We are living in dark times indeed, but let us never forget that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
As I mentioned in my last blog post, this week I’m in the middle of teaching one of my intensive courses on Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I’ve been reminded again and again throughout the course how much is at stake in the rampant confusion – both in the secular world and in our churches – about the meaning of the body, sexuality, gender, marriage, and the family. As one of my theological mentors, the late Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, observed:
When [the Gospel] is lacking in a person or in a culture, the barometer where its lack is most clearly seen is the attitude towards the body… Indeed, … it is the desperate confusion and disarray with respect to human bodiliness, as shown in human sexuality, that shows the need for evangelization… This absolutely inseparable relation between the Gospel and the experience of the body … can be seen in the fact that from the very beginning the greatest enemy of the Gospel has been the attempt to separate Jesus Christ from the flesh [see 2 Jn 1:7]… The whole heart, the scandal, the newness, the stunning wonder of the Christian proposal … is that the Word – the Logos, Meaning, Sense, Beauty, Truth, Goodness, Destiny – has become flesh. The person who accepts [this] … knows that an attack against the body … is an attack against the very secret of God’s life. And so that person develops a passion, a passion to come to the help of suffering bodies. … That sensitivity is in the end the decisive proof that evangelization has occurred.
In this Sunday’s first reading we hear that God “probe[s] the mind and heart.” And in the Gospel, Jesus tells us: “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.” If we think God is a scolding, unforgiving task-master, the idea that we can hide nothing from God can only instill fear. On the other hand, if we understand, as Saint Paul teaches in this weekend’s second reading, that the gift of God “is not like the transgression,” but rather, “the grace of God … overflow[s] for the many,” then being completely naked before him becomes the trusting cry of the Church-Bride in the psalm response: “Lord, in your great love, answer me.” We all have a womb-like emptiness that longs to be filled with divine life and love. However, if the Bride wants to be filled with the life and love of the divine Bridegroom, she must be willing to expose herself before him. Employing the intimate imagery of Sacred Scripture, Saint John Paul II observed that “God penetrates the creature who is completely ‘naked’ before him” (TOB 12:5, note 22). Here’s the central message: He loves us in our nakedness. He loves us totally and completely. “Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid…”
This week I’m in the middle of teaching one of my “Head & Heart” Immersion Courses for the Theology of the Body Institute. A hundred and twenty people have gathered from around the U.S. and five foreign countries to dive deeply into Saint John Paul II life-saving vision of what it means that we are created male and female (please keep us in your prayers!).
One of the high points of the week for me is seeing the lights come on for the students when we watch the 1998 movie The Truman Show. This is a film not only worth watching, it’s worth studying very closely. I’ve probably seen it over 40 times, and I’m amazed at the new gems my students and I mine from it every time I show it.
This Sunday the Church celebrates the Feast of Corpus Christi – the celebration of Christ’s Body and Blood offered up and poured out in the Eucharist. Of course, the Church celebrates this every Sunday, in everything she is and does. But this Sunday is a particular celebration, a particular opportunity to enter into the mystery … and to let it enter into us (quite literally).
Some years ago, Bishop Thomas Dowd of Montreal told me an amazing story about how a tour of a Hindu temple illuminated for him Catholic teaching on the Eucharist. He sent me the following written account of the experience, which I share with his permission.
This Sunday is the Feast of Corpus Christi. We will read these familiar words in the Gospel: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in you.” If we understand, as Saint John Paul II taught, that “the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride” we will understand that Christ is saying: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the Bride be in union with her Bridegroom, she cannot conceive new life.” As Pope Benedict XVI expressed it, receiving Holy Communion “corresponds to the union of man and woman in marriage. Just as they become ‘one flesh,’ so in Communion, we all become ‘one spirit,’ one person, with Christ.” We must let this sink in: at the source and summit of our faith is the consummation of a mystical marriage. At the source and summit of our faith is the human body communicating the divine mystery. Yes, the Eucharist is the climax of the nuptial mystery written right into our bodies as male and female: it’s the gift of the Bridegroom’s body to his Bride, the Church. It’s the Bride conceiving eternal life. Lord, this Sunday, help us truly to feast on your body and blood!