By Cassie Brouillard
St. John Paul II talks about God’s love as the only True & authentic love in Theology of the Body, (a series of addresses given from 1979 to 1984). In discovering the four attributes of God’s love: free, total, faithful, and fruitful, God showed me how to love His creation again: myself.
God’s love is free. He will never force us against our will to choose the good. “Freedom is the power to act or not to act, and so to perform deliberate acts of one’s own. Freedom attains perfection in its acts when directed toward God, the sovereign Good” (CCC, 1744).
Freedom means that we can choose to either engage in an act, such as choosing to spend an hour studying for a test or to not engage in an act, such as choosing not to get in a car with a drunk driver.
What happens if we choose to engage in an act that puts ourselves or others in harm’s way (such as choosing to spend the night watching Netflix when you have a test the next day or choosing not to say anything as your drunk friend gets in a car and drives away?) Certainly, these choices would leave us with guilt, regret, sadness, and hurt, which ultimately lead us to our downfall. Thus, freedom is only authentic if it is aimed towards the highest Good, which is God. Free choices always will always lead us towards our best selves (as images of God).
During the worst moments of my eating disorder, I was no longer able to stop myself from restricting. I would tell myself that tomorrow would be different, and that tomorrow I would have the power to change things. While I was able to make some steps forward, I always ended up in nearly the same position as the night before: frustrated, hopeless, and upset. The fact of the matter was I was no longer free to make decisions that led to my good. Rather, I was a slave to my desire to restrict.
I needed to be truly free in order to follow Christ more fully: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (NIV).Christ has set me free for freedom, for following Christ. This letting go of the eating disorder for Christ is liberating.
God’s love is total. God does not hold anything back from us. God sent his only Son down to save us from our sins (Jn. 3:16). The body is a physical sign of God’s love. By restricting food, I cut my body off from using my body in its totality and to its highest potential. Sure, I seemed to gain control by restricting, but I lost so much more in the process: I lost my ability to think clearly, my ability to exercise with friends, and I even lost my sense of worth & dignity. I knew that I could not bring my total self to the Lord’s service, because frankly, I had trouble simply functioning. As I continue to heal with each passing day, I am more capable of experiencing and sharing God’s love.
God’s love is faithful. It never gives up on us. It is inexhaustible. It does not look for something better, but rather takes us for us, imperfect as we are. When a husband and wife express their vows of love to one another, they are expressing their vows to faithfully love “in sickness and in health” as well as to “love and honor” each other “all the days of [their] life”. Love stays faithful through the good, the bad, the ugly, the confusing, and the hardships.
Can I say that I was faithful to God in how I took care of my body? I used treated my body as if it were a machine. I expected it to eat only at certain ‘allowable’ times of the day. I forced myself to eat a full meal when I wasn’t hungry. I restricted my portion sizes because of “rules” that I had read in a magazine, online, or in health books without any self-knowledge of whether or not this was good for my own body. I thought of my body as a thing or system that I should and had to control. However, being faithful to my body means listeningto my body: growing in understanding of it on bad days and good days, and forgiving it when it does not respond the way I want it to. I now strive to see that my body is so much more than a thing, but rather a beautiful creation that I can learn to care for day in and day out.
Finally, we are called to live with a love that is fruitful. A love that is fruitful should be “realized in the common work of watching over creation: “And God blessed them, and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.'” (CCC 1604). God literally used a physical sign to show me the havoc that I was doing to my body: I lost my period. I had lost the ability to bear fruit, and I was hurting my chances of being able to experience one of God’s greatest gifts: bringing life into the world and bringing another life closer to Jesus. St. John Paul II says that “The human body includes right from the beginning…the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift – and by means of this gift – fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.” Our persons, which embody God’s love, are meant to become gifts for others: in all aspects of our lives: physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and socially. A life that is full with the love of God and others bears fruit.
“The thief comes to steal and slaughter and destroy. I came so that you might have life and have it to the fullest” (Jn. 10:10).
I am still walking on this journey and learning how to love more freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully. This is a cross that I must choose to take up each and every day. However, perfect love is only achieved in and through Jesus Christ. Following Him is the only way to grow in perfect love, meaning that the journey to perfect will always be a process.