By Jack Rigert, Director, JPll RC
I’ve been studying, teaching and speaking on Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body for almost 12 years now and as dense as this body of work can seem at times it dawned on me that it’s not that difficult to understand… really.
You just have to keep in mind that it’s about God’s plan for us and God’s plan has always been a love story. We were created for one main purpose, and that’s to make God’s own eternal love story visible in the created world.
St. Paul frames it perfectly for us in Eph 5:31-32 when he writes, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.”
In other words the reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and become one flesh is to make visible and point to Christ the bridegroom’s Love for His bride the Church. It was Jesus who left his heavenly father and his earthly mother to become one flesh with you and me. And where do we become one flesh with God? In the Eucharist. Make no mistake about it, our deepest desire to take a husband or a wife and become one flesh in the Marital embrace is a sign of love, or should be, that points us directly to the Eucharist and God’s desire to be one flesh with us.
In a sense I already knew this in second grade. I was born on the South Shore of Chicago the oldest of five boys. We lived on the second floor of my grandparents two flat and they lived beneath us. In the back was a small yard with a gate that opened to the alley that was our main artery to the rest of the world. And it was here that my brothers and I were awakened to the three core themes that are built into the very DNA of a man. That life is to be an adventure, that’s going to be a battle and finally that the meaning and purpose behind it all is beauty, especially the beauty of love.
One day as I was unlocking the gate to the alley, my brothers just behind me, all of us eager for adventure and well armed for battle with our rubber band pistols and homemade wooden swords I was stopped in my tracks by angelic voices and I looked up. There they were, and they were beautiful. Two twin sisters in maybe fourth or fifth grade but to my innocent second grade heart they possessed something words alone cannot describe, and I experienced, probably for the first time, the magnetic power that the beauty and mystery of a woman can have on a man’s heart. Power to draw him out of himself. Even my younger brothers sensed something special was happening and did not clamor to get out through the gate or ask me why I stopped. One of them even mustered the courage to wave and say hello. The girls glanced over and generously gave us a little wave and then disappeared down the alley, oblivious I suspect to the impact they were having on us.
We discovered that the twins lived three blocks down the alley on the top floor of a three flat and from then on all of our adventures began in their direction. In fact their three flat was actually a Castle controlled by an evil Knight who was holding the “Princess Twins” captive. It was now our sworn duty to rescue them and often at great danger to ourselves and after a raging battle we would storm the outer door of the castle, fight our way up their stairwell and rescue them. Over one summer we must have rescued them dozens of times and the tragedy is that they never knew that they were being rescued! Chivalry at its finest.
At the same time I wanted to be a Missionary Priest and I wrote, snail mail in those days, to every missionary order I could find that sent Priests to exotic places with names like Tanzania, Shinyanga and the Congo. For I also felt called to be a part of this adventure, this battle and from as early as I remember I had a deep almost innate sense, especially in the Mass, that this was also for beauty, the beauty of the Sacred.
Somehow in my second grade mind I was on to some pretty profound theology. I never had a problem holding on to my attraction to the beauty and mystery of the twin sisters and simultaneously holding on to my attraction to the beauty and mystery of the Sacred, my attraction to the beauty and mystery of God Himself.
I was to learn later from John Paul II that in second grade I was in touch with the two bookends that framed the whole story of the Bible. And that the Bible itself could be summed up in five words “God wants to marry us”. God created us with His love story inscribed in our hearts and stamped in our bodies so that we could enter into love and make it visible in the created world.
Think about it…the Bible begins in Genesis in an earthly paradise with the marriage of Adam and Eve and ends in the book of Revelation in a heavenly paradise with the marriage of Christ and the Church. Well who is the Church? We are, you are.
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.”
The deepest desire and yearning of the human heart is for love. The deepest desire of the Divine Heart is also for Love. Jesus in His very Person is the perfect union of these two loves. And then He offers Himself to us so that we can enter into Divine Love ourselves. “This is my body which is given for you”. (Lk 22:19)
Make no mistake about it, once the smoke and fog lifts, our deepest desire for love, a man for a woman, a woman for a man points us to the Eucharist, Holy Communion, and God’s deep desire for intimacy and union with us. The whole love story inscribed in our hearts and stamped in our bodies and all of our deepest yearnings to love and be loved can be summed up by the last words Jesus spoke in the Gospel of John “I thirst”. (Jn 19:28) In prayer, in the silence of your heart listen and you will hear Him speak these words “I thirst for you”.