Friday, February 10, 2017

The Saddest Day in History

The first readings at Mass this week have been from the Creation story in Genesis. Yesterday we heard about the creation of woman, and of Adam's amazement and finding someone like himself, able to stand beside him in God's presence with freedom and availability, making it "possible to exist in a relationship of reciprocal gift" (JP2). The biblical author remarked (in what seems to us an out of place aside) that "the man and his wife were both naked, but felt no shame."

Back in 1979 Pope John Paul based a number of his Theology of the Body talks on this seemingly random psychological observation ("naked without shame") which, he notes, isn't random at all. "Genesis 2:25 presents one of the key elements of the original revelation.... it is not something accidental."
Detail of a Della Robbia Adam and Eve; from the Walters Museum of Art
They were "naked without shame" because shame is not "natural" to us; it is not "original." In fact, the Pope will say, shame, while a consequence of the fall, is a healthy sign: it reveals that something very precious is present even while it is at risk.

When, as we heard in today's first reading, the man and woman decide to order their lives apart from the harmony and balance with which they were created, the first thing each one realizes is not a sense of empowerment (which the serpent had deceitfully assured them of) but a feeling of vulnerability. They make loincloths for themselves, protecting the very signs of masculinity and femininity that had earlier revealed their partnership, their being destined one for the other. They hide among the trees, suddenly finding the presence of God threatening. There has been "a radical change in the meaning of their original nakedness.... This change directly concerns the experience of the meaning of one's own body before the Creator and creatures." From being a sign of a gift to be lived in a communion of persons, the naked body is seen by sinful humans as a "thing" ready to be exploited (even, we see today, by oneself).

All this sprang from the first couple's surrender to the serpent's insinuation against the fatherhood of God. God, the serpent suggested, was not a provident and all-good Giver of Life "from whom every fatherhood in heaven and earth takes its name" (Eph. 3:15), but a jealous hoarder of divine prerogatives, an exploiter of the weak. Their only recourse against this powerful Other was to snatch at equality with God, claiming for themselves the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Once they do, they find themselves not in a garden of delights, but in a whole world of menace starting with the person at their side. For the rest of human history, people will be divided: man against God, "me" against "you",  "us" against "them."

Thankfully, "human" history is not all there is. When, "in the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of a woman" (Gal. 4:4), he would reintroduce the communion he had intended for us all along. That is what the Church is meant to be: the presence, even in time, of communion with God and among people. When we fall into the old categories of "us" and "them" (no matter who "they" are, or why we are divided) we leapfrog backwards, away from grace and salvation; when we love one another, when "they will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another" (Jn. 13:35),  then we will show the world who God is, and the world will come to believe (see Jn 17:21).

- - - - 

Yes, I know. I can't resist referring to the brilliant insights of Pope John Paul in his Theology of the Body. I can't help it! I have been "under the influence" of Theology of the Body for almost 40 years. It is in the background of my prayer, it has guided me through difficulties, it offers me a kind of overall interpretive lens for everything in the Bible.

Doesn't our world need to rediscover the value and meaning of the human body, made in the image of God, male and female? Don't we all need to be redirected to a life in which the predominant note is not self-defense or hostility, but self-giving directed toward a communion that even on earth represents and makes present the Triune God who made us for Himself? If I could, I would share this treasure with everyone on the planet. Taken seriously at least by the billion+ Christians on earth, it could change history.

The good news is that soon (very soon!) my community will be making a program available that will introduce you to Pope John Paul's thought at a pace you can set for yourself and in a format that will allow for group study, too. If you feel that your understanding of the faith hasn't really been updated since Confirmation, or if you feel you have never really had a fully adult knowledge of the Bible, this could be just what you are looking for to renew your mind. (It could be ideal for Lent!)

Monday I will give you a sneak peak--and a chance to get an early bird discount on a project I personally put a lot of work into!

No comments: