Finding Meaning: An Intro to JP2's Theology of the Body

This is an intro talk I gave recently at a high school Theology of the Body retreat.  The audio quality isn't the best, so my working copy of the talk is below.

Finding Meaning: An Intro to JP2's Theology of the Body from Domestic Church Militant on Vimeo.

I'm going to start with a video clip from an old sitcom called Everybody Loves Raymond.  In it, a young daughter in the family starts asking some very deep questions about life, and you'll see how the family reacts.

“Religious scholars spend their entire lives trying to answer this question.  You're not going to just flip open the Bible and find the meaning of life.”  Did you catch that?

So a little girl starts asking about the meaning of our existence and the family freaks out.  Do you think this family's reaction to this question is typical in today's society?  I'd say so.  People tend to think that this is an impossible question to answer.  But is it?

Has every person in the history of the world, at some point, wondered why he or she exists?  Is it natural for us to wonder about this?  If an 8-year-old can randomly come up with this question out of nowhere, then yes, I think it's safe to say that the wonder has been imbedded inside of us by our Creator.  It's natural. 

The family seems to recognize this in these clips.  They recognize that “God made us smart enough to know there is a meaning of life.  That's what makes us different than the fruit fly.”  God imbedded the wonder; therefore, there must be an answer.  But they also seem to conclude that we aren't smart enough to figure it out.

Let's think about that conclusion.  God created a world with meaning.  He created humans to wonder about this meaning.  But he doesn't allow us to figure out the meaning of our existence or bother to reveal this meaning?  Does that make any sense?  Is that a rational God?

The truth is, God has indeed revealed the answer, in many ways.  But before we explore that revelation, one more quick question:  Does the answer matter?  Who am I?  Why am I here?  What happens when I die?  What is the meaning of my existence?  Some people have the attitude:  Eh, those are tough questions.  We can't ever really know for certain, so why bother searching?

But when does certainty matter?  I really wonder why God made mosquitoes, but whether or not I find the answer doesn't really matter much to me.  When I'm buying food for my niece, I really wonder if it has peanuts.  She's allergic.  At first we thought she might just break out with a rash if she ate them.  So if I were to take her to lunch, I might ask the person taking my order if her food has peanuts and be fine with the level of certainty provided.  But come to find out, peanuts have potentially fatal consequences for my niece.  So now, if we go to lunch, just asking the cashier is not enough.  I might ask to see a list of ingredients, talk to the chef, etc.  Why?  Much more is at stake, so a much higher degree of certainty is necessary.

So in these big questions about the meaning of life, what's at stake?  Everything?  Eternity?  The stakes couldn't be higher!  So does it make sense to just blow off this question and risk missing the very meaning of our existence?

So where do we look for the answer?  What is the meaning of being human?  Well, I think the first place to look to find the meaning of anything is to examine both the created object and its maker... to examine both the creature and the creator... because knowing one reveals something about the other.  For example, take a look at this creature here.  

You might wonder, what's this “C” on his hat, why does he have red birds on his diaper.  Well, you might say that this boy is made in the image of his father, yours truly, so knowing something about me could help us to answer these questions.  If you learn that I'm from Chicago and a fan of the Cubs and not particularly fond of the St. Louis Cardinals... that might help explain the hat and the Cardinals diaper.  Knowing something about the father, reveals something about the son.

Here's another example.  If you take a look at this created object... it's probably safe to say that it wasn't created by a random explosion of wood and nails.  It must have had a maker, in fact, more than one maker, because one person couldn't make it alone.  But if you were to examine it closely, you could probably figure out that its makers were not professionals.  Knowing something about this deck, reveals something about its makers.

If you were to see a picture of its makers, perhaps you might say a “trinity” of makers, so to speak...  it probably wouldn't take long to figure out that one of them must have known what he was doing, for we see the sturdy, level (for the most part) result.  One of these maker's role was to just provide some muscle... it should be obvious who that was.  And if you were to see the random spots of concrete on the ground, kind of near the footings for the posts, you could figure out that one of these makers was really no help at all.  He really just got in the way.  (Please don't tell him I said that.)  So knowing something about the makers also reveals something about this deck.  You might say, this deck is made in the image of its makers.

