Category Archives: Bible Study

You Hem Me In (Psalms 139:5)

You Hem Me In (Psalms 139:5)
You Hem Me In (Psalms 139:5)

Psalms 139:1-6 (NRSV:Catholic Edition)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Excommunication, Family-Style

“Listen to Daddy, Hana,” Maya says to her 1.5-year old baby sister.  “Or he’ll close the door.”

Close the door.  That sounds like a non-sequitur.  In our family, it signals the worst form of punishment: separation from mommy or daddy.  And it’s reserved for when our children throw a tantrum, stubbornly refuse to obey, or are being violent.  When Maya warned her sister, it is because she herself has a lot of experience with it.

I guess it’s a form of timeout, but I think it’s more than that.  I think it’s a taste of excommunication.  It’s a taste of Hell.  I mean, what’s worse than spending an eternity without God, the source of all that’s good?  What is excommunication, but separation from the family (i.e. Mother Church, Heavenly Father, our brothers & sisters in the parish, our Ideal Older Brother Christ)?  So, when I put Maya in her room and close the door, she is experiencing excommunication, family-style.

And, boy… does she feel it!

Maya would scream and scream and scream.  Then she would scream even louder.  So loud, that I wonder if our neighbors think there’s a massacre going on in our house.  When I open the door and tell her to calm down, she would shout with her mouth closed but still be jumping up and down.  She still would not obey; so, I would close the door.  New heights of screaming.  Maya would work herself up into a sweat.  It is, I’m sure, a horrible experience for her.  This is not any sort of timeout I’ve ever heard of.

After four of five times of opening and closing the door, Maya would repent.  She would say “I’m sorry” and acknowledge the lesson I’m trying to teach her.  Throughout this whole time I never have to raise my voice.  I calmly but firmly request what she needs to do in order to repent, and repeatedly close the door until she chooses to repent.  When she does repent, I would hug her and kiss her, which is what I wanted to do anyway.  But, discipline is the path to health and happiness.  So, the punishment — the family excommunication — was necessary.

Family excommunication would not work if Maya did not love being around me.  If she hated me, or merely had no desire to be around me, separation from her father would be a relief.  But, I deliberately die to my own selfishness so that I can be Maya’s source of joy, laughter, fun, giggles, silliness, and imagination.  I die to my self so that I can be her ultimate playfellow.  This is the source of power in “closing the door.”  Maya doesn’t want to lose this source of love.

Ecclesial excommunication works the same way.  If I don’t love Christ and His Church, then being separated from the Family of God would be a relief.

As my daughters grow in maturity within our domestic church, my hope is to draw their awareness to the true source of all their happiness, all their blessings.  Their father is so awesome not because he’s naturally so.  He’s naturally a sinner — a selfish, prideful, lustful, gluttonous man.  But by the grace of Our Good Lord, their daddy is awesome.  My hope is to draw their awareness to their talents, their beauty, their intellect as being gifts of God.  They didn’t have to be this way.  They didn’t have to be born into this family.  But they are incredible creatures, born into this wonderful family.  And they can thank no one but God.

I want to conclude, oddly enough, with a reflection on the Book of Numbers from the Old Testament.  The Book of Numbers is one of the five Books of Moses (called the Pentateuch) that is the basis for all of Judaism.  It is the story of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, in the desert land of Sinai, between Egypt and the promised land.  And it is painful to read — not because it’s boring — but because God literally kills tens of thousands of his own Chosen People.  Catholic teaching says that one person is of infinite value.  If that’s true, then why did God open up the ground and swallowed up men, women, children and babies (Num 16:26-32)?

That was the question I had during my lectio divina prayer on this chapter in Numbers.  Today, I thanked God for the consolation of an answer.  My thoughts ran together, but let me try to put them into logical order:

  • Bodily death loses its sting (1 Cor 15:55) with the hope of the Resurrection.
  • Christ descended into Hell for three days (Apostles’ Creed).  He preached the Gospel to the souls imprisoned there and freed the just who had gone before him (CCC 632-634).
  • A day is like a thousand years, a thousand years like a day to the Lord (2 Peter 3:8)
  • The innocent family members who died in the history recounted in Numbers 16 would have been freed by Christ when he descended into Hell.  In the timeframe of God, it would have been just ten minutes.
  • When I punish Maya with family excommunication (a.k.a. “closing the door”), it takes about ten minutes or so.
  • Just as I am a loving father and want my child to reconcile with me, so did God want to reconcile with His Chosen People who died in Numbers 16.  His 10 minutes may seem like an eternity to me, just like my 10 minutes may seem like an eternity to Maya.

