“Become who you are, and you will set the world on fire.” –St. Catherine of Siena
“The Son of God became man so that we might become God” –Saint Athanasius
If I were placing a wager, I’d lay odds that most of us are a bit disconnected from the divine life to which these saints are pointing us. Yet John Paul ll said that we each have an echo of this divine life inscribed in our human heart and stamped right in our bodies. And if we looked at our lives through the proper lens, we could connect with this echo in such a way that we would experience a great “aha” moment. This is the genius of John Paul ll’s Theology of the Body. It connects our lived experience to the gospel in such a way that our life takes on a whole new meaning and helps us to answer the big questions that are so confusing to modern culture. Who am I? What’s my purpose? Why were we created male and female? How do I find happiness here on earth? How do I find love that satisfies… forever?
Using the lens of Saint John Paul ll’s Theology of the Body as our guide, our hope is that our new podcast “Become Who You Are” will help you “connect” your lived experience to the Gospel in such a way that you have an “aha” moment many times over.
Our first episodes are titled “Start with the Heart” because understanding the deepest desires of our heart is perhaps the most profound discovery we can make. One such “aha” moment happens when a person realizes that Christianity is not primarily about gathering information or learning dogmas or memorizing doctrines, but that – at its core – Christianity is a love story! This love story is inscribed in our hearts, stamped in our bodies and is contained in our very DNA! Once we embrace this reality, and open our heart, body and soul to receive the gift of divine life and love that is offered to us, we experience a transformation. Our life becomes like water overflowing from the banks of a river, pouring itself out as a gift to the world.
Understanding the deepest desires of our heart is also one of the most important topics that we can address to combat the darkness of the culture hemming us in on one side and what Pope Paul Vl called the “Smoke of Satan,” the evil that has infiltrated the Church, hemming us in on the other. If you are feeling the same sense of urgency as I do to have answers to the most pressing questions of our time, my hope is that the “Become Who You Are” podcast will not only touch your heart but that it will also provide you with the vocabulary to express it convincingly in a world seemingly gone mad.
And in this world, adults aren’t the only ones that have a sense that everything is not OK. At the end of a recent presentation with a group of teens, I asked them if they had anything in particular they would like to discuss when we came back in a couple of weeks. The topic they requested might surprise you … “mental illness”. They wanted to talk about anxiety and depression and the fact that so many of their peers are having suicidal thoughts.
Later when I had a chance to speak to the woman in charge I asked, “What was that all about?”
She replied, “Jack, half these kids don’t live with both their biological parents, many of them are living in dysfunctional families, all of them have been growing up in a pornified culture and in an age of moral relativism where they were told there is no objective truth, just your truth or my truth. Is it any wonder they are anxious?”
Anxiety and depression have become an epidemic in our culture, and we are experiencing these symptoms at younger and younger ages. We are living in a culture “disconnected” from its heart, one that threatens to suffocate us in the darkness of pornography and moral relativism. Just how do we begin to address these woes?
Let’s start by getting in touch with our hearts. There are reasons for our anxiety. It is a warning sign, a flashing red light telling us that something is not all right. Then, in the midst of a world gone mad, we hear Saint John Paul ll’s clear voice ring out, “Be not afraid!” Don’t give in to despair, listen to your heart, and seek the ‘something more’ that faith and hope in Jesus Christ provides.
Saint Augustine had it right when he said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
The darkness that Saint John Paul ll often called the culture of death can be overcome only by winning the battle raging in each individual human heart, what he called “the battlefield of the heart between love and lust” (greed, money, power, sex).
Winning this battle begins by acknowledging that our deepest yearning, burning desire for love and happiness has been twisted and distorted by sin. This in itself will often lead to an “aha” moment. I have met many young men and women over the past couple of years who show incredible courage and a willingness to fight the war raging on the battlefield of their heart once they know the why behind the battle!
