Pure Gift: Day 11
‘According to Genesis 2:25, the man and the woman “did not feel shame”; seeing and knowing each other in all the peace and tranquility of the interior gaze, they “communicate” in the fullness of humanity, which shows itself in them as reciprocal complementarity precisely because they are “male” and “female.” At the same time, they “communicate” based on their communion of persons in which they become 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 to the 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 call this meaning “spousal.’’ (TOB 13:1)
‘One can say that, created by Love, that is, endowed in their being with masculinity and femininity, both are “naked” because they are free with the very freedom of the gift. This freedom lies exactly at the spousal meaning of the body. The human body, with its sex--its masculinity and femininity--seen in the very mystery of the creation, is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, as in the whole natural order, but contains “from the beginning” the “spousal” attribute, that is, the power to express love; precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and--through this gift--fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.’ (TOB 15:1)
Leanne Payne imprinted on us something of the human creature’s nobility as discovered in vertical, upright communion with its Creator. Taking our cues from God as to who we are and how He indwells us, we can learn to listen to His still small voice. Payne straightens us up, orients us heavenward. St. John Paul II majors on the horizontal orientation of our humanity. In The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, the late pope fleshes out the intrinsic good of our gift-giving—man to woman, woman to man.
For over four years, from 1980-1984, St. John Paul II gave a series of weekly lectures at the Vatican on the marvelous meaning God has purposed for our sexual humanity. (TOB is the sum of these lectures.) He was equipped for the task. His love of love—a serious yet buoyant commitment to parsing how human love intersects with the mystery of Jesus’ love for us--directed him as a young man to major in both theological anthropology (humanity made in God’s image) and philosophy (defining human freedom in sexual love). That freedom took on new expressions in the sixties with the sexual revolution. When Protestants of all stripes debated contraception and conceded to it, most assumed that the Catholic Church, fresh from its season of Vatican 2 reforms, would welcome the ‘pill’ as well. Surprisingly, Pope St. Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae and insisted that every marital sexual act had to remain open to ‘life.’ He insisted that sexual union, with all of its emotional and sensual benefits, shouldn’t be manipulated with devices and chemicals as to bar such union from the prospect of children. Shocking. Divisive.
St. John Paul II wrote the much larger work of TOB for the purpose of surrounding Humanae Vitae with a loving biblical theology. He basically takes Jesus’ main sayings on marriage and sexual love then interpenetrates them with related verses in the Old and New Testaments. What emerges is a clear yet layered take on how man and woman in Christ must proceed onward in love. Specifically, that means cultivating an orientation toward dignifying the whole of the other’s intrinsic value as man or woman. Anchored in our bodies, St. John Paul II insists that we exercise our freedom as image-bearers to integrate our ‘urge to merge’ with love for a whole person.
As today’s passages from TOB reflect, St. JP ll, starting with Jesus’ words on marriage in Matt. 19:4-6, takes us back to the garden where he grants us a glimpse of our original innocence. Free from shame, undivided by lust, we can offer our very essence as ‘body’ people in ‘spousal love.’ That term comes up often in TOB. It means that the body is a gift in its particularly masculine or feminine expression. It is not a curse, a liability, an object. It is a person endowed with a blessedly sexual dimension designed to give love to another.
Spousal love is linked to the ‘freedom of the gift.’ Made in His image, we are designed to offer our ‘gift’ in a way that liberates all involved. We nuance freedom east of Eden. But at this stage of TOB, St. John Paul II wants us to savor our roots, our shame-free foundations as humanity made for love. He made us His gifts for each other, endowed with the freedom to offer ourselves wholly, in love, and to bring forth children, the fruit of love.
‘Thank You Jesus that You take us back to the garden where we can still behold Your best for us. We ask for help to grasp that our bodies are still gifts, still designed to give love and receive love. Forgive us for majoring more on original sin than on the original innocence of our ‘gifted’ bodies.’
‘Jesus, please confirm Amy Coney Barret to the US Supreme Court.’