Meet Shannon Whitmore, a homeschooling mom with a passion for sharing the truth of God’s love for the human person and the beauty of the vocation to marriage and family life. She is also the Ascension author of See Yourself as God Does: Understanding Holy Body Image Through Catholic Scripture. In this article, Shannon shares her personal experience in embracing the beauty of God’s design for her body, offering inspirations from St. John Paul II.
I first came across St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body when I was in high school. I was taking a moral theology class, and the chapter on sexuality drew heavily from the pope’s works. Learning about the Theology of the Body gave me a much fuller understanding of human sexuality and marital love, and it prepared me for a future in youth ministry and faith formation.
For more than a decade, I looked to St. John Paul II for inspiration for chastity talks, small group discussions, and Pre-Cana classes. He felt like my friend and mentor, and so many times, I turned to him as I worked to help the young men and women God had placed in my care. St John Paul II had changed the way I thought about sexuality and marriage, and now I was helping others to change their minds too.
The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God.”
—CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH 364
After working in ministry, I thought I had learned everything I needed to know about the Theology of the Body, but when I found myself struggling with poor body image and an eating disorder in my twenties, I realized that I was wrong. St. John Paul II had already changed the way I thought about sexuality and marital love, but he was also pivotal in changing the way I thought about the human body and its purpose. Here are five ways St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body can change the way you see your body.
1. Your body was created good and beautiful
We all know the story of creation—God spoke, it came to be, and God called it good. The seas and skies were good. The sun, moon, and stars were good. The plants and animals were good. The creation of man was no different. After he created man, God looked at what he had made, and he called it good. In fact, he called it very good. When God created you, he looked at you, and he said the same thing—you are good. And he means all of you, body and soul. Your body is good in the eyes of God. Your body is beautiful. He is proud of the masterpiece he has created. And you should be proud too.
2. Sin has clouded the way you see your body.
Your body was created good, but you may not always see it that way. Your body and soul are united, but sometimes you may feel as though they are at war with each other. Sin has distorted the way you see your body. You cannot always see yourself as God does. The devil will whisper lies into your heart that claim that your body is not worthy of love and respect. He will tell you that your body is ugly and needs to be hidden, that you need to be ashamed of yourself. But those are lies. God created you for more. He created your body for more.
3. You do not have a body; you are a body.
When God created man, he created him as an embodied soul. St. John Paul II calls man’s body the sacrament of his soul (TOB 19:4). Man’s body is the visible sign of the invisible reality of his soul. Your body is part of what makes you, well, you. You wouldn’t be human without it. Your body allows you to communicate what you feel in the depths of your soul. Your smiles reveal your joy. Your tears convey your sadness or frustration. Your hugs and kisses express your love. Your body allows you to share your love and joy, as well as your sadness and frustration, with others. And as you probably know, all things are better when they’re shared with others.
4. Your body is a gift to be respected and cherished.
Your life is a gift from God, and that includes your body. But like any gift, your body can either be accepted in gratitude or rejected. You can either cherish your body as the gift it is, or you can reject it as something unworthy of love. When we give gifts, we give something of ourselves, too. So when you choose to love your body and treat it with respect, you are choosing to love and respect the One who gave it to you. You show your love for God by treating your body as the incredible gift it is.
5. Your body is yours forever.
If being human means being a body–soul unity, we need our bodies and our souls to be fully human. That means that your body is here to stay. The separation between body and soul that will happen at death is only temporary. At the end of the world, you will get your body back—this body, the one that is yours right now. It will be glorified, and it will be untouched by sin, but it will still be yours. It will be the body that God gave you at the beginning of your life, that he created as good and beautiful, that he made just for you out of love. God loves your body, so it is time that you really love it, too.
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Shannon Whitmore is a homeschooling mom with a passion for sharing the truth of God’s love for the human person as well as the beauty of the vocation to marriage and family life. She graduated from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in 2015 with a master’s degree in theology. After more than a decade of working in religious education, youth ministry, and sacramental preparation, Shannon finally realized her dream of becoming a full time stay-at-home mom and a part-time writer.