Sunday, April 6, 2014

Theology of the Body: The Gift vs. the Commodity

Adam & Eve (left); the Baptism of Our Lord (right)

As I tried to explain when I wrote of The Day I Infiltrated a Unitarian Pot Luck, gratitude and sacrificial love are, in a sense, the same thing ...

The Mass, then - in Latin or English - as tawdry and abused and routine and secular as it sometimes seems to be, is always and everywhere the central act of love on earth

And now, partly in preparation for the canonization of Bl. John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday, I am reading JP2's Wednesday Audiences  in the hopes of at least grasping what he means by the "Theology of the Body", especially since it seems to differ from what the Westians are peddling.

Understanding it and explaining it are not easy, but I'm going to try.


For JP2, the Theology of the Body seems to mean this: complementarity is built into the essence of man "in the beginning".  On the one hand, we find ourselves only in a gift of ourselves (by giving ourselves to another in love), and on the other hand, each of us is an end in his or her own right.  When Adam sees Eve, he says, in effect, "She exists as an end in herself.  She exists for her own sake as God's gift to her.  But she is also made in order to give herself to me, and I am made to give myself to her.  She is the other half of me, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.  She is from me and also free of me, but we are made complete in our union with one another.  This mutual self-giving, this mutual self-sacrifice, is the greatest expression of gratitude for the gift - and it completes the act of Creation."

This paradox of man existing independently by virtue of the Gift of Being, and man reaching the fullness of his Being only by offering this Gift to another inter-dependently is what JP2 sees in "the Body": nature, flesh, in-carnation expresses this.

Man and woman, naked and unashamed before the Fall, are therefore in full possession of their selves, and only one who fully possesses something is truly able to give away what he possesses: thus their love, and their sexuality, are pure.  Later, when sin enters the world and instinct becomes a constraining force, nakedness no longer reveals the truth of the Body's "theology" to sinful man, for lust gets in the way, and what was meant to be a mutual giving leading to new life (the "nuptial meaning" of the Body) tends to become mutual use, or even abuse, and also tends to become selfish and sterile, as opposed to self-giving and procreative.

For us sinners, the gift becomes an item valued for the sake of use or utility, an item to be bought and sold.  The Gift becomes a Commodity.  We no longer see the Other as existing for his or her own sake, but merely as a means to satiating our own desire.

And when something like that happens to us ("being used" - something which happens to women more than men, but it does happen to men) - when, in other words, we experience anti-love, we realize the dehumanizing indignity of being a means to a selfish end, a tool easily discarded, a piece of Kleenex tossed away without a second thought.  Anti-love indeed.  And from this experience - and from this desire in our own dark hearts - quite rightly we discover shame.


Anyway, that seems to be what JP2 is getting at.  He's not advocating nudism, he's not saying we can stare at naked people without lust if we're really special, he's not saying that sex in any way is ever separate from human dignity or that the body and its role in who we are can be divorced from it nuptial meaning, which is to say from marriage, procreation and self-sacrifice.  The Real Theology of the Body is rich in a very profound Catholic / Christian context.

The Real Theology of the Body grows out of a Theology of the Cross.

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