What Death Taught Me About TOB
This month, on the Feast of the Visitation, marks the fourth anniversary of my father’s death. After many years of studying St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, experiencing the death of my father gave me a deeper understanding of this beautiful teaching. Pope St. John Paul II was a phenomenologist. He approached theology from a perspective of the direct lived experience of truths. When we learn a truth, our lived experiences can help us to understand that truth on a deeper level. This is what I experienced in my father’s death; a deeper understanding of death as a consequence of the original sin, the reality of the separation of the body and soul in death, and the hope in the resurrection.
Death was not in the divine plan of God. In the beginning, God created man and woman to experience a union of body and soul; a union that was meant to last for all eternity. Man and woman were not only created with a union of body and soul, but also to live in union with God for all eternity. With the original sin, a cosmic rupture happened between man and woman, between man, woman, and God and between body and soul. At that moment, death entered the world. Man and woman would die and their soul would be separated from their body. “Sin and death have entered into man’s history in some way through the very heart of that unity that had from the ‘beginning’ been formed by man and woman, created and called to become ‘one flesh’ (Gen 2:24)” (TOB 20:1). As I stood beside my father’s casket and saw his body for the last time, what welled up inside of me, of course, was grief, but to my surprise, also a depth of sorrow for the consequence of Original Sin. The teaching of the rupture of body and soul, became a lived experience for me, as I was experiencing the rupture of the body and soul of MY father. Somewhere within my heart I was experiencing a bit of the Father’s Heart – a depth of sorrow for this separation that was not the desire of His heart for us.
“‘On no point does the Christian faith meet with more opposition than on the resurrection of the body.’ It is very commonly accepted that the life of the human person continues in a spiritual fashion after death. But how can we believe that this body, so clearly mortal, could rise to everlasting life?” (CCC, 996). We believe that in the general resurrection our body and our soul will be reunited for all eternity in union with God. In the midst of the experience of the death of a loved one, it can be difficult to have hope in this truth. Grief can blur our vision of the Lord’s plan for us, but this is when the truth of our faith helps up to have hope. As I stood beside my father’s casket at the gravesite, I didn’t want to leave him. I didn’t want to leave his body – the body that loved my mother and gave life to my siblings and me, or held me in his lap when I was little, or hugged me and told me “don’t work too hard.” In this moment, hope in HIS resurrection entered into my heart. One day, my father’s body will be united with my father’s soul for all eternity in union with God and each person within the communion of saints. All I have learned through theology courses and TOB about the resurrection of the body and soul came together in this experience. Through this direct, lived experience, I encountered hope at a level I had not experienced before. Hope that death is not the final chapter of life. Heaven is. Hope gave my heart the ability to cry with St. Paul “Where O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)
JEN SETTLE is currently serving as Managing Director of the Theology of the Body Institute. She has been part of TOBI since 2008 in various capacities, including Certification Course Manager and Director of Programs for the Internship, Certification, and Clergy Enrichment Programs. She has Bachelor and Master degrees in Theology and Parish Ministry from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Jen worked in religious education and adult faith formation for 15 years before joining the TOBI staff, teaching Theology of the Body throughout the country.