By Tim Johnson
FORT WAYNE — Brian Butler has taken the teachings of Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body, first as a student and now has a national presenter through Dumb Ox Ministries and Ascension Press, to spread the message to help teens and adults come to a greater understanding of who God is calling them to be.
Butler, who presented leadership-training workshops sponsored by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend Office of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry in Fort Wayne Dec. 5-6 for those working with middle school and high school teens, defined theology of the body as “the study of God as revealed through the body. It is the study of God and the study of who we are.”
“The more we learn about God, the more we learn about who we are, but the converse is also true: the more we learn about how God made us as male and female, the more we learn about God and His plan for us.” Butler said. “This is an exploration as revealed through the human body, specifically masculinity and femininity with the two being created for the other to become one flesh and to understand what that means.”
Sexuality, Butler said, is a part of theology of the body that “helps us to understand what does it mean to be a human person in my sexual identity as a man, or in my sexual identity as a woman.”
And it is a duty of parents to pass that identity on to their children. Once children reach middle school, parents are obliged to have conversations with their children — hopefully with confidence and with sacredness that helps children understand the beautiful gift of sexuality, why a man and woman are invited to share this gift inside of marriage, the gift of children that comes forth from that.
Those parents backed with an understanding of theology of the body will be able to approach those “first conversations” and subsequent conversations without fear, confusion and nervousness.
“But if I grow as a parent in my own understanding of who I am as a man or a woman, and what my own marriage is about, it’s going to be much more natural to be able to share that whole vision with my kids,” he said.
When Butler began his studies of theology of the body, first as a student in a master’s program, he found that his own marriage grew stronger. Also, as a high school theology teacher and retreat coordinator in New Orleans, as he shared these “little nuggets” from the teaching, “I just started seeing a light bulb go off, faster than any other way that I had presented the Gospel,” he said. “So it was working in my own life as well as those that I was touching. It just grew from there.”
Butler worked for the Archdiocese of New Orleans in catechesis and then in 2006 went full time with Dumb Ox Ministries, a nonprofit he cofounded in the New Orleans area, to help educate others about the teachings of theology of the body.
Theology of the body, which is based on a series of 129 talks that Blessed Pope John Paul II gave from 1979 to 1984, “is a great gift we now have in the Church to help us grow ourselves and help our children grow too,” Butler said.
For teens, there are a lot of confusing messages out there about sexuality. The Internet, books, TV and music videos offer a massive range of responses that often lead to a lifestyle of selfishness and oftentimes leads people into a space of sadness, of hurt, and not of fulfillment, freedom and authentic love that one desires.
“So what I hope that teens can see is that God had a plan from the very beginning, and it was good and it was beautiful,” Butler said.
“Is it challenging to live a life of chastity, to make choices with our sexuality that call for self control, that call for sacrifice? Absolutely,” he added. “What’s on the other side of that? Everything we want — life, love, freedom, joy, peace, security. All those things are there on the other side of growing in the light of who God made us to be as men and women called to live in purity.”
Theology of the body may provide a lot of light and impacts teens’ lives right now.
The vision of theology of the body is a “positive, holistic, attractive vision of how to live as God designed us to live that brings us authentic freedom and authentic love,” Butler said.
“That’s attractive to anybody on the planet that’s honest with themselves,” he said. “We all want love, we all want freedom, we all want to have relationships that fulfill us.
Butler also addressed the prevalence of pornography and said theology of the body brings an anecdote to the scourge of pornography, which is showing up in soft core versions in television programs, commercials and all kinds of things “that we’re becoming desensitized to it,” he said.
“(Theology of the body) is a beautiful way to pull back the veil on it and to show the problem is not sexuality or the beauty of the body because those things are good that God made,” he said, “and the sexual desire is actually a good that God calls us to come together.”
“But it’s when we rip our sexual desire apart from love, and we make it into something that’s about use — we make it something that is about taking from someone — that lust becomes the opponent of love, the opposite of love, it actually drives a wedge between people.”
The anecdote that theology of the body offers “is to show what is good, what is the answer, what was I created for, what’s the good that I am created for,” Butler said. “Don’t just tell me what I’m not supposed to do. Show me the fullness of how I am called to live and that’s what the theology of the body offers,” he added.
Butler recommends the following resources to learn more about theology of the body:
• Ascension Press has published the resources that Butler and a team of co-authors have created: the “Theology of the Body for Teens: Middle School Edition,” the “Theology of the Body for Teens: High School Edition,” and its ancillary resources found at TOBforTeens.com, which offers video clips and free downloadable resources for those programs.
• A source for adult studies is TheologyoftheBody.com.
Butler recommends studying theology of the body in a communal study and discussing it to learn about relationships.
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.