Praise God, for He is the source of all wisdom, goodness and love.

Interior Leprosy

A little over two years ago, I wrote a blog post about the leprosy of my soul.  A person suffering from leprosy cannot hide his physical disfigurement from the world, but I can hide the leprosy of my soul.  My interior disfigurement is not easy for others to see and I can cloak myself with good works even though I have no faith, no love.  I find myself thinking about this interior leprosy and the importance of Baptism after today’s readings:

2 Kings 5:1-15
Psalms 42:2-3; 43:3-4
Luke 4:24-30

An early Christian teacher, Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD) had this to say about the passage in 2 Kings:

Therefore Naaman was sent to the Jordan as a remedy capable to heal a human being.  Indeed, sin is the leprosy of the soul, which is not perceived by the senses, but intelligence has the proof of it, and human nature must be delivered from this disease by Christ’s power which is hidden in baptism.  It was necessary that Naaman, in order to be purified from two diseases, that of the soul and that of the body, might represent in his own person the purification of all the nations through the bath of regeneration, whose beginning was in the river Jordan, the mother and originator of baptism.

I take the Sacrament of Baptism for granted, not realizing that there are still many Christians of good will who actually don’t believe what Christ and the first Apostles said about it (John 3:5; Mark 16:16; Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5).  God doesn’t need us to believe in Baptism to give us common grace, but we are so much poorer for not understanding and receiving it.  If one believes in Christ, then Baptism is needed for salvation (cf. Jn 3:5; Mk 16:16).  Confessing the “Sinner’s Prayer” is not enough; as Christ told Nicodemus, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”

I find it notable that Naaman, a pagan army commander, was blessed with common grace even before confessing the True God of Israel.  Why would a captured Jewish slave girl want to help the pagan commander if he wasn’t, to her, a good master (cf. 2 Kgs 5:2-4)?  Even after his prideful rejection of the Prophet Elisha’s command, Naaman’s servants — who loved him so much that they called him “father” — managed to change his mind (cf. 2 Kgs 5:13).  Servants don’t call their master “father” and would not have the courage let alone bother to convince an evil master from his error.  So, Naaman was a good man.  God wanted to lead this good man to the source of his blessings: the God of Israel.  The physical healing of Naaman’s leprous hand was a minor miracle compared to the miracle of a pagan army commander professing belief in the god of his enemy, Israel.

The mercy that God has for non-believers is an important lesson for all Christians.  Pope Francis is emphasizing this generous mercy when talking about prisoners, homosexuals, divorced Catholics, and souls suffering from abortion.  Critics who don’t like this message of mercy (i.e. “Who am I to judge?”) are in danger of committing the same sin as Jesus’ own village people of Nazareth in Luke 4:28.  Nazareth… Christ’s own neighbors, folks that grew up with him, suffered from a hardness of heart and nearly tossed Our Savior off a cliff.  When we reject mercy for sinners whose spiritual disfigurement is open for the world to see, that rejection is the same rejection of those villagers.  Blessed are those who are aware of their poverty of spirit; may we continue to receive His sanctifying grace and grow in charity for our neighbors.

Christ’s Agony in the Garden, A Reflection, Part 2

I would like to continue sharing Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s reflection on Christ’s Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, which now focuses on the meaning of finding the Apostles asleep.  I pray that it will help you in your reflections during Lent.

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In between the sins of the past which He pulled upon His soul as if they were His own, and the sins of the future which made Him wonder about the usefulness of His death — Quae utilitas in sanguine meo — was the horror of the present.

He found the Apostles asleep three times.  Men who were worried about the struggle against the powers of darkness could not sleep — but these men slept.  No wonder, then, with the accumulated guilt of all the ages clinging to Him as a pestilence, His bodily nature gave way.  As a father in agony will pay the debt of a wayward son, He now sensed guilt to such an extent that it forced Blood from His Body, Blood which fell like crimson beads upon the olive roots of Gethsemane, making the first Rosary of Redemption.  It was not bodily pain that was causing a soul’s agony; but full sorrow for rebellion against God that was creating bodily pain.  It has been observed of old that the gum which exudes from the tree without cutting is always the best.  Here the best spices flowed when there was no whip, no nail, and no wound.  Without a lance, but through the sheer voluntariness of Christ’s suffering, the Blood flowed freely.

