Crowds poured into the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Phoenix on March 21 for a chance to listen to Catholic podcaster Fr. Mike Schmitz, known globally for his blockbuster “Bible in a Year” podcast.

Fr. Schmitz was on hand to deliver the keynote address at the Witness to Hope gala, the annual fundraiser for the Diocese of Phoenix’s John Paul II Center for Theology of the Body.

Michael Villanueva, coordinator of the center, welcomed guests as a video that featured footage of Pope St. John Paul II played on large screens at the front of the sold-out ballroom.

“Theology of the Body is the key to understanding the burning questions of the human heart,” Villanueva said in the voiceover of the video. “The world needs men and women to be missionaries of the Good News about love, sex, marriage and the human body. We need Theology of the Body to spread like wildfire.”

As Fr. Schmitz acknowledged in remarks that alternated between humorous and theological, a lot of people have learned about the groundbreaking teaching of Pope St. John Paul II, but not many are able to articulate what exactly it is.

For the next 60 minutes, Fr. Schmitz set about explaining the basics. As the director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth as well as the chaplain for the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, he’s had years of experience working with young people and expounding upon the Church’s teaching on marriage and human dignity.

“God is good and He made this world and you good and on purpose,” Fr. Schmitz said. “You are not an accident.”

Pope St. John Paul II wanted to discover what it means to be human, Fr. Schmitz said. In the process, he developed what has come to be known as the Theology of the Body which he shared with the world through a series of 129 lectures he gave during his Wednesday audiences from 1979-1984.

The teachings have had a major impact on the way the Church thinks and teaches about marriage and human sexuality.

The late pontiff, Fr. Schmitz explained, asked himself “why we find it so difficult to love the person we love the most.” Those who are married are called to love their spouses the way God does.

Fr. Schmitz earned plenty of laughter with this line: “You guys, it’s so easy. God isn’t saying pack all your stuff up sell it move to Calcutta … just love the person you love the most. Simple.”

In his hour-long address, Fr. Schmitz broke down the basics of Theology of the Body, beginning in the Garden of Eden.

Though God created Adam and Eve and made them good, “sin broke the world,” Fr. Schmitz said. And there were consequences, as God told them.

The pain that women experience in childbirth is not a curse inflicted by God, but a remedy, Fr. Schmitz explained. This child that you love so much is “going to cost you something. You’re going to have to learn that love always involves sacrifice.”

For men, earning their bread by the sweat of their brow is similarly not a curse. It is sacrificial love that motivates a man to toil in support of his family, often in difficult or unpleasant circumstances.

As Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden, God clothed them in leather garments, meaning that animals gave their skin to become leather.

“Here is God who clothes His children to say, ‘I love you but from now on, love involves sacrifice. In order to love you something has to die,’” Fr. Schmitz said.

In his remarks to the gathering, Bishop John Dolan, noted that “when we focus on Theology of the Body, we recognize that Jesus did not give himself to us spiritually. He gave himself to us physically.”

During his prayer for those gathered, Bishop Dolan pointed again to Theology of the Body: “Everything about our God-made-man is for us. Help us never to lose sight of that … help us to celebrate the goodness of Your life in our life…. help us learn what it means to be witnesses of hope.”

One notable aspect of the yearly fundraiser is the bestowal of the Witness to Hope award upon a person who has provided “exceptional Christian witness and extraordinary contributions to the evangelization of culture,” the evening’s written program stated. This year’s recipient was Fr. Schmitz.

Laurie and Ron Giery, who relocated to the Diocese of Phoenix a few weeks ago, read about the Witness to Hope celebration in their new parish bulletin and decided to attend. They are huge fans of Fr. Mike they said but didn’t know anything about Theology of the Body.

“He has changed our lives in such an amazing way, Laurie said, pointing to the Bible in a Year and Catechism in a Year podcasts. Both podcasts have risen to the top of the charts and have many tens of thousands of subscribers.

“He’s just the most touchable, reachable person,” Laurie said. “We came to hear Fr. Mike and now we want to go and learn way more about this.”

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