During our engagement, a friend of ours gave us a copy of a purple paperback with an odd title: “The Good News of Sex and Marriage.” Kristin and I read it together over the course of our engagement and the first year of marriage. Along with our classes on natural family planning, we felt that it was the best marriage preparation we had received.
Thus, began my love affair with the Theology of the Body (TOB). I dove head first into studying it. I listened to talks. I attended workshops at the TOB Institute. Spent countless hours having conversations with people about it. I read and prayed with the text over and over again. I really wanted to understand the context of the material, not just the text itself. JPII was a genius and one of the most profound thinkers in the history of the Church. I wanted to make sure that I understood him and was properly nuanced in my teachings of his material. It has been a bit of a zigzag over the years, but I think I finally get it now.
Concurrently, I began my graduate school work and practice as a counselor. I always knew that I would be working with couples in distress and preparing engaged couples for marriage. My training was from a public university and as many of you know, modern counseling theories are rooted in postmodernism, which rejects objective truth on principle. Being Catholic, I could not accept that premise but still chose to “dialogue” with the theories and find the points of connection with the faith. In short, God baptized my education.
The TOB provided a shift to the very foundation of the practice of counseling. If we start from the presupposition that man is alone in the universe, then no counseling theory could bring any substantial comfort to the hurts and struggles of life. If we are just going to die someday and not live on into eternity, then what could I possibly say to give someone hope? At best, I would encourage hedonism, because you might as well enjoy life while it lasts.
The TOB shift is this, man is not alone but called into relationship. Believing that humanity is called by God to be in relationship with Him for all eternity now gives us a better foundation to work with in counseling. (Honestly, this has been the Catholic vision since the beginning; which makes the TOB the best type of theology: new and ancient at the same time.) JPII gave us a vision for humanity that put love and relationship as the center of our being, not subjectivity and thought. It is not “I think therefore I am;” it is “I am loved therefore I am.”
Moreover, the invisible God gives us visible signs of his love. One of which is the love between married couples. Marriage has been raised to the sacramental order and now becomes a tangible manifestation of God’s presence in the world. Yes, this is a great mystery! (See Ephesians 5) Married couples are invited by God Almighty to witness His love and have the opportunity of offering all aspects of their life together back to God. Biting one’s tongue in a fight becomes an act of virtue. Getting up and doing the dishes is part of becoming holy. Going on a date is something that makes God smile. Every little thing now has the opportunity to be sanctified and redeemed. (This includes sex, which is so awesome that I’ll leave that for another post.) Those mundane and little things in marriage become the precise vehicles God uses to make couples into saints. Wow! (or as they say in Southern Louisiana..Geesum!)
In this light, the goal then of marriage counseling is not just learning how to communicate better, rather the goal is to teach couples how to love better! This makes a lot of sense to me. Communication is not the end. Even, healing is not necessarily the end. Love is the supreme end and direction of counseling sessions. The counseling theories I learned were now properly ordered.
15 years later from first reading that purple book (FYI, the cover has been changed in the latest edition), and 12 years later from beginning my counseling practice, I have learned a lot as a husband, father, and counselor. Wisdom comes with age or as my wife likes to remind me when she sees the grey in my beard…age comes with wisdom! I see very clearly that everything I have learned or experienced in my personal and professional life is not just for me, but should be used to help others. Therefore about 7 years ago, I put together a marriage retreat (Living the Gift of Marriage), because it gave me an audience to share this message with. Counseling is great but you can only work with a small number of people at any given time. Retreat ministry provided another outlet for these reflections.
By God’s grace, I have had the opportunity to offer my little retreat in a few different places: Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, and even on a cruise to Cozumel. It was always a moonlighting gig but I have loved every time I have done it. I am grateful to the many folks who have come with hearts open and laughed at my bad jokes! I know it has helped people.
Then, some amazing happened, after years of studying, teaching, and practicing, I had the opportunity to offer my talks for the Theology of the Body Institute. Along with Dr. Greg Bottaro, we offered “Together as One” in Feb 2016. It was a dream come true! Even though it was the coldest winter in years for Philly (literally -18 degress after wind chill…that’s cold for a Southerner!), I was on cloud nine. It was a graced opportunity to help couples from around the country. Many of whom were in ministry and felt the pressure of perfection. Often Church leaders don’t know where to go to let their hair down and be vulnerable. I think we provided that safe space for people. It’s needed. We are all human.
Having said all of that, I am happy to announce that we are offering “Together as One” again in November. If you are a married couple who is looking to boost your relationship or in search of a couples retreat that is both spiritual and practical, this is the event for you. The TOB is driven by theology and spirituality, leaving many of the practical aspects to evangelists, catechists, and theologians. We like to believe that our retreat helps to make those points of contact for married couples today.
Please come and join us for this weekend. Hopefully, it won’t be as cold as last time! But should be just as powerful (God willing).