Category Archives: Slider Highlight

The Catholic Church and Universal Education

I love this quote from Matthew Kelly’s “Rediscover Catholicism.”  The Church does so much for the world.  Little did I know until I read more about the history of the Catholic Church’s contribution to civilization.

Prior to the Church’s introduction of education for the common man, education was reserved only for the nobility.  Almost the entire Western world is educated today because of the Church’s pioneering role in universal education.

The global reach and contribution of the Church is enormous, but the national impact of the Church on every aspect of society is also impressive, though largely unknown.  In the United States alone the Catholic Church educations 2.6 million students every day, at a cost of ten billion dollars a year to parents and parishes.  If there were no Catholic schools these same students would have to be educated in public schools, which would cost 18 billion dollars.  The Catholic education system alone saves American taxpayers 18 billion dollars a year.

The Catholic Church and Universal Education
Almost the entire Western world is educated today because of the Church’s pioneering role in universal education.

Fr. Rolheiser on Our Lord’s Epiphany

The Epiphany of Our Lord
The Epiphany of Our Lord

I love this last paragraph from Father Ron Rolheiser’s reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel (The Epiphany of Our Lord):

To bless another person is to give away some of one’s own life so that the other might be more resourced for his or her journey. Good parents do that for their children. Good teachers do that for their students, good mentors do that for their protégés, good pastors do that for their parishioners, good politicians do that for their countries, and good elders do that for the young. They give away some of their own lives to resource the other. The wise men did that for Jesus.

How do we react when a young star’s rising begins to eclipse our own light?

If you have the time, I highly recommend reading the whole article.

Have you ever wondered what ever happened to the Three Wise Men?  According to Fr. Rolheiser, while there are myths, the fact that there is no real historical proof is part of their gift.  Jesus was the Star.  So the three kings, who were probably stars in their own right, were able to exit the stage:

The wise men follow the star, find the new king, and, upon seeing him, place their gifts at his feet. What happens to them afterwards? We have all kinds of apocryphal stories about their journey back home, but these, while interesting, are not helpful. We do not know what happened to them afterwards and that is exactly the point. Their slipping away into anonymity is a crucial part of their gift. The idea is that they now disappear because they can now disappear. They have placed their gifts at the feet of the young king and can now leave everything safely in his hands. His star has eclipsed theirs. Far from fighting for their former place, they now happily cede it to him. Like old Simeon, they can happily exit the stage singing: Now, Lord, you can dismiss your servants! We can die! We’re in safe hands!

You should read his bio here, and while I was there myself, I picked up this wonderful passage from one of his old columns:

All of us live our lives in exile. We live in our separate riddles, partially separated from God, each other, and even from ourselves. We experience some love, some community, some peace, but never these in their fullness. Our senses, egocentricity, and human nature place a veil between us and full love, full community, and full peace. We live, truly, as in a riddle: The God who is omnipresent cannot be sensed; others, who are as real as ourselves, are always partially distanced and unreal; and we are, in the end, fundamentally a mystery even to ourselves.

Isn’t that beautiful?  He articulated what I felt while going home on the subway this past Tuesday.

God bless Father Rolheiser.  May his wisdom set other souls on fire.

Knights of Columbus

One year ago, I became a first-degree Knight of Columbus.  This past Saturday (12/06), right before the Vigil Mass for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, I entered the fourth-degree.  I’ve come to learn a lot more about the organization, and I plan to make a series of posts on my Facebook Page to share what I now know.  For this post, I want to share some thoughts on how God is leading me to grow within His Church.

We cannot become holy — the best-version-of-ourselves — in isolation.  Holiness is achieved in community; it is achieved through the Church.  I was reading the early chapters of Cardinal Ratzinger’s (a.k.a. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, when this truth about holiness resonated in me.  I felt like God was leading me more into the Church, to see the mystery of Christ’s Body.  Imperfect people make up the divine, holy Mystical Body of Christ.  The source and summit of our faith is the Eucharist.  Prayer is the foundation of all my Christian movement – I cannot hope to dance with the Holy Spirit without growing in prayer.  And, as my prayer life grows (a solitary activity), I am led to be more active in the Church (a very social activity).

Knights of Columbus Logo
Knights of Columbus Logo

My involvement in Church itself is a form of prayer.  This is what is different, now.  Before, I saw my Church commitments as, well… commitments.  Was it a burden?  No.  But, commitments are something you keep regardless of how you might feel about it.  I happen to feel good about my commitment to the Church, but still….  Now, the feeling is different.  Being involved with the Church is now infused with a different meaning.  It’s like a red blood cell that suddenly gained individual awareness.  I’m a tiny, tiny thing in the scheme of the whole body, but I play a role in bringing oxygen to the various body parts.  I return to the heart for communion and rejuvenation, and then go out again to fulfill my duties.  Whereas before, it’s what I did as a red blood cell, now I see that I’m part of a very special body.  It’s not just any body.  It’s Jesus Christ.  And to be a red blood cell in the body of Jesus Christ is an incredible privilege.  This is what it means to be active in the Church: I’m a red blood cell in the body of Jesus Christ.  By virtue of our Baptism, we all are.

So, the Knights of Columbus has a special charism that attracts certain types of people.  I never gave it much thought until now, but I guess its charism appeals to me.  God knows I’ve been trying to find a group (an organ) within His Church where I could attach myself and grow.  I looked into Opus Dei.  I thought about the various Third Orders.  Maybe my Good Shepherd has led me to this particular pasture, where I can fatten up and be a fragrant offering when the time comes?

Oh, Lord, I love you.  It is always such an adventure with you.  I trust in you and I know you won’t lead me where I ought not go.  May I persist in prayer, and may I have greater fervor for your Body & Blood with every Communion.  Help me grow in charity; help me bring my family along with me.  Show me my weaknesses so that I can offer them to you, and depend more on you.  Shame me so I can strengthen the bedrock of humility, and build a temple worthy of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Don’t let me slip in my prayer, but help me make everything I do a form of prayer.  As my daughters desire me to be ever-present in their daily lives, so I desire you to be ever-present, watching me, teaching me, smiling at me, and awaken my spiritual imagination.  God, you are my Father; Christ, you are my Lord and brother; Holy Spirit, you are my love.

Why Did God Take Peter’s Keys?

Dear K.P.,

I thank God for the blessing in getting to know you.  My soul leapt when I met you, just as the baby leapt inside Elizabeth when he was in the presence of Christ (cf. Lk 1:41).  I intuited that Christ was strong within you and I praise God for making our meeting in Atlanta possible.  As iron sharpens iron, I pray that we will sharpen one another (cf. Prov 27:17), that we will encourage one another and build one another up (cf. 1 Thess 5:11), and through our exchanges we can test to discern the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect (cf. Rom 12:2).  I pray that God’s face will shine upon you during your time at seminary.

Reformed Calvinists and other Protestants all find common cause against papal authority.  If Protestantism is true, after centuries of its existence, God decided to eradicate the office of the papacy.  I would claim that because Catholicism is true, the papacy was established by Christ, has endured, and retains the authority entrusted to it by Christ, even to this day.

Keys to Kingdom

I want to share this essay from the Ignatius Study Bible and solicit your feedback, “Peter, Prince of the Apostles”:

Catholic tradition makes mighty claims for Simon Peter.  It holds that Peter was lifted to an unrivaled position of honor and preeminence among the original apostles.  It holds, too, that Peter was the chief shepherd and teacher of the early Church.

Since these points have generated debate and even division among Christian groups, there is need to reexamine the biblical data that shapes the Catholic perspective on the primacy of Peter.  Do these claims reflect the intentions of Jesus?  Are they consistent with the evidence of the NT?

Peter in the Gospels

Simon Peter is at once the most visible and the most vocal apostle in the Gospels.

(1) When the evangelists recount how Jesus selected the Twelve, they put Peter at the top of the apostolic list (Mk 3:16; Lk 6:14), with Matthew even specifying that he was “first” (Mt 10:2).

(2) When the evangelists mention the apostles together, Peter is often singled out from the group in a way that is not done with any other apostle (Mk 1:36; 16:7; Lk 9:32).

(3) When the collectors of the Temple tax approached the apostles for the annual half-shekel, they approached Peter as the conspicuous representative of the group (Mt 17:24-27).

(4) When Peter spoke with Jesus, he often did so on behalf of the Twelve (Mk 8:29; Lk 12:41; Jn 6:66-69).

(5) Peter was one of three apostles given special attention by Jesus.  Together with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, he was chosen to witness the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mk 5:37), the Transfiguration (Mk 9:2), and the agony of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14:33).  These are also the only three disciples among the Twelve whom Jesus renamed — Simon being called “Peter” (the rock, Mk 3:16) and James and John being called “Boanerges” (the sons of thunder, Mk 3:17).

(6) On the night of his betrayal, when Satan was about to test the disciples, Jesus told Peter that he had prayed for him personally that he might turn again and steady the faith of his brother apostles (Lk 22:31-32).

(7) On Easter morning, Peter and John raced to inspect the empty tomb.  Though John outran him, he waited for Peter to catch up and in deference allowed him to enter the tomb first (Jn 20:3-8).

(8) Later that Easter day, Jesus appeared privately to Peter, making him the first witness of the Resurrection among the apostles (Lk 24:34; 1 Cor 15:5).

(9) Lastly and most importantly, Jesus made promises to Peter that he never made to any other apostle.  He promised to build his Church on Peter, so that he alone would be the foundation stone of Christ’s new and living Temple (Mt 16:18), that he alone would be the keeper of the keys of Christ’s kingdom (Mt 16:19), and that he alone would be the head shepherd in charge of Christ’s sheep (Jn 21:15-17).

Peter in the Book of Acts

This prominence of Peter in the Gospels continued into the earliest days of the Church.  Here we see Peter exercising a level of authority and leadership that was unmatched in the ministry of any other apostle.

(1) Soon after Jesus ascended into heaven, it was Peter who initiated and oversaw the replacement of Judas Iscariot with another longtime disciple, Matthias, to complete the number of the Twelve (Acts 1:15-26).

(2) When the Spirit rained down upon the apostles at Pentecost, it was Peter who delivered the inaugural sermon of Church history to the throngs in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14-36).

(3) When the crowds accepted his testimony and wondered how to respond, it was Peter who urged them to repent and receive Baptism (Acts 2:37-41).

(4) It was Peter who performed the first recorded healing in Church history (Acts 3:1-10).

(5) When Peter and John were arrested and asked to account for their actions, it was Peter who addressed the Sanhedrin and gave powerful witness to the Gospel (Acts 4:5-12).

(6) It was Peter who handled the first recorded case of ecclesial discipline exercised in Church history (Acts 5:1-11).

(7) When the Gospel first spread beyond Judea into the neighboring region of Samaria, it was Peter who brought the Spirit to endorse this new missionary development (Acts 8:14-17).

(8) When God arranged for the first Gentile conversions in Church history, he sent Peter to preach and administer Baptism (Acts 10:1-48).

(9) Lastly and most importantly, when the first recorded council in Church history convened in Jerusalem, it was Peter who stood up to end the debate with a solemn proclamation of Christian doctrine (Acts 15:6-11).

The sheer breadth and depth of this evidence is staggering.  In passage after passage in the Gospels we see Jesus grooming Peter for a unique mission of leadership and service.

In passage after passage in Acts, we see Peter engaged in leadership as a spiritual father caring for the family of faith.  The testimony of Catholic tradition is thus merely an echo of biblical tradition.  No other apostle appears so prominently in NT history.  No other apostle receives such honors and is asked to shoulder such responsibilities.  Among the apostles, only Simon Peter holds a position of primacy.

Thank you in advance, K.P., for reading the above and for your thoughtful response.

United in Christ,

KfG

The Hidden Life of Jesus

"Dreams," painting by Akiane Kramarik
“Dreams,” painting by Akiane Kramarik

I don’t like being interrupted during “me time.”  Unfortunately, sacrificing “me time” is part of the covenant when I said, “I do.”  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, I find myself being happy instead of frustrated.  Please witness:

I’m engrossed in a short biography of Larry Page from the Business Insider.  I’m sitting in our oversized, super-cushioned rocking chair and the lighting is soft and relaxing.  The house is quiet.  I thought my wife and daughters were asleep and it was only 8:30pm.  I was going to enjoy a lot of “me time” tonight!

