At the beginning of July, having just finished five weeks of evangelization training as a FOCUS missionary, I was given the opportunity to take the “Head and Heart Immersion” Theology of the Body course in Ave Maria, Florida. My previous experience with TOB had been minimal — a few classes in high school — but I believed that a better understanding of TOB would help with leading Bible studies and mentoring women on campus, not to mention it would more thoroughly prepare me for my vocation. What I did not expect was the impact it would have on one of our most basic evangelization strategies: sharing the gospel.
As a missionary, I am asked to share the gospel all the time. Whether it’s with a diagram, a little book, my testimony or a passage from Scripture, there are countless ways to unfold the good news of the Incarnation and to give another person the opportunity to accept and choose the love of Jesus Christ, maybe for the first time.
The gospel itself has five basic points:
- We were created for relationship with and adoption by God the Father;
- We fell in sin and broke this relationship;
- God sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins and restore this relationship;
- We now have the choice to, through the Holy Spirit, accept this free gift or reject it;
- And we do so through active participation in the sacramental life of the Church.
Often when this message is shared, the emphasis can unfortunately rest on our sinfulness: We did not deserve Jesus’s death for us, but He chose to do it anyways. And in my experience, the well-intentioned proclamation of this good news ends up inducing feelings of guilt and shame more than anything else: “Do you not realize what Jesus did for you? How could you say no to that?!”
But that’s not the heart of the gospel.
As I encountered the Theology of the Body, the gospel was revealed in a whole new light. I began to understand that, in the beginning, the Trinity — an eternal exchange of love — made man to share in that love. Earthly marriage, the love of a father and mother spilling into the new life of a child, is meant to reflect the love of the Trinity and constantly point us back to the Love for which we were created. Celibacy reminds us that, ultimately, sex is not the end but a foreshadowing of the union we are to have with Christ for eternity.
Our purpose and destiny: eternal union with Christ in Heaven.
Jesus doesn’t want to guilt us into choosing Him. He doesn’t want to merely “be in relationship” with us — he wants to marry us (in a supernatural kind of way). He wants to have a union with us even deeper than that of husband and wife…and He gives us a taste of this in the Eucharist as He, the Bridegroom, lays down His life for the Bride, the Church, on what St. Augustine calls the “marriage bed of the Cross” (Sermon Suppositus, 120:3).
WHAT? Could it be more beautiful than that?
But what struck me most is that it’s not about our sinfulness. Jesus did not become man just to conquer sin: No, there was a reason He needed to conquer sin. Sin was the very thing that was keeping this eternal marriage from being realized. So desperately did Jesus want to marry us and spend eternity with us that He was willing to do ANYTHING — whatever it took, even laying down His life — to redeem our brokenness and turn it into an opportunity for life.
For me, sharing the gospel with a woman in my Bible study or a student I meet on campus will never be the same. The heart of the gospel is that our God wants to marry us, and He was and is willing to do whatever it takes to give us the chance to accept this proposal. Though human marriage is only an icon of this eternal marriage for which we are destined, we can begin to grasp the great significance and beauty of eternal marriage through the lens of earthly marriage. At the end of the day, it’s not about our sin; it’s about the eternal marriage we were made for in the beginning.
Of course we need to take sin seriously and be aware of the impact of our choices on our souls. But we need not let shame be the driving force in our spiritual lives. If we understand that sin is what is getting in the way of this eternal marriage, we can more readily reject the false proposals from the prince of darkness and accept the loving marriage proposal of the eternal Bridegroom. And not only that, but we’ll be better equipped to share the truth of God’s beautiful love for us with others and give them the opportunity to choose it, too.
Now, when I share the gospel on campus, I realize that I’m inviting people into the marriage they were made for — the marriage for which their hearts are so desperately longing and aching. Sharing this truth with others isn’t just for FOCUS missionaries. It’s for all of us.