I was minding my own business, researching an article on Catholic Sex Ed, and next thing I knew, I was re-learning Evangelization 101. You know, the part where they drill into your head the ol’ maxim about “First Do No Harm”? Or, as we say in apologetics circles, “Try Not To Be Such a Jerk”?
Because let’s be honest: A lot of us who are good at knowing the facts of the faith . . . aren’t so good at knowing the people. So let me tell you about my big research mistake, and how it led me to the most helpful book on evangelization I’ve read yet.
You Mean Theology of the Body Isn’t Only for the Bedroom?
The trouble began back when I read a favorable review for Leah Perrault and Brett Salked’s first book, How Far Can We Go?. It is, in fact, a great introduction to sexual morality, including, as the title promises, a robust model for figuring out how to show affection before marriage, in a chaste and relationship-appropriate manner. Super book. Highly recommended.
So you’d think that when Leah Perrault came out with book #2, Theology of the Body for Every Body, it would be more fabulous Catholic Sex Ed, right? Maybe a tiny bit more philosophical, with Pope Quotes ‘n Stuff, but along the same lines as every thing else in the TOTB genre? ‘Cause you know Catholics, all we think about is . . . well, you know.
If you thought that . . . you’d be wrong. Theology of the Body for Every Body is a book about Christian discipleship. And by that, I don’t mean it’s a book about “How To Prove Catholics Are Right About ________”, or “10 Steps to a Perfect Bible Study Every Time!”. Evangelization and discipleship certainly do involve a fair amount of explaining the faith, and learning how to communicate effectively, and run a ministry well.
But this book is about something more fundamental. It’s a book about what it’s like to be human.
It’s about the fact that our bodies are the outward expression of our souls, and the way that our souls experience the world. It’s an exploration of the way the world around us changes us — the way we’re treated by others, the way we treat ourselves, the way we’ve landed in this world, and what we’ve made of it so far. It’s about how knowing the tenets of the faith — love of the poor, for example — still leaves us fumbling as we try to figure out what to do with our vocations day by day, minute by minute.
Why does this book matter?
I’m not touchy-feely. I don’t teach classes where we all sit around holding hands and repeating kind affirmations until it’s snack break. I’ve been accused of a lot of things as a catechist, but never, “You didn’t spend enough time on theology.” Indeed, I think theological poverty is the leading cause of eternal perdition in our culture today.
But theology — this knowledge — is at the service of souls. Souls wrapped inside bodies, and bodies that have seen and experienced things that I, the catechist-with-the-quick-answer, can barely fathom. Theology of the Body for Everybody is the sledgehammer of reality for those of us who are strong on intellectual answers, but need a refresher-course in Humanity 101.
In Defense of Reading One Kind Gentle Book In Your Life, Ever, Even If You Hate Chicken Soup for the Evangelist’s Soul
Let me say a couple quick things about the book:
1. It’s not that painful. There are study questions at the end of each chapter, but the publisher left out the gadget that reports you to the authorities if you fail to form a circle and share your answers with the group. It’s suitable for those of us who don’t do happy-clappy-frou-frou.
2. If you didn’t know Leah Perrault was also the author of How Far Can We Go?, in which she lays out her faithfully-Catholic moral credentials, you might get nervous. Because she doesn’t spend time on moral treatises in TOTBE. –> Read in isolation, Theology of the Body for Every Body would feel too soft-touch. That’s because it’s a book about the squishy-but-real world of human experiences. If that’s going to make you nervous, read her first book first, to reassure yourself.
Who Should Read This Book?
I consider Theology of the Body for Everybody to be Book 2 in the discipleship-training course. If you’ve read Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples, and you’re motivated to start evangelizing and forming disciples with fervor, read Theology of the Body for Every Body next. It’s the crash-course in human experience. And in evangelization, there’s going to be humans involved.