This really sunk in for me some years ago just outside of Lancaster PA. This is Amish Country where cars share the road with horse and buggy and men can be seen, pitchfork in hand, heaving hay unto a wagon. Driving through quiet rolling hills lined by wild flowers and surrounded by farms, I saw the Blackhawk Retreat Center sign and pulled into the long winding drive where I would spend the next week studying Theology of the Body with a hundred or so of the most interesting people you will meet anywhere. I had been here to take classes several times before and each time it has been life-changing for me in some way. I wondered if that streak could continue. It would.
It didn’t take long for Christopher West, our instructor, to begin talking about the importance of getting in touch with the deepest yearnings and desires of the human heart for happiness and love… and yes even the most sensuous, erotic desires. The problem, he said, is not that we have passions and desires, the problem is that we have misdirected passions and desires. That, properly understood, our passions and desires are the rocket fuel that thrusts us outside of ourselves, to become a gift to others… to love others, what the Ancient Greeks called eros, the desire for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, especially the Beauty of Love. But what happens if the rocket fueled by eros becomes inverted?
Welcome to our pornified culture, where passions and desires no longer move us to love but to see others as objects to use for our own gratification. Pope John Paul often said that the opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is using a person as an object. Instead of eros moving us to love, which by its nature should lead to life, it now leads to death. One need look no further than the abortion industry and the laws that support it to see just how inverted our eros has become.
You can’t imagine how important it is for today’s men and women struggling with purity, while being bombarded by images of women’s bodies used to sell products, to find that the solution lies in understanding and getting in touch with their passions and desires! Not by suppressing them, the starvation diet, nor indulging in them, that only leads to using others, but to open their passions and desires to the merciful love of the Father… to invite Christ to re-orientate the rocket so that it is back on the original flight plan! This is HUGE! The discovery that eros can be the road to sainthood!
In a world of “disconnection” from God’s plan for our passions and desires, we are grounded, like lovers who cannot soar, because the world only sees in 2D or on a two- dimensional flat horizontal plain. “Disconnected” from God, and so “disconnected” from any objective meaning and purpose leaves us with only two ways to deal with our passions and desires – suppress them or indulge them. This has us enslaved in a vicious cycle, moving from end one of the spectrum to the other only to start back all over again until we become exhausted, anxious and hopeless.
Then we hear the voice of one crying out, “Be not afraid” with some very GOOD NEWS! John Paul ll hands us 3D glasses and the world explodes into three-dimensions where true beauty can be found. In 3D, the Rocket fueled by eros finds that the deepest desires of our heart have been given to us by design to lead us to our destiny! It leads to true happiness and authentic love here on earth and finally into the heart of God Himself.
But in order for that to happen, Eros, the dominant force in the universe must be purified… by being united with Agape, Divine Sacrificial love… the love of Jesus Christ most clearly seen on the Cross. Looking up at the Crucifix, we are reminded of the words Jesus spoke to his disciples just before His arrest, “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-14)
To progressive modern minds who may be thinking that uniting Eros to Agape will water down our passions and desires, here is a spoiler alert – It is just the opposite!
Here is what Saint Teresa of Avila wrote that inspired the great Bernini’s sculpture of her in white marble titled, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, “beside me, on the left, appeared an angel in bodily form…. He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest ranking of angels, who seem to be all on fire…. In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out, I felt that he took them with it and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one’s soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it—even a considerable share.”
We don’t have to look to the saints and mystics to find this passion. It can be found in the everyday heroes that surround us and who give themselves away in a burning yearning sincere gift of self to others. I am especially thinking about the millions of faithful loving husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, priests and religious.
Whether you are out to change the world, get a new start or save your marriage, it all begins on the battlefield of your heart between love and lust (lust for sex, money, greed, power and material possessions) being fought every day. “Be not afraid” to enter into this battle.
Take that first step of opening your desires to the one who came into the world to help you do just that and you will be on the adventure of a lifetime. “Become Who You Are, and you will set the world on fire.”