And this helps us understand the thesis of the great work now known as the Theology of the Body.  A young Polish Cardinal (that's a Bishop, not a baseball player) named Karol Wojtyla wrote this masterpiece in the 1970s.  And just before he was about publish it in 1978, he unexpectedly became the Bishop of Rome and picked the name Pope John Paul II.  Now, St. John Paul the Great knew that he could not release this 500-page manifesto as his first Papal writing, so he decided to use his Wednesday Audiences to teach it.  So over the next 5 years, he slowly but surely, gave us his Theology of the Body in speech form.  And now we have the translations in book form, and it is God's answer to the destructive sexual revolution of the 60s.  It is transforming countless lives.  It changed my life, and it is the reason my firstborn son is named John Paul.

The Theology of the Body is a study of God (that's theology) and the meaning of our existence.  St. John Paul's thesis is this, in a nutshell:  the body is sacramental.  When something is sacramental, it makes visible the invisible.  So in this case, the human body, made male and female, makes visible an invisible God.  Knowing the human person, reveals something about our Creator, and thus the meaning of our existence, since the maker embeds meaning into His creatures.

So a little thought experiment here:  if aliens discovered humanity and studied us in secret, what would they conclude?  Well, they would figure out quickly that we are different from the fruit fly or even the dog or the ape.  That's obvious.  But if they studied a male body, while he was in the shower... in a non-creepy, scientific alien medical research kind-of-way, of course... it would make absolutely no sense... until they discovered the female body.  Only then, seeing both male and female, would it all make sense.  Only then would these visible signs point to some invisible realities. 

The aliens would figure out 4 things:  we are made for relationship.  We are made to form a community or a communion of persons.  We are made for interpersonal union.  

Just a quick example of this one.  My son Kolbe has these kissable, chubby cheeks.  And when my wife brought him to school one day, one of my students said, “Mr. O'Connor, his cheeks... I just want to eat him up!”  Have you ever heard this expression?  Of course, she didn't want to marinate him in bbq sauce and throw him on the grill.  But that expression shows a deep desire for interpersonal union, a desire for oneness with beauty and goodness.

Finally, the aliens would easily discover that we are made for love.  You'll hear much more about these 4 things as the week goes on, but what to do they reveal about our Creator?  Could it be, that God Himself, is a relationship?  Could God be a communion of persons?  An interpersonal union?

In the creation story, Genesis chapter one, God says, “Let us make man in our image?”  There's only one God, right?  So why does he already use the pronouns “us” and “our”?  Is he already hinting at the fact that God is a Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)?  One God, but a communion of 3 persons?  And when one of those persons, the Son, became flesh, and dwelt among us, he ordained 12 original bishops.  One of those original bishops, John, teaches us in his first letter, Chapter 4, “God is love.”  But let's think about that, in order to have love, we must have a person who does the loving (a lover), we must also have a person whom is loved (the beloved), and only then can we speak of the love between them.  The Father pours out Himself in self-giving love to the Son, the Son receives and reciprocates that love, and this love between them is so powerful that it creates a third person.  In order for God to be love, He must be a Trinity!  Think about it, the Muslims are consistent with this.  They don't believe God is a Trinity, and they don't believe he is love.  They have 99 names for God and not one of them is Love!

So what is the meaning of life?  In the video, if only the grandma would've picked up the Catechism off the shelf, because paragraph ONE gives us the answer:  God created us to show forth his goodness and to share with us his everlasting happiness (or blessedness) in heaven.

My favorite paragraph in the Catechism (#221) expands upon this beautifully.  God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.  Whoa!  How will we share in that eternal exchange of love?  Through the Son.  When?  In heaven, of course, but can we have a foretaste of that exchange here on earth?  Yes!  How?  2 ways:  through the Mass (but that's another talk).  And through authentic self-giving love.  That's how we train for our destiny.

Back to the original video clip from Everybody Loves Raymond.  Why did God make us?  To show forth his goodness and share with us his everlasting happiness in heaven.  If only the grandma would've gone to a Theology of the Body retreat in high school, she would have seen the first chapter of Genesis and remembered that we find meaning by being made in the image of the Trinity.

Better yet, if only Raymond's family would have known the great Shema prayer, they wouldn't have had this problem in the first place, because they would have taught the answer to their children already.  It comes a few books later, Deuteronomy chapter 6:  “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!  Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.  Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.  Drill them into your children.”

Love with all your heart, soul, and strength.  There's the answer.  Their 8-year-old wouldn't have been asking those questions if they had drilled the answers into her when she was 2 or 3 years old.  Like this...

Lord Baltimore from Domestic Church Militant on Vimeo.

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