In this Sunday’s Gospel, Christ reverses the world’s values when he insists that the “greatest among you must be your servant.” For Christ, who is the greatest among us, came not to be served but to serve. One of Saint John Paul II’s greatest theological contributions was his insistence that this call to love as Christ loves – through being a gift to others, through serving others – is stamped by God right in our bodies as male and female. A man’s body makes no sense by itself. Nor does a woman’s. Seen in light of each other, we see the call to be a gift to one another, a gift that is at the service of human life itself. In the second reading, Saint Paul draws from this truth when he says he loved the Thessalonians “as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you,” he continues, “we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well.” This is what a mother does when she nurses her child. This is what we are all called to do if we are to discover the meaning of life: “For man can only find himself,” observed the Second Vatican Council, “through the sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes 24).
[NOTE: This commentary originally appeared Oct. 31 on the National Catholic Register website as: “Healing the Reformation’s Wounds With the Theology of the Body.” To read the NC Register‘s series of articles on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, click here.]
Today marks the 500th anniversary of the day that, as the story goes, a young Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of Wittenberg Castle. To say the series of events that that one action set in motion have had a monumental impact on Western civilization would be a gross understatement.
We have every reason to hope — not in the sense of wishful thinking, but with the certainty of “the hope that does not disappoint” — that Christ’s prayer that all his followers “will be one” will someday be answered.
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Then the second greatest is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (see Mt 22:34-40). One of the insights of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is that this call to love is revealed in our bodies. “This is the body,” says John Paul II, “a witness … to love” (TOB 14:4). It’s a witness to the love God has for us, the love we are to have for God, and the love we are to have for others. How so? It’s the body that reveals the call to become “one flesh.” The holy communion of man and woman is a “great mystery” that reveals how God loves us in the holy communion of the Eucharist (see Eph 5:31-32). God wants to marry us, become “one” with us in the flesh. “This is my body given for you…” says Jesus to his Bride in the Mass. In receiving Christ’s body in so intimate a way, we have all we need when Mass is ended to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord and one another.” We have God’s body in our body, the source of all love. Astounding.
Today marks three years since my beloved professor, friend, and mentor Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete went to his eternal reward (and to be reunited with his personal friend, Saint John Paul II). If you’ve watched my new short film you know how important my nearly 20 year friendship with him was. There is just no way to put in words what this man meant to me.
This week’s Gospel presents Jesus’ well-known response to those who asked him about paying taxes to Caesar. Since the Roman coin bore Caesar’s image and inscription, Jesus said, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” The deeper question, of course, is: What belongs to God? We do. For we bear his image and inscription. Where? How? Traditionally theologians have said we image God as individuals, through our rational soul. That’s true. But St. John Paul II says that “man became the image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning” (TOB 9:3). God himself is an eternal Communion of Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The call to a similar communion is inscribed by God right in our bodies as male and female. The body itself is a witness to self-giving love. God took on a body precisely to make a gift of his body for us. Let us “repay” God by making a gift of our bodies for him.