I know I’ve mentioned this in practically all of my past articles, but theology of the body is most definitely a favorite class of mine, and tomorrow we will be traveling to the hometown of the great saint who wrote this revolutionary work.
St. John Paul II is one of our generation’s favorite saints, and it’s not hard to see why. This “hipster saint,” hiking with a beret and sunglasses through the mountains, is probably the most brilliant author I have ever had the privilege to read. From encyclicals, to letters, to apostolic exhortations, and even plays — which, by the way, would fill up a 12-foot long bookshelf if set all together — are dense with philosophy and theology.
Where did all this knowledge and wisdom come from? And what carried him through? He would probably reply with something along the lines of “Our Mother, of course.”
Totus tuus, Maria. Totally yours, Mary. We’ve heard it before; we’ve seen consecration chains all over Franciscan’s campus (holy slavery, right?). We trust Mary because Jesus was entrusted to her, and then she to us. It was through the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother that St. John Paul II earned what he called his “four doctorates of life” by the time he was 20 years old.
Most Franciscans have heard his story. Karol Wojtyla lost everything: mother, brother, father and country. But what could have thrown him into despair only stretched and strengthened his faith even more. Having his entire livelihood and security stripped from his back broke every superficial temptation that could distract him from reality. Only the True, Good and Beautiful got him through.
His works strive to articulate every detail of man’s experience of love, suffering and joy. The only explanation for his profound insight is that the strongest force in his life was the love from the cross. This great saint was paralleled to “Immanuel,” “God with us,” because, truly, when you were in his presence, it was as if God was there too.
How did he master the art of presence? Through a clarity of vision of creation as pure gift.
You see, God in his very nature is a Giver. A giver gives without expecting anything in return, regardless of whether the person deserves it, giving purely for the sake of the other. A gift, therefore, is completely unrepayable, unmerited and capital “G” good for the receiver, who was made to receive and reciprocate selfless love.
But in order for a gift to be received well, it must be received with gratitude, else the giver is hurt. Because a gift isn’t just a thing — no, a gift is the opening up and offering of one person’s heart to the other. In rejecting a gift, you are rejecting a part of the giver’s heart.
However, when received well, with gratitude, you are accepting and affirming the good of the giver. That’s how relationships work! Mutual vulnerability and offering, while still respecting and encouraging the other to remain true to every good part of him or herself — that is capital “G” good for a person!
What does this have to do with God and creation? Everything! Every single thing in the Garden of Eden had zero reason to be made except to be presented as a pure gift to man. God offered himself then the same way he offers himself now, every day. God never ceases to open his arms to us.
St. John Paul II is a great saint because he treated every single person as a pure gift. We are pure gifts, walking around choosing to either ignore or embrace the other we encounter. If we profess our God to be a pure Giver, let’s start embracing one another accordingly.