Sin is in the blood.  Every doctor knows this; even passersby can see it.  Drunkenness is in the eyes, the bloated cheek.  Avarice is written in the hands and on the mouth.  Lust is written in the eyes.  There is not a libertine, a criminal, a bigot, a pervert who does not have his hate or his envy written in every inch of his body, every hidden gateway and alley of his blood, and every cell of his brain.

Since sin is in the blood, it must be poured out.  As Our Lord willed that the shedding of the blood of goats and animals should prefigure His own atonement, so He willed further that sinful men should never again shed any blood in war or hate, but would invoke only His Precious Blood now poured out in Redemption.  Since all sin needs expiation, modern man, instead of calling on the Blood of Christ in pardon, sheds his own brother’s blood in the dirty business of war.  All this crimsoning of the earth will not be stopped until man in the full consciousness of sin begins to invoke upon himself in peace and pardon the Redemptive Blood of Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Every soul can at least dimly understand the nature of the struggle that took place on the moonlit night in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Every heart knows something about it.  No one has ever come to the twenties — let alone to the forties, or the fifties, or the sixties, or the seventies of life — without reflecting with some degree of seriousness on himself and the world round about him, and without knowing the terrible tension that has been caused in his soul by sin.  Faults and follies do not efface themselves from the record of memory; sleeping tablets do not silence them; psychoanalysts cannot explain them away.  The brightness of youth may make them fade into some dim outline, but there are times of silence — on a sick bed, sleepless nights, the open seas, a moment of quiet, the innocence in the face of a child — when these sins, like spectres or phantoms, blaze their unrelenting characters of fire upon our consciences.  Their force might not have been realized in a moment of passion, but conscience is biding its time and will bear its stern uncompromising witness sometime, somewhere, and force a dread upon the soul that ought to make it cast itself back again to God.  Terrible though the agonies and tortures of a single soul be, they were only a drop in the ocean of humanity’s guilt which the Savior felt as His own in the Garden.

Finding the Apostles asleep the third time, the Savior did not ask again if they could watch one hour with Him; more awful than any reprimand was the significant permission to sleep:

Sleep and take your rest hereafter;
As I speak, the time draws near
When the Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners.
(Matthew 26:45)

The fatigued followers were allowed to sleep on until the last moment.  Their sympathy was needed no longer; while His friends slept, His enemies plotted.

 

Christ’s Agony in the Garden, A Reflection, Part 1

By tradition, Catholics reflect only on Christ’s Sorrowful Mysteries during Lent.  I wanted help to recall the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was praying in sorrow until he started to sweat blood.  I would like to share with you this reflection from Archbishop Fulton Sheen in his book, “Life of Christ.”

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This was the moment when Our Blessed Lord, in obedience to His Father’s will, took upon Himself the iniquities of all the world and became the sin-bearer.  He felt all the agony and torture of those who deny guilt, or sin with impunity and do no penance.  It was the prelude of the dreadful desertion which He had to endure and would pay to His Father’s justice, the debt which was due from us: to be treated as a sinner.  He was smitten as a sinner while there was no sin in Him — it was this which caused the agony, the greatest the world has ever known.

As sufferers look to the past and to the future, so the Redeemer looked to the past and to all the sins that had ever been committed; He looked also to the future, to every sin that would be committed until the crack of doom.  It was not the past beatings of pain that He drew up to the present, but rather every open act of evil and every hidden thought of shame.  The sin of Adam was there, when as the head of humanity he lost for all men the heritage of God’s grace; Cain was there, purple in the sheet of his brother’s blood; the abominations of Sodom and Gomorrah were there; the forgetfulness of His own people who fell down before false gods was there; the coarseness of the pagans who had rebelled even against the natural law was there; all sins were there: sins committed in the country that made all nature blush; sins committed in the city, in the city’s fetid atmosphere of sin; sins of the young for whom the tender heart of Christ was pierced; sins of the old who should have passed the age of sinning; sins committed in the darkness, where it was thought the eyes of God could not pierce; sins committed in the light that made even the wicked shudder; sins too awful to be mentioned, sins too terrible to name: Sin, sin, sin!

Once this pure, sinless mind of Our Savior had brought all of this iniquity of the past upon His soul as if it were His own, He now reached into the future.  He saw that His coming into the world with the intent to save men would intensify the hatred of some against God; He saw the betrayals of future Judases, the sins of heresy that would rend Christ’s Mystical Body; the sins of the Communists who could not drive God from the heavens but would drive His ambassadors from the earth; He saw the broken marriage vows, lies, slanders, adulteries, murders, apostasies — all these crimes were thrust into His own hands, as if He had committed them.  Evil desires lay upon His heart, as if He Himself had given them birth.  Lies and schisms rested on His mind, as if He Himself had conceived them.  Blasphemies seemed to be on His lips, as if He had spoken them.  From the North, South, East, and West, the foul miasma of the world’s sins rushed upon Him like a flood; Samson-like, He reached up and pulled the whole guilt of the world upon Himself as if He were guilty, paying for the debt in our name, so that we might once more have access to the Father.  He was, so to speak, mentally preparing Himself for the great sacrifice, laying upon His sinless soul the sins of a guilty world.  To most men, the burden of sin is as natural as the clothes they wear, but to Him the touch of that which men take so easily was the veriest agony.

Adultery of the Heart

jesus-and-the-sinner-woman-adultery
Theology of the Body
Adultery of the Heart

Christ pivots to the heart in this key text in Scripture:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

Just two sentences from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, but Pope John Paul II (JPII) spends over 35 weeks unpacking its meaning (TOB 24-59).  That’s thirty-five consecutive sermons on just a couple of sentences.  I remember wondering how Protestant pastors can spend 45+ minutes on just a single passage in Scripture, but I guess they have nothing on JPII.

While I’m still only at TOB 53 and have yet to finish JPII’s exegesis of this specific passage from the Sermon on the Mount, I think I can at least share some of what I’ve learned.  I’m surprised to find it has been almost three weeks since I last posted.  I was lost in Scripture (praise God!), but it’s time to strike camp and take a breather.  Reflect and share what I’ve been seeing in His forest.  What I saw was an ugly side of myself that I managed to keep well-hidden.  Thanks be to God, the light of the Holy Spirit shined into the cobwebbed parts of my soul.

JPII focuses on this particular verse in Matthew because “Jesus brings about a fundamental revision of the way of understanding and carrying out the moral law of the Old Covenant (TOB 24:1).”  I was surprised to learn that despite the severe punishments for adultery in the Old Testament, there were loopholes for men.  (No exceptions for women.)  For example, the prostitution trade back in OT times were mainly operated out of temples (cf. Gen 38:13-21; Job 36:14).  There were “sacred” female and male temple prostitutes.  While it was a sin for a married man to use a prostitute, an exception was made for unmarried or widowed men who used unmarried prostitutes.  This was not how it was “in the beginning” (Gen 1 & 2, before Original Sin).  Christ actually exhorted his fellow Jews to do even better than the law, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20).  These loopholes for adultery happened because the meaning of the original commandment willed by God suffered deformation (TOB 24:4).  “[T]he history of the Old Testament is clearly the theater of the systematic defection from monogamy” (TOB 35:2) because of the desire for numerous offspring.

Adultery is understood above all (and perhaps exclusively) as the violation of the man’s property rights regarding every woman who was his legal wife (usually one among many); adultery is not understood, by contrast, as it appears from the point of view of the monogamy established by the Creator. (TOB 35:4)

Interpreters of the Old Covenant permitted polygamy, concubines and cohabitation with slave women.  They were not by God’s original design, but became exceptions over time.

With the phrase “[every man] who looks at a woman with lust,” Christ shifts the center of gravity to man’s interior disposition. There’s already a basis for this shift to the inner heart of man in Proverbs 6:25 and Sirach 9:8.  When you lust after someone, you are reducing them to an object that could satisfy your sexual desire.  This mere act destroys “the stupendous spousal meaning of the body” (TOB 40:4).  So, not just the physical act of adultery was a sin, but my imagination, my fantasies of adultery were sins!

JPII then sets the stage for the moral whopper: “It is significant that Christ, when he speaks about the object of this act, does not stress that she is ‘another’s wife,’ a woman who is not one’s own wife, but says generically, a woman. (TOB 43:2)”  Adultery committed in the heart is different than adultery committed in the flesh because it goes beyond interpersonal relations and into the heart of man, where sin can hide.  Christ, in using the generic term “woman”, includes all women — including a man’s legal wife:

Adultery “in the heart” is not committed only because the man “looks” in this way at a woman who is not his wife, but precisely because he looks in this way at a woman [emphasis original].  Even if he were to look in this way at the woman who is his wife, he would commit the same adultery “in the heart” (TOB 43:2).

Wow.  That’s a whopper.  All this time, I was committing adultery against my wife because I desired her as a sexual object.  I was using her to satisfy my own urges, stirred up because of some gratuitous nudity in a movie I watched, or simply from my lustful imaginations.  Even when I was focused on my wife, could I honestly say to God that it was not out of lust?  When did I ever truly appreciate the spousal meaning of my wife’s body?  Rarely, if ever.  It’s uncomfortable to admit, but the Holy Spirit was shining his light on these cobwebs of sin that have grown in my interior castle.  Instead of being embarrassed, I marveled at how long this sin was kept hidden, how easy it was to miss.  I could’ve lived for years thinking I was a good husband, a good father, without ever realizing that when it came to sex, I am as guilty of violating God’s original intention as any other non-believer.

In case my ego wanted to resist being embarrassed, JPII continues with his logic that I found hard to resist:

The concupiscence that arises as an interior act on this foundation changes the very intentionality of the woman’s existence “for” the man by reducing the wealth of the perennial call to the communion of persons, the wealth of the deep attraction of masculinity and femininity, to the mere satisfaction of the body’s sexual “urge”.  Such a reduction has the effect that the person becomes for the other person above all an object for the possible satisfaction of his own sexual “urge.”  In this way, a deformation takes place in the reciprocal “for,” which loses its character as a communion of persons in favor of the utilitarian function.  The man who “looks” in the way described in Matthew 5:27-28 “makes use” of the woman, of her femininity, to satisfy his own “drive.”  Even if he does not use her in an external act, he has already taken such an attitude in his interior when he makes this decision about a particular woman.  Adultery “committed in the heart” consists precisely this.  A man can commit such adultery “in the heart” even with his own wife, if he treats her only as an object for the satisfaction of drives. (TOB 43:3)

Christ’s words opened up the innermost recesses of my heart so that the Holy Spirit could fulfill the law as it was originally was intended by God.  Our bodies have a spousal meaning.  My wife is an image of God, a living gift to be cherished.  While my broken nature may have a tendency to reduce my wife to a mere sexual object, I can always turn to the Holy Spirit to increase my awareness.

Desire and Concupiscence

Remember the last time you gave a gift and it was unappreciated, even rejected?  What this person is doing was what Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3. John Paul II’s exegesis of the first chapters in Genesis revealed a theme of gift in Creation before the Fall. This idea of gift (what JPII calls the “hermeneutics of the gift”) is important because giving gifts for no other reason than love is a very human activity. Ordinary human experience has a theological character. We can come to the knowledge of God through normal human activity. Something as commonplace as gift-giving actually reveals the depth of disappointment in Genesis 3:

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die;
for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

When I first read that passage about four years ago, being new to the faith, the cynical part of me felt God overreacted to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit.  It’s just fruit.  Knowledge isn’t bad.  Did God want to keep Adam and Eve in ignorance, to not know what is good and evil?  I was even prejudiced with the little I knew in evolutionary biology: did God want us to stay as Neanderthals?  Why have the tree to tempt humanity, or even give us free will for that matter, if God didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat the fruit?

Those questions stayed unanswered in the back of my mind.  After reading JPII’s reflections on Original Sin in the Theology of the Body, I’ve come to some satisfying answers for myself that I’d like to share.  To do that, I want to bring back the analogy of the flower that I used when I was reflecting on the spousal meaning of the body.

concupiscence-wilted-flower
Concupiscence is our search for the water that will make the flower in our soul bloom, again.

What if a worm offers the flowers a type of nectar that would give them the power to define what is right and what is wrong?  By eating this nectar, the flowers would then be able to define morality on their own.  This power makes each flower feel like it is God.  The flower is no longer dependent on God to define what is right and wrong.  Each flower can determine that on its own; they need neither God nor another flower to tell them what is a virtuous life.  They are drunk with this newfound power, needing no one, depending on no one.  Each flower is the master of his or her own universe.  This is how Original Solitude was corrupted.  When confronted by the Heavenly Gardener, they do not repent.  Instead, the flowers blame each other, corrupting Original Unity.  They cover themselves with grass and feathers.  So, the very flowery-ness of their body no longer communicated their inner life to each other, obscuring their Original Nakedness.  As punishment, the Heavenly Gardener made life difficult for the flowers.  So, Creation was no longer a gift to the flowers, and the flowers were no longer gifts to Creation.  The spousal meaning of the body was also corrupted.

The most fascinating part about this section in the Theology of the Body, is JPII’s discussion on desire and concupiscence.  I know the dictionary definition for “concupiscence”: strong sexual desire; lust.  I know what the Catechism says about concupiscence:

The “mastery” over the world that God offered man from the beginning was realized above all within man himself: mastery of self.  The first man was unimpaired and ordered in his whole being because he was free from the triple concupiscence that subjugates him to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason. (CCC 377)

I know what the Bible says about the “triple concupiscence” referred to in CCC 377:

For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 Jn 2:16; Douay-Rheims version).

But what does concupiscence really mean?

I credit my wife for helping me extend the analogy of the flower.  I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks to explain in normal terms what I have been reading.  So, a few nights ago, I shared my thoughts with my wife.  She was patient enough to hear me out and then pointed out how the flower analogy still makes sense.

What happens to a flower when it loses its water?  It wilts.  When Original Sin occurred, the living water (i.e. the Holy Spirit) evaporated from the flower of our soul.  Our souls are like a wilted flower.  Concupiscence is our search for the water that will make the flower in our soul bloom, again.  Unfortunately, we usually want a quick fix.  So, we take whatever liquid comes our way: the sweat of promiscuity, the syrup of earthly possessions, the drool of greed.  Only when we wake up to what our soul really needs (the limitless flow of living water that is the Holy Spirit), will our thirst finally be quenched.  “Our heart is restless until it rests in You” (Saint Augustine of Hippo).

The Analogy of the Flower

Imagine, in a lush open green field, you found the most beautiful flower in the world.  So beautiful, in fact, that you decide to drop everything that is important to you and then re-arrange your life around this flower.  To your surprise, you discover that you are also a flower!  And the flower whom you dedicated your life to responds to you in the same way.  Even though the green field is lovely, the two of you realize that the image of God is a bouquet.  Your purpose in life is to fill the field with flowers so that it would mirror God’s face.

Two Flowers Slider

In the John Paul II (JPII)’s Theology of the Body, he develops a truth from Scripture called the hermeneutics of the gift, or the spousal meaning of the body.  Our body is meant to be espoused to another person.  The analogy of the flower can convey the meaning of our original innocence without the baggage that comes with shame:  We are a gift to one another.  We are a gift to the world.  The world is a gift to us from God, and the field full of flowers is a gift we give back to God.

It’s hard to imagine us being gifts to anyone, reading/watching the news and seeing the violence we inflict on one another, the damage we do to our environment.  Before Original Sin, a man and a woman really were a gift to one another just like how two flowers make a more beautiful image in a green field.  In the “peace of the interior gaze,” the man helped the woman become fully feminine and the woman helped the man become fully masculine.  Together, they created a community that helped the world become more beautiful.  Then Adam and Eve broke God’s first covenant with humanity.  JPII doesn’t jump into the consequences of Original Sin, but dwells on this original state of grace that is so economically expressed in Genesis 2:23-25.  JPII gave several homilies on the spousal meaning of our bodies, and I’m trying to understand his thoughts through this flower analogy.

Just as each flower is unique, so is each person unique (cf. Original Solitude).  Just as two flowers could make a bouquet that would mirror their god, so do man, woman and the soul-creating Spirit mirror the Holy Trinity, which is God (cf. Original Unity).  Just as covering the flowers with dead leaves and bird feathers would hide its real beauty, so does sin hide our true beauty: the image of God.  Before the shame and corruption of sin, our body and soul together communicated our true selves and unique identity (cf. Original Nakedness).  Since the two flowers feel no shame, have no reason to objectify and use the other flower, the flowers simply help each other become more flowery.  In the same way, while Adam and Eve remained in their original innocence, each person was a gift to the other.  Adam did not objectify Eve and use her to support his ego.  Eve did not treat Adam as an accessory to help her become great.  Instead, he helped her become fully feminine; she helped him become fully masculine — through their bodies.  They helped each other to become the best versions of themselves.

There was no shame in our bodies; so, our very nakedness communicated who we were that was lovingly accepted by the other person.  The flowers had no need to clothe themselves in leaves or feathers.  The flower, in its nakedness, spoke to the other flower.  Each flower was unique.  Each flower was beautiful.  Together, in communion, the flowers could make the green field bloom with its own image, the image of God.

