Set the World on Fire

By: Jack Rigert, Director of JPII Renewal Center

I just drove over two thousand miles in two weeks presenting Theology of the Body (TOB) one-day seminars for Teachers in Ohio, Kentucky and Arkansas who will be teaching “Rooted” – the Ruah Woods TOB Curriculum – in their respective schools this year. A journalist attending one of the seminars asked me if I could sum up TOB for a brief article he planned to write. I smiled and reminded him that he was asking me to sum up what took Saint John Paul ll one hundred and twenty-nine Wednesday Audiences, spread out over five years, to deliver. But here goes.

“In a nutshell, the whole meaning of our existence is to make a radical gift of self for another.” And if we really understood what that meant, and lived it out, we would, as St. Catherine said above, literally set the world on fire.

In fact, our primary vocation – if we are going to set the world on fire – is not to figure out a way to make a living, but to figure out how to make a sincere gift of self to others. This vocation or call to be a radical gift of self is so foundational and important that it is inscribed in each human heart as a deep yearning – a burning desire to love and be loved – and is stamped right in our bodies through our creation as male and female.

As Scripture tells us in Genesis 1:26-27:“Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness…God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them: Male and female he created them.”

We are called to this vocation to love because we are created in the Image and Likeness of God, who is Love and a radical gift of self! As the Catechism of the Catholic Church #221 so beautifully states …

God’s very being is love. By sending His only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed His innermost secret: God Himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange.”

It was not until I was married and my wife delivered our first child that I got a glimpse into the Love of the Trinity in a concrete way. Holding our daughter in my arms for the first time and looking at my wife, I was overwhelmed by this new person she had just delivered. Now there were three of us! Later, through the lens of John Paul ll, as I reflected on that day, and on the subsequent births of our other children, I began to understand that my wife and I were called to be a reflection of God’s Image in the world.  I gave myself as a sincere gift of love to my wife; she received this gift and gave herself to me. From that exchange of love, another person came into our lives – our baby. The two, my wife and I, called to become one in the Sacrament of Marriage, which is consummated in the marital embrace, became three. Wow! God not only created us in His Image, but also invited my wife and I to be co-creators with Him in the mystery of a new eternal creation!

While the marriage of man and woman is the fullest expression or sign of life giving love in the natural order it is not the only way. In fact, we are all called, regardless of our state in life or our age, to be a radical sincere gift of self.

An example of this that I often share with teens is called “Something’s Wrong with John”. John Yzaguirre, in his book Thriving Marriages, recounts that when he was a teenager, a friend invited him to attend a lecture given by a physician on living the Gospel in everyday life. John considered himself an atheist who had “outgrown” religion but went to the talk simply out of friendship. Following the talk, John asked the physician, “Do you really believe that stