This is going to sound like the beginning of a strange joke, but here goes anyway.
A priest, a sister, a married man and a Playboy Playmate got on the elevator the other day… and I wound up learning a lesson about the theology of the body.
Allow me to explain.
Last week, Sr. Lucy of the Sisters of Life and I were invited to appear on a radio show that is broadcast on the Catholic Channel of Sirius Satellite Radio. The show is called Word of Life, and it’s hosted by Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, O.P., a very accomplished Dominican priest. We were being invited on his show so that Sister Lucy could talk about some of the activities of Respect Life Month, and I was going to give people an overview of public policy advocacy and the health care reform issue.
When we arrived at the building where the radio station is located, Sr. Lucy and I were greeted by Fr. Aquinas, and while we were standing at the security checkpoint, we encountered a very glamorous, shapely young woman who looked like a model.
One couldn’t help but notice that her health was in very grave risk, because her blouse was suffering from a serious shortage of fabric. That’s putting it mildly. But she was dressed for the occasion, since she was a Playboy Playmate, on her way to appear on a radio show run by a “men’s magazine”. Being a normal male human being, I found this all very, very distracting. Every other man in the vicinity certainly did, too, because she was the center of attention, to say the least.
What happened next taught me the lesson.
We went to the elevator to go upstairs to the studio, and all got on the same car. Sr. Lucy and Fr. Aquinas were standing on either side of the young lady. So here we were: a priest, a sister, a Playboy Playmate, and a married man who was struggling to maintain custody of his eyes and thoughts, and who was thinking about what an odd collection of people he was with. The elevator stopped, and a man got on. He was taken aback by this scene, and immediately remarked, “You’re not going to the same place”. One of those classic “only in New York” kind of remarks.
But in a way, this all made sense thanks to the theology of the body. Our bodies have a deep meaning, which Pope John Paul called its “nuptial meaning”. The natural physical complementarity of man and woman reveals to us that we are meant to enter into the loving, faithful union of marriage. Our natural sexual desire for the opposite sex is a call to that union of persons, and is not all about using others for personal pleasure. It is a call to be a gift of self.
And each person in the elevator illustrated something important about this. A priest, a man who has been sacramentally conformed to Christ, and gives us the Body of Christ in Communion, so that we could see in vivid reality that true love is a total gift of self. A sister, a woman who gives herself fully to Christ and His Church as a powerful living sign of the mutual gift in the heavenly marriage of the Lamb and His bride. A married man, who is committed to his life-long faithful and fruitful covenant with his wife, and who is struggling to see this beautiful woman not just as a body to be coveted for my pleasure, but to regard her instead as a person. And the Playboy Playmate, whose body is being displayed by our debased culture as an object to be lusted after, a commodity to be used so that money can be made from the weakness of men.
This didn’t come to me all at once, but only later, as I reflected on my own feelings and reactions to that elevator ride. But now, I wish I could go back to that time. I wish I had the courage to tell her that her body is beautiful not because it gives men pleasure but because it’s a sign that she is a person made in the image of God. I wish I could introduce her to my wife, or some of the other women I know who are trying to put all of this into practice in real life.
I wish I could get her, and all the men she encountered that day, to see the deeper meaning of the priest, the sister and the married man on that elevator.