB family.

When I started blogging about my fitness journey, I got a ton of messages from strangers, friends, family and fellow trainers that said I inspired them to workout more, or eat better, or run a 5K, etc. If I start blogging about my TOB life, it’s entirely possible someone could be inspired by my words and have the same life changing experience as myself.