A groom and bride hold hands on their wedding day. (CNS file photo/Jon L. Hendricks)
The 2016 Theology of the Body
(TOB) Congress will be held Friday, September 23, through Sunday, September 25
(with a “Pre-Congress” Thursday, September 22) at the Ontario Convention Center
in Southern California. The event will include keynote addresses and workshops
by prominent Catholic speakers on Theology of the Body and related family life
topics. Keynote speakers include Christopher West, Archbishop Salvatore
Cordileone of San Francisco, Damon Owens, Dr. John Grabowski of Catholic University
of America, Dr. Edward Sri, Msgr. Brian Bransfield, and Sr. Regina Marie Gorman,
among others. For a complete list of speakers and topics, visit www.tobcongress.com.
The event is organized by the
Theology of the Body Institute in Downingtown, Pennsylvania; this is the first
year the congress has been held in California. Spaces are still available;
register online or walk in.
Ahead of the congress, CWR
spoke to Jen Settle, managing director of the Theology of the Body Institute,
and Jason Evert of the Chastity Project, one of the featured speakers.
CWR: What is Theology of the Body?
Jen Settle: It is Pope St. John Paul II’s first work of his
pontificate that explained human love: our identity, our vocation, and our
calling. He wanted to answer two questions: number one, who am I? And number
two, how do I find happiness?
CWR: What is the
Settle: We are an educational institute established 12
years ago to help people come to a deeper conversion to Christ through the TOB.
We’ve welcomed over 5,000 people from all over the country for TOB courses and
we send our speakers all over the world to speak at universities, parishes, and
other venues. We offer a clergy program to help priests apply the TOB to their
priesthood. And, every two years, we offer a congress. The Ontario congress is
our third; our previous two were in Philadelphia.
CWR: How are you funded?
Settle: Fees collected from those
attending our courses help defray our costs, but mostly we rely on donations.
We have eight people who work on our staff full time.
CWR: What oversight do you have from the bishops?
Settle: We have an episcopal advisory
board with 15 bishops. Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput is its
CWR: How can the TOB lead people to have a healthy view of human
goal of the TOB is to lead people to a deeper intimacy and relationship with
Jesus Christ. When we have this, we know who we are through God. It helps us to
re-order our sexuality to the true, the good, and the beautiful. We are able to
re-orient our desires to be how God intended us to be from the beginning.
CWR: What benefits have you seen from the work of the TOB
Settle: I’ve been with the institute
for eight years. During that time, I’ve seen priestly vocations renewed,
marriages in distress saved, and people who have been able to overcome sexual
addiction. I’ve witnessed many miracles.
CWR: How did you select your speakers and topics for the congress?
looked for speakers who are top-notch in their fields in the area of the TOB or
the family. There have been two Synods on the Family during the pontificate of
Pope Francis; hence the focus of our congress this year is love, mercy, and the
family. We looked for speakers who could touch on these themes. We’re fortunate
to be welcoming 34 outstanding speakers who bring a depth of knowledge.
CWR: Why did you decide to have the congress in California?
mission territory for us. After twice being in Philadelphia, we looked around
for parts of the country where we thought we could introduce the TOB to many
who might be unfamiliar with it. We thought Southern California would work
well, so we reached out to San Bernardino Bishop Gerald Barnes and he was
pleased to welcome us.
had our best-ever response, with more than 800 registered. There is still room
for people who decide last minute; they can register online or on-site. They
can come for just one day, or the whole congress.
CWR: You’re a congress speaker. Your topic is the TOB and the single
life. Why should unmarried people have an interest in TOB?
is the idea out there that the TOB is just for married people or priests and
religious who work with married people. But that is incorrect. The TOB is for
everyone, including single people. It helps single persons, such as myself,
answer the question: what does it mean to offer the gift of self?
my talk, I plan to offer the witness of my own life and discerning my own
vocation. When a person is single, family and friends can pressure you to get
married, become a priest or religious or simply to discover what your vocation
is. I, myself, had a deep desire to be married and have a family. Before I was
familiar with the TOB, I idolized marriage and thought my identity would come from
being married. But the TOB teaches me that my identity comes from being a
daughter of God.
I am becoming a consecrated virgin, living in the world for the Archdiocese of
Philadelphia. I will take vows before Archbishop Chaput on February 2. I don’t
believe I’m called to live in a religious community; I believe I’m called to
live in the world. My vocation is to be a bride of Christ, but living in the
vocation will be promoting the TOB, as well as intercessory prayer and
spiritual motherhood for priests.
CWR: Which relates to your other talk at the congress, “Called to
Love: TOB & Vocation.”