Then my wife storms out of our bedroom.  She throws down the Ergo Baby carrier like a gauntlet and Hana slides down her leg and onto the floor.  My wife isn’t mad at me, but she’s frustrated that Hana isn’t falling asleep.  It’s my turn.

Hana runs to me with a squeal of joy.  Her big, round eyes hide behind wispy long black hair.  Hana’s pink jammies are all bunched up on her chunky baby legs.  I chuckle and smile at her, put away the article, and pick her up just as she hugs my leg.

If I was a man without the Holy Spirit, I would not find joy in this interruption.  I would have been slightly irritated that my wife was unsuccessful in putting Hana to sleep.  I would have resented the need to put both our daughters to sleep for the past few evenings.  I suffered a screaming shower session and would just like a little time to unwind.

Thanks to the Holy Spirit, those thoughts didn’t even cross my mind.  Actually, I had to force myself to think that way just now in order to draw a contrast.  I’m a changed man because of continual conversion into Christ.  The fruit of my faith can be seen in the joy, patience and charity I experience instead of the anger, impatience and “counting the cost” that the old me would have done.

Hana snuggles the side of her face against my chest as I carry her.  When I change her into a fresh diaper, I have to tell her to not laugh or talk because big sister is sleeping.  I pick her up and kiss her for the hundredth time that day and then strap her onto my chest with the Ergo Baby.  I can see the anticipation of my baby daughter’s eyes as the plastic “click, click” of the buckles lock around my waste and shoulders.  After turning off the lights around the house, we walk to the kitchen.  I turn on the stove-oven ventilator to create the magical white noise.  Hana clonks her head against my chest, like she was hypnotized.  I pace back and forth as she starts to relax.  Hana stretches out her small hands and absent-mindedly caresses the stubble on my chin.  From the broken pale light streaming in across from our neighbor’s porch, I could see that Hana’s eyes were drooping.  I kiss her forehead and stroke the bridge of her nose with my thumb.  Hana can resist no longer: her hand goes limp against my stubbly chin.

I often wondered why the Gospel writers left so much of Jesus’ childhood and teenage years to the imagination.  Folks called this the “hidden life” of Jesus.  Being a father, I questioned why God didn’t give more guidance on how to imitate the Holy Family.  How did Joseph and Mary deal with a whining toddler?  How did they counsel other parents who had rebellious teenagers, even if the teenage Jesus was obedient?

These moments I have with Maya and Hana give me such profound joy.  It is a kind of joy that escapes description.  It’s fleeting and easy to miss if I worshipped money, fame, power or beauty instead of God.  As it is, I’m blessed.  Dozens of moments like these happen in the course of a full day with my children.  I can’t remember them all, but I trust that Heaven is recording them even if I don’t have the camera on my smartphone ready.  I may forget these small moments, but they all add up to this emotion, this absolute certainty of love.  What I feel towards my children is merely a shadow of what God feels for me.  I cannot touch, see, hear or measure this love I have for my daughters, but I’m experiencing it.  So, it’s true.  I cannot touch, see, hear or measure the love that God has for me, but with eyes of faith, I see.  So, it’s true.

My love is only a shadow of God’s love.  This fact compels me to love even more.  It is the only natural response to someone who loves you this much.  It’s not easy to go from loving just your daughters to loving even the people who persecute you.  Yet, if the Holy Spirit can convert me from a man who loves his “me time” to a father who can give it up without even a second thought, then I trust He can convert me as I grow into Christ even more.  As I live out the hidden life of Jesus in my own family, grow in my belief of the Eucharist and progress in my prayer life, I am drawn deeper into Christ.

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 Solitude

Have you ever felt alone? Despite the love from family and friends, or because their love is lacking, you feel as if no one really gets you… they don’t know what goes on inside. There is an internal dialogue that no one else hears. You might even be the kind of person who wants to avoid having that internal dialogue because it’s too lonely, too painful. Or quite the opposite, you talk so much to yourself that you’re afraid you might be crazy.

John Paul II (JPII) speaks about this phenomenon in his Theology of the Body. He looks at Scripture and develops a theological concept called Original Solitude that describes this condition of “aloneness.” He teaches that the recognition and acceptance of your Original Solitude is a stepping stone to your true identity and purpose in life.

Original Solitude reveals that each person is of infinite value

Continue reading Original Solitude