The dimension of gift is decisive for the essential truth and depth of the meaning of original solitude-unity-nakedness. (TOB 13:2c)

This idea that our body is a gift is a very important concept for JPII’s Theology of the Body.  JPII develops from Genesis the three theological concepts (Original Solitude-Unity-Nakedness) in order to conclude with how our body is a profound gift.  He admits that throughout history men and women do so much violence to each other and to our environment (a.k.a. “historical man”) that it’s very difficult to accept that we are gifts to each other and to the world.  Yet, JPII appeals to the beginning of Creation, just as Christ did with the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19:3-9).  Yes, the world sucks, but that’s not how it was in the beginning.  JPII points out that the very first words in the Bible, “In the beginning, God created…” when looked in the original text (beresit bara Elohim)

also signifies gift; a fundamental and “radical” gift, that is, an act of giving in which the gift comes into being precisely from nothing. (TOB 13:3)

When one reads the two creation accounts in the Bible (Gen 1:1-2:3 and Gen 2:4-25), it is clear that humanity is God’s special creation.  If beresit bara Elohim has a connotation of gift, then that means the creation of humans was a gift from God for all of creation at that point.  At the same time, after humans were created, God intended the world to be a gift for humanity (cf. Gen 1:28).  Keep in mind that all of creation was still in the state of grace (i.e. no sin, no shame, etc.).  So, when you apply the connotation of gift in God’s creations to the creation of Eve (cf. Gen 2:21-23), then that means men and women were meant to be gifts to each other.

Yet, when this idea of “gift” is applied to man and woman, it is not like a gift to be used and disposed. No…

None of these beings (animalia), in fact, offers man the basic conditions that make it possible to exist in a relation of reciprocal gift. (TOB 14:1)

Like the flower who drops everything important in his life to center around the other flower, men and women do not completely realize our essence until we exist for someone.  Our essence as human beings is not fulfilled by existing with someone (i.e. finding a spouse), but for someone (i.e. sacrificing for a spouse).  Just as the receiving flower responds in kind to the first flower that initiated the self-donation, the act of offering ourselves as a gift is reciprocal.  In this perfect state of one-upping each other in self-sacrifice and service, man and woman lived in blissful happiness… it was “beatifying”:

This beatifying “beginning” of man’s being and existing as male and female is connected with the revelation and the discovery of the meaning of the body that is rightly called “spousal.” (TOB 14:5)

Just as the flowers discover that their existence is to fill the green plains with flowers to mirror God’s bouquet, so are men and women created to fill the world… to reflect God’s image.  The green field is supposed to be full of flowers in all their naked glory!  The world is supposed to be filled with humankind in all its Original Nakedness (i.e. without the baggage of shame).  In New Testament wording, our mission on earth as men and women was (is) to fill it with little Christs.

Man enters “into being” with the consciousness that his own masculinity-femininity, that is, his own sexuality, is ordered to an end. (TOB 14:6)

Sex isn’t just for fun.  There is a divine purpose to having sex: through our bodies, we channel the creative power of God to increase His image, His presence on earth.  That was the original plan, but then Adam and Eve broke the first covenant with God.  Everything changes from there.

JPII says this concludes the first part of his reflections on the Theology of the Body.  The purpose was to develop some foundational concepts and to establish how the spousal meaning of our body was the intent at the beginning of creation.  After Original Sin, the spousal meaning is corrupted.  The next part of the Theology of the Body begins to examine the consequences.

Original Nakedness, (or… In the beginning, there was only the iPhone)

I watched “The Sweet Hereafter” back in college in 1997 and I remember being deeply moved by the opening scene: a bird’s eye view of a mother, father and child sleeping naked on a mattress on the floor with white sheets withdrawn as if it was a humid afternoon.  I never did put words to that feeling.  I think I can, now.  The beauty that so moved me was nakedness without shame.

Theology of the Body: Original Nakedness
Theology of the Body:
Original Nakedness

In Pope John Paul II (JPII)’s catechesis on the Theology of the Body, he says that it is difficult to envision a state of the human mind without shame.  After establishing the concepts of Original Solitude and Original Unity, he tries to reconstruct what it might mean to be in a state of Original Nakedness.  It’s incredibly fascinating because it reveals so much about our true human nature (as God first intended), how far we’ve fallen, and where (because of Christ’s sacrifice) we will return.  I suspect that as I grow older and watch my body break down and suffer from the ravages of time, it will only serve to make my Original Nakedness more beautiful.  There is redemptive value in the body we are born with — that’s what Original Nakedness is all about when read in the light of Christ’s redemptive act.

