By James Penrice
While the sexual revolution continues to entice young recruits, its founding generation is suffering potentially fatal wounds.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Chicago, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reported that more people -- both married and unmarried -- are remaining sexually active well into their 70s and 80s. Accompanying this trend is an increase in cases of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases among the elderly.
The response of many health officials has been all too predictable: Seniors should be educated about condoms. (In New York, public officials have begun distributing condoms at senior centers.) Among those who study and teach Pope John Paul II's theology of the body, the response is radically different: People of all ages need to be freed from slavery to cultural lies and led to the liberation of true sexual enlightenment that the Church has to offer.
Three prominent scholars and teachers of the theology of the body shared their thoughts with Our Sunday Visitor on sexuality in the lives of seniors.
"What is the purpose of the body as it ages and becomes frail?" asked Katrina Zeno, coordinator of the Pope John Paul II Resource Center for Theology of the Body and Culture for the Diocese of Phoenix. "Pope John Paul II gave us such a beautiful example; in his final years his body became more transparent to the spirit. Our goal through all our life should be this transparency," she said. "This is holiness -- transparency between the body and the spirit."
Noting elders' responsibility toward younger generations, Zeno said, "Our life is about a union and communion through a sincere, fruitful gift of self. Where is the seniors' opportunity for this? The fruitful gift of self among the elderly is getting siphoned into promiscuity. The next generation is not getting the gift of its elders."
Franciscan Sister M. Timothy Prokes shared Zeno's concern for the relationship between generations. The professor of spirituality and theology at Christendom College in Virginia said, "Elders hold the culture, the tradition and experience that needs to be handed on. They are called in later life to take a deeper cut, and assume responsibility for life in ways that differ from earlier life."
At a time when the elderly are preparing to enter eternal life, Sister Prokes sees some crucial ramifications for the proper custody of the body. She said Mary's assumption holds the key to this understanding.
"A totally human body, matter of this earth, is already in eternal glory," she said. "How easily the affirmation of the Creed crosses our lips: 'We believe...in the resurrection of the body.'"
Each person's body has a dignity and is destined for eternity, Sister Prokes told OSV. "How it will be raised is a mystery, but Scripture is clear that the manner in which the body is lived will affect profoundly how it is raised."
While the theology of the body has been slow to reach today's seniors, Christopher West sees promise for the future. The Theology of the Body Institute fellow and international lecturer said, "When Pope John Paul gave us the theology of the body in the early '80s, people were still enamored with the sexual revolution. Its deceptions were not yet readily perceivable to many."
Two generations after the launch of the sexual revolution, people are more aware of promiscuity's ramifications. "People are feeling the pain of their sexual choices and they are looking for answers," West said.
Theology of the body is not a negative idea. "It is not a message of condemnation, but of salvation, liberation," he said.
"John Paul's study of the body leads us from the union of spouses to the union of Christ and the Church, and from there we catch a glimpse of the inner life of the Trinity. ... In Christ, God reveals his mystery through human flesh -- theology of the body."
Zeno blamed the "Viagra revolution" for enabling and encouraging promiscuity among seniors. "There is an artificial resurgence of a very active sex drive in elderly persons at a time in life when God designed it to be more tranquil."
Perhaps the theology of the body is the prescription that will lead subsequent generations to true sexual fulfillment.
James Penrice writes from Michigan.
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