Michael Grasinski, president of Ruah Woods Institute, presents on “The Joy of Reclaiming our Identity” during the Fall Conference at St. Joseph’s in Rice Lake on Nov. 4. St. John Paul II’s extensive writings on the Theology of the Body were often quoted during the talk. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

In an afternoon keynote at the Diocese of Superior’s 2022 Fall Conference, presenter Michael Grasinski immediately captured his audience’s attention when he said the Rice Lake area and the Diocese of Superior are his favorite places to visit across the entire United States.

He described the experience of being lost in the woods, drawing attendees into the memory of similar moments – that feeling of disorientation and panic and the urge to find their way.

“A lot of what we do is reorient people to know who the human person is,” Grasinski said, illustrating the mission of Ruah Woods Institute.

The Cincinnati-based organization seeks to serve the Catholic community through application of the teachings of Theology of the Body to everyday life. They do this primarily through a curriculum for students, K-12, and teacher formation, although they are moving into more ministry and resources geared towards parents.

Almost two years ago, Diocese of Superior Superintendent of Schools Peggy Schoenfuss responded to a promotional email from Rob Stamper, curriculum consultant for Ruah Woods. That communication turned into a partnership between diocesan schools and Ruah Woods’ rollout of their “TOB Campus” program for teacher formation.

Stamper iterated Grasinski’s comments about how much they have come to enjoy and appreciate Rice Lake and the rural “refreshing diocese” that they have encountered in working with Schoenfuss and school leadership.

In his talk, Grasinski made numerous references to Pope St. John Paul II, the author of the original writings and teachings on Theology of the Body, and called him “a prophet.”

He began by pointing to the school of thought of phenomenology, which formed the Polish priest who in early years lived under Nazi rule. This philosophy, which looks at lived experience as separate from the nature of being, would become the foundational roots of Theology of the Body.

“Wonder is the foundation of Theology of the Body,” Grasinski stated, “Wonder and awe. That wonder is at the heart of creation,” he went on, and urged the need to cultivate that sense of wonder in children.

In a materialist world where spiritual realities beyond human life are discounted and the self is held up as the central focus, Jesus’ call to become like children stands in stark contrast. Grasinski believes Jesus was speaking in particular about a child’s sense and ability to wonder.

“Wonder is the typical reaction to Jesus in the Gospel,” he said.

Acknowledging the challenge of giving a broad overview of the church’s deep teaching in a short time, Grasinski said that when the Word became flesh, the theology – or way of learning about and studying God himself – came into the world in a unique bodily way through Jesus.

“If you don’t remember anything else I say today,” he continued, “at least remember this thesis statement of the Theology of the Body: The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.”

Sharing briefly from personal experience – seeking as much pleasure as possible – Grasinski declared that “there’s such a bigger plan here, you’re made for more … The structure of your very being is meant to be given away and meant to receive.”

He gave the example of trying to use a hammer as a toothbrush to put into perspective that the church, by teaching and holding fast to these teachings, isn’t trying to oppress but to offer freedom – like letting someone know that they are trying to brush their teeth with the incorrect tool isn’t oppressive, but helps them to match living with true reality.

Grasinski used a human timeline framework to present the rest of his talk. This traversed from original man to original sin and the entrance of concupiscence into the world, leading to Christ’s coming into the world to redeem man, and eschatological man as the destination where body and soul are again reunited. Summarizing, he said it moved through from the good to the distortion, to clarity and then divinization.

Referencing the Gospel passage where the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce, the speaker showed how Jesus takes them back to Genesis – “in the beginning…” – and he drew the parallel effort Ruah Woods and their curriculum and promulgation of Theology of the Body has undertaken.

“There are echoes from Eden that we all experience every single day, that point us to where we came from and where we are going,” Grasinski noted.

He then traced the path from original solitude – the experience of a person as being different from the world around him – to original unity, which encompasses marriage but also belonging to a community of persons, to original nakedness – the freedom in vulnerability between persons before original sin entered in.

The necessity of cultivating the true, the good and the beautiful was noted in its importance for ourselves and students.

“As we practice virtue ourselves and instill it in our students, we begin to enjoy the life that God has created us for. There’s a certain ease to it … Ultimately it is not the commandments that change hearts,” Grasinski said, “God’s love is what changes hearts,” with the normative way that happens through a personal experience of Jesus Christ.

Bringing the human timeline full-circle, the presenter spoke about the “yearning for the beyond” that is built into the human experience. We are, Grasinski said, called to participation in the divine nature: “The life of the human spirit will reach a fullness that was inaccessible to it before.”

Grasinski ended by pointing to eternal life as defined by Jesus, “That they know you, the true God,” in the Gospel. He added the context of the current turmoil surrounding sexuality – and the subsequent urgent need for teaching and living the Theology of the Body – by quoting Fatima visionary Sr. Lucia from the private revelations she had before her death: “The decisive battle between the kingdom and Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family.”

Pointing to the statue of Mary to the right of the altar, the speaker affirmed the hope we have that Our Lady has already crushed the head of Satan.

“What I want to leave you with is that the great hope and joy that has been given to us is that, where sin abounds grace abounds all the more,” he said. “the good news is that church calls us to proclaim the dignity of every human being.