They were naked, but did not feel shame. (Genesis 2:25)

There is such an economy of words that it is easy to miss the significance of that one sentence.  JPII spends several Wednesdays to unpack its meaning.  He explains that it is a “true non-presence of shame” (TOB 12:2a).  You wouldn’t be able to have a conversation about shame with Adam and Eve before Genesis, Chapter 3 because the very idea did not exist.  JPII says that “one should understand and interpret the text just quoted in this way… [because] the emergence of shame, and in particular of sexual shame, is linked with the loss of that original fullness” (TOB 12:2b).  JPII refers to the loss that occurred in Gen 3:7, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”  Before Original Sin created a “boundary experience,” men and women experienced a “fullness of consciousness and experience, above all the fullness of understanding the meaning of the body connected with the fact that ‘they were naked'” (TOB 12:2a).  He promises to get back to the multiple dimensions of Original Sin in TOB 26:4-28:6, but wants to focus on exactly what it means to live in Original Nakedness.

In Original Nakedness (living in a state where shame did not exist), there was no boundary separating the inner life of our soul from the outer experience of our bodies.  We had fullness of consciousness and experience through our bodies.  The body of a man and the body of a woman communicated with each other in a way…

…that is proper and pertinent to the sphere of subjects-persons alone… the human body acquires a completely new meaning… it expresses the person in his or her ontological and essential concreteness.

The whole biblical narrative, and particularly the Yahwist text, shows that, through its own visibility, the body manifests man and, in manifesting him, acts as an intermediary that allows man and woman, from the beginning, to “communicate” with each other according to that communion personarum willed for them in particular by the Creator (TOB 12:4-5).

Take the smartphone market, for example.  In the beginning, there was only the iPhone and “the community of smartphone users” saw it as good.  The iPhone looked at all the communication devices created by the community, but could not find another smartphone to help it become the best version of itself.  So, the community created another smartphone.  When the iPhone saw this new smartphone, it said, “This at last is chip of my chip, code of my code; this one shall be called Android, for out of iOS this one was taken!”  They had no phone covers, but did not feel shame.

Each smartphone, whether iPhone or Android, would be unique because of how its body experiences the world through its touchscreen, its microphone, its camera and its conversations with other smartphones through its speakers.  The inner life code of the smartphone grows with every interaction with the world; its unique customization is realized through the smartphone contemplating about its inner life, its Original Solitude.  But smartphones cannot reach its full creative potential unless an iPhone is paired with an Android with the same NFC (near-field communication) frequency.  Original Nakedness for the smartphone is the ability for an iPhone to simply “bump” an Android with the same NFC frequency to communicate its inner life code.  The sharing of the inner code helps both the iPhone and the Android reach its full potential.  Sadly, due to Original Competition, the NFC that existed between them was broken.  Only by the grace of the community of users are iPhones and Androids able to talk to each other at all and create compatible apps.

Original Nakedness for humans is the ability for a man and woman to communicate the fullness of their inner life “through the eyes of the body.  They see and know each other, in fact, with all the peace of the interior gaze, which creates precisely the fullness of the intimacy of persons” (TOB 13:1c).  This is where the Theology of the Body has a strong emphasis on the body.  Whether you are short or tall, thick or thin, strong or fragile, your body communicates.

[It is] a mutual gift for each other, through femininity and masculinity.  In reciprocity, they reach in this way a particular understanding of the meaning of their own bodies.  The original meaning of nakedness corresponds to the simplicity and fullness of vision in which their understanding of the meaning of the body is born from the very heart, as it were, of their community-communion.  We will call this meaning “spousal.”  (TOB 13:1c)

No two musical instruments are the same.  Each has its own resonance-signature that is tied to how the instrument was formed.  Similarly, the human body has a soul that mutually defines each other; there is no duality of the body & soul.  The body & soul exist together and is shaped in life, just as the sound of an instrument matures over time of use.  Our perception and interaction with the world is defined by our body, just as how an instrument is played and the type of sound it produces is defined by the instrument’s body.  The analogy ends there.  Whereas instruments can be mixed and matched to create a symphony, a man or woman’s body can be a gift to another in a way that is exclusive to the realm of persons alone.  Instruments are a creation of man.  Man and woman, in communion, is an image of God.  Instruments don’t have free will, but a person can give up his life out of love.  Every instrument may have a unique resonance-signature, but every person has a soul that is a universe unto itself with its own gateway into God’s inner life.

JPII concludes his discourse on Original Solitude, Original Unity and Original Nakedness, and uses them as a foundation to talk about the next truth of humanity revealed in Scripture: the Hermeneutics of the Gift.