I’m going to focus on how the TOB can help you form your vocational
discernment. I will discuss the concept of offering a gift of self, as well as
answering the questions: what is discernment? What is vocation?
CWR: Pornography is the topic of at least three of the congress
presentations. Why is pornography a focus this year?
is a focus because pornography is an epidemic in our culture. It affects the very
young to the old. It can have devastating effects on marriages and families. We’re
going to focus on how men and women get into porn, and how an understanding of the
TOB brings a true understanding of masculinity and femininity and can lead to a
path out of porn.
pornography addiction can be traced back to a disordered sexual desire. The TOB
can help the individual re-order that desire as God intended. I know of a
couple, for example, in which the wife found out that the husband had been
addicted to pornography for years. They had children together, and the
addiction threatened the stability of the family. They came to us, and the
husband was able to find a wealth of understanding and healing through the TOB.
He’s currently undertaking the steps he needs to undertake to overcome his
CWR: Who ought to attend the congress?
Settle: The majority of the people
coming are those who work in parishes, dioceses and family life offices. But,
it is really for anyone who wants to learn what the Church teaches about human
sexuality, love and their vocation.
CWR: You also offer Mass, confession and exposition of the
Settle: Yes. All we do is surrounded by
the sacramental life of the Church. We provide a lot of information for
people’s heads, but we want it to travel to their hearts. This happens through
CWR: One of your special guest speakers is Archbishop of
San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone.
Settle: Yes. He is taking the place of
Archbishop José Gomez, who was called to the Vatican. Archbishop Cordileone
will talk about the synods, the first of which he participated in.
CWR: The TOB has its critics. In 2009, Alice von Hildebrand said
Christopher West has become “much too self-assured and has lost sight of the
extreme sensitivity of the topic.” She spoke of the “tremendous dangers” of
concupiscence. How do you respond to critics?
all theology, everyone comes at it from a different perspective and experience.
Sometimes a speaker attempting to reach the general population will speak one
way, or to a university population in another. I think Christopher West was
trying to bring the TOB to the average person in the pew.
CWR: How can those unable to attend the congress hear the
keynote speakers will be livestreamed through the Shalom Network. And all talks
will be recorded through Ascension Press; people can purchase one or more
afterward. I think people will find it to be an outstanding event and well
worth their time.
CWR: Why did you
want to participate in this TOB congress?
Evert: In my travels to speak to young people on six continents, I’ve
witnessed a tremendous amount of hurt and confusion that has been caused by the
misuse of the gift of sexuality. One reason I don’t lose hope is because I
believe that the TOB is the antidote to this suffering. Saint John Paul II
truly loved young people, and listened to them. His theology does not only stem
from his world-class intellect, but from his giant, fatherly heart. When young
people discover his teaching, they often rediscover themselves in the process. It’s
a joy to witness, and I want to do all that I can to help every person
CWR: You’re going to
speak on “Homosexuality and the Theology of the Body.” What are a few
highlights of your presentation?
culture has hyper-sexualized everythingfrom relationships to cheeseburgersand
now is trying to hyper-sexualize our identities. In other words, who we “are” as
human beings is who we are sexually attracted to. The TOB offers us a much
broader and balanced understanding of the human person. While many people
assume the Church is forbidding people who experience homosexual attractions to
love one another, the Church is in fact the only institution that is
challenging them to truly love one another. However, our concept of love often
is in need of healing and redemption. Through the lens of the TOB, we can
discover how all people are called to make a gift of themselves in a unique
CWR: You’re part of
a panel discussion titled, Theology of the Body and Youth. What are a few
of the points you hope to make? Why should the TOB be important to young
Evert: While at
World Youth Day in Krakow, a young woman shared with me how her college
application to Stanford required her to check a box to signify her gender. There
were 18 boxes to choose from and “male” and “female” were not options. Young
people today need a guiding star to navigate through the cultural chaos, and I
believe that John Paul II’s insights in his TOB offer them this. Some people
say that the Theology of the Body isn't just about sex, and in a sense this is
true. But when the Church talks about sex, it’s not talking about an activity,
but an identity. Our “sex” in the language of the Church is who we are as male
and female. It’s not what we do, but who we are as sons and daughters of God. If
we don’t understand this, we won’t understand what it means to be human.
CWR: Anything else
you’d like to share about the congress?
Evert: I'd like to
encourage those who are unable to attend the TOB Congress to obtain the audio recordings
of it through Ascension Press following the conference. There’s a great lineup
of presentations, and especially as a speaker, I look forward to deepening my
own understanding of the topic by listening to the other seminars.