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St. John Paul on life and love

We live in interesting and challenging times. The devil seems to be working overtime to attack and undermine the sacred dignity of human life and human sexuality. Thankfully, as we celebrate in this Easter season, we worship a God who sent his only begotten Son to save us from our sins and to defeat death.

Additionally, as we celebrated on Divine Mercy Sunday, we can be thankful to God for sending St. John Paul into the world at this time in human history. He was, it seems, God’s antidote to the devil’s poisonous attack on human life and love.

Consider that the first major project of St. John Paul’s extraordinarily consequential papacy was to provide the world with a profoundly beautiful explanation of God’s sacred gift of human sexuality. John Paul delivered this explanation in 129 short Wednesday audience talks between September 1979 and November 1984 and gave this project the working title "Theology of the Body."

George Weigel, author of "Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II," described "Theology of the Body" as "one of the boldest reconfigurations of Catholic theology in centuries" – a "theological time-bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences … perhaps in the 21st century."

Although John Paul’s "Theology of the Body" is a challenging read for most of us, there are a growing number of writers who are endeavoring to explain this critically important work. Anyone who is interested in a deeper and more fulfilling understanding of the human person and human sexuality should devote some time to studying "Theology of the Body."

In 1995, almost 10 years after giving "Theology of the Body" to the world, St. John Paul issued his encyclical "Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)." In 2000, while recalling the many encyclicals he had written during his papacy, John Paul said "Evangelium Vitae" was "a document that I consider central to the whole of the magisterium of my pontificate."

In "The Gospel of Life," John Paul explains the roots of what he termed "the culture of death." One root is a distorted notion of freedom characterized by radical individualism (self-centeredness, viewing others as obstacles/burdens, not opportunities to give/receive love), relativism (no recognition of moral absolutes or objective truth) and materialism (valuing possessions above people).

The most destructive root (or "heart of the tragedy" as JP II put it), however, is alienation from God. "In seeking the deepest roots of the struggle between the ‘culture of life’ and the ‘culture of death,’ we cannot restrict ourselves to the perverse idea of freedom …" John Paul said. "We have to go to the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism."

St. John Paul is saying that if our relationship with our creator is weak, then our understanding of the value and meaning of human life created in His image also is weak. Likewise, if we don’t understand and appreciate the value and meaning of human life, we are more likely to violate its dignity. Violating the dignity of human life, like all sin, alienates us further from God and compounds the problem.

Countering these roots of the culture of death, according to John Paul, requires us to "bring the Gospel of life to the heart of every man and woman and to make it penetrate every part of society. This involves above all … the proclamation of a living God who is close to us, who calls us to profound communion with himself and awakens in us the certain hope of eternal life.

"It is the affirmation of the inseparable connection between the person, his life and his bodiliness. It is the presentation of human life as a life of relationship, a gift of God, the fruit and sign of his love. It is the proclamation that Jesus has a unique relationship with every person, which enables us to see in every human face the face of Christ. It is the call for a ‘sincere gift of self’ as the fullest way to realize our personal freedom."

Thank you, God, for giving us your beloved son, Jesus Christ. Thank you also for bringing St. John Paul into this critical time in human history.

 

Greg Schleppenbach is state director of the Bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro Life Activities. Contact him at gregschlepp@neb.rr.com.