[This guest post was written by Father Peter O’Kane.]
When Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979 (Sept. 29-Oct. 1), he had already given the first four of his Wednesday audiences on the Theology of the Body (TOB) in the preceding weeks. A few days after his departure from Shannon Airport for his first visit to the United States, I started my studies for the priesthood at our diocesan seminary in Belfast. Looking back over the years, I wish I had known during my seminary formation and later in priestly ministry what I now know about this amazing gift that John Paul gave to the church and to the world.
Many years later, as my interest in John Paul II’s TOB and the desire to share it with others increased, I started to look for a course that would help me to help others catch the fire of this teaching that seeks to answer two of the most fundamental human questions: What does it mean to be human? and How can I live my life in a way that will bring true happiness?
My search brought me, in August 2013, to one of Christopher West’s Head and Heart Immersion courses at Quarryville, Pa., organized by the Theology of the Body Institute. After a grace-filled week of study, prayer and sharing in the company of fellow students of all states of life from around the world, I returned to my parish more convinced than ever that everybody ought to have the opportunity to know the TOB and the hope it gives for personal and relational healing, renewal and transformation.
So, in a matter of months, in my parish, I ran the eight-week introductory DVD program from Ascension Press, An Introduction to the Theology of the Body: Discovering the Master Plan for Your Life, taught by Christopher. Since then with three lay people we have facilitated this program in two other parishes in the diocese. Through prayer, discernment and weekly study times we formed ourselves into the TOB Team, which was approved by Bishop Noel Treanor to bring St. John Paul’s teaching to the parishes and schools of our Diocese of Down & Connor. We officially launched TOB formation in the diocese at the Clergy Conference on May 26, 2015.
In 2011, Bishop Treanor initiated the Living Church pastoral renewal project in our diocese which has borne many fruits as priests and people work and plan together, seeing each other as co-responsible for the growth and development of the local parish community and the diocese. In a document to initiate the formation of Pastoral Communities in the diocese, Bishop Treanor spoke about the challenge before us: “In the past the Irish Church sent thousands of men and women all across the world as missionaries for Christ. Today we have a mission to those on the margins, or as Pope Francis says, ‘the existential peripheries.’ They are to be found right here among us and around us. We have a big challenge to be a truly missionary Church.” (“Creating Pastoral Communities,” May 17, 2015).
Ireland, both North (UK) and South (Republic of Ireland), has, for many years now, been in the throes of a pervasive secularization. The once-presumed Christian moral perspective and lived experience has been greatly relativized, which is having profound consequences on the family and society. Undoubtedly, Ireland today is mission territory which needs to hear the beauty and truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ proclaimed in a fresh, attractive and compelling way. Pope John Paul II’s TOB provides us with such a language and a vision that truly speaks to our deepest desires and longings for love.
We are blessed to have launched TOB in our diocese. I hope and pray that for all who come to know St. John Paul II’s TOB they will have a personal experience of God’s Mercy and the healing, freedom, peace and joy it brings!
I thank Christopher for the invaluable contribution he has made to my understanding and living out of St. John Paul’s teaching. I have had the privilege of attending three of his week-long courses, each one informing and transforming me a little more, and helping me to appreciate and to live more fully the spousal meaning of my body through the vocation of celibacy for the kingdom. I am also grateful for the many resources that Christopher gives through The Cor Project website — a super source of ongoing TOB formation and encouragement — and for the video that Christopher provided to launch TOB in our diocese.
Our Lady, Star of the New Evangelization, St. John Paul II and St Patrick, pray for us!
Father Peter O’Kane serves Christ the Redeemer Parish-Lagmore in Belfast, Diocese of Down & Connor in Northern Ireland. He leads the TOB Team that launched a diocese-wide Theology of the Body formation initiative in 2015.