Give fully to find yourself fully

July 1, 2013 -- Living City

Whether through Theology of the Body classes or practicing Natural Family Planning, a young couple discovered a deeper meaning in sexuality — and how to live their “true love”

By Mary V. Cass

“If we were to sum up what secular society says, it is that true love doesn’t exist,” says Andrew Milne, 30, in Melbourne, Australia. This was his own concern growing up, too, though he always hoped for something more. Together with his now-wife Katie, 27, he found that love does exist, and “how to find it and live it,” he says.

Katie and Andrew met while in the New Zealand National Youth Choir when she was 20. She grew up Catholic, and as a teenager was part of a youth group. “Being committed to putting God at the center of my life and trying always to help my neighbor was a good preparation for our relationship,” she says.

“I was raised Baptist,” says Andrew. “I was very involved in my church and had some strong preconceived notions about the Catholic Church. I thought of myself as a true Protestant, ready one day to build a fine Christian marriage with a future spouse — as long as she wasn’t Catholic.” When he met Katie, it seemed to him as if their different belief systems were irreconcilable.

A change came when Katie invited him to participate in a course on the Theology of the Body, based on over 129 lessons from Pope John Paul II’s public Wednesday audiences from 1979–84, which give new insights into human sexuality, marriage and celibacy.

“I realized that these were not just motivational talks, that there was a coherent vision behind the teaching,” Andrew says. Although it was the first serious relationship for them both, they immediately felt drawn to a deeper commitment to one another.

“During those months of studying together the TOB, our relationship moved to another level,” Katie says, “and our progress toward marriage began as we deepened our understanding of the Catholic faith. As we discussed our new discoveries, we were sharing intimately.” The classes changed some of their convictions: “I had always thought that the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception was wrong,” Andrew admits. “When it was explained in the course, I understood that it was all about love, that contraception got in the way of love between spouses. Because of my upbringing and having the example of my parents’ good marriage, I didn’t want to choose to put a barrier between us; there would be plenty of challenges that life would throw our way, without creating them ourselves.”

Katie felt that the classes on Natural Family Planning, where they both learned to recognize the fertility signs of her cycle in order to postpone or achieve pregnancy, actually enhanced their mutual love and benefited their marriage commitment. “We are completely surrounded by a culture that doesn’t commit and give fully,” Katie commented.

“Choosing to use NFP in our marriage required trust and sacrifice. We discovered, however, that it completely opened up our relationship to a deeper communion. With contraception, it becomes exclusively a women’s responsibility to be in charge of her fertility. In NFP, both spouses are equally responsible for the choices made, and you have to always think about and talk about what is best for the other.”

After getting married, and thankful for the good preparation they received through the TOB seminar, they observed that questions of sexuality are rarely addressed in the formation of young people. They decided to complete the classes necessary to teach a 12-week course on the basic concepts of TOB. “There was a young man at one of our recent seminars,” Andrew says. “He shared: ‘Yeah, I have tried it all; it’s all vanity of vanities; it’s just a hollow pleasure…’ TOB speaks even stronger to young people who have been in a sexual relationship before marriage. They understand first-hand that what the world tries to sell them doesn’t satisfy.”

Katie, who is due to give birth to their first child this month, adds: “I feel that I am able to help young people understand the radicalness of the call to marriage, especially in this world where commitment and living a life of self-giving is always more a rarity. There is a line from Gaudium et Spes, that is repeated many times during the course, ‘Man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself’ (Gaudium et Spes, 24). This sums up what TOB is saying to young people: we are made to be a gift, made for communion, not just with each other, but ultimately with God. It presents a radical new understanding of the person — that we are not here to satisfy our own pleasures, in a materialistic and superficial way, but to give of ourselves so profoundly that we come to understand what it means to be human, even Christ-like.

“This was such a revelation for Andrew and me! We had thought, like most of our friends, if we didn’t have different sexual relationships before marriage, how would we know that this was the right one?” 

Kirk, a student in Katie and Andrew’s TOB class, is a sophomore at Melbourne Catholic University. “The relationship between religion and sexual education is a topic which is enormously relevant to an adolescent’s life, especially my own,” he says, “yet it is not always discussed in most school’s sexual education classes or in general society.” He adds, “Through my faith, I was taught to uphold certain values and live certain practices, such as saving sex until after marriage. Yet such a value is not easy to uphold in today’s society when the meaning behind this ‘rule’ is often questioned. The TOB course gave reasons and meanings behind the teaching and has helped me appreciate the beauty of sex, admiring the gift it is and the value for which it should be respected.

           
What is Theology of the Body?

After the sexual revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, John Paul II launched a new vision of human sexuality rooted in Biblical teaching and Church tradition. From 1979–1984 he gave weekly reflections to help people discover their bodies as a gift from God.

He reminded us that as God creates each person in his image and out of love, their bodies too are visible signs of that invisible reality of God’s love. It calls people to treat each person with respect and condemns any act that disregards the dignity of the human body and merely uses it as an object.

The sacredness of the sexual relationship between husband and wife in marriage is also affirmed in the Theology of the Body, as it is an utmost expression and reflection of God’s love, through the spouses’ mutual, total self-giving and their openness to life.

See usccb.org for an overview of Theology of the Body, including links to EWTN’s complete collection of John Paul II’s teachings on TOB from 1979-1984.