John Paul II’s Theology of the Suffering Body

Zachary Swantek


This article evaluates the experience of suffering and its redemptive value in the light of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. It begins by exploring how man was created in “the beginning,” before the experience of evil and sin. Man’s “original experiences” of solitude, unity and nakedness help man to understand himself as a being who is always in relation and is called to transcendence. These experiences continue to resonate within man, though sin can blind him from interpreting them correctly. Instead of man’s body opening him to relations and receiving the love of God and neighbor as a gift, he often experiences shame for his disordered desires, which enclose man within himself. While shame can be a negative experience, it is also a “boundary experience,” in that it points man to an original goodness that is now lacking due to the experience of evil. Suffering, likewise, can be a boundary experience that opens man, through his vulnerability, to recognizing his need for communion with God and neighbor. Christ, therefore, does not eliminate suffering but redeems it, transforming it into a revelation of God’s love. Suffering has become a path to conversion, to rebuilding goodness in man’s heart, and to liberation from evil. Redemption occurs when man freely opens himself to Christ’s love in the midst of suffering, making up for what is “lacking” in Christ’s suffering: our participation. Suffering isn’t a problem to be solved so much as a mystery to enter into. Through participation in Christ’s suffering, not only is man able to experience his own redemption, he can also offer his body with Christ for the redemption of the world.


John Paul II; suffering; Theology of the Body; communion; compassion; contingency; experience; participation; redemption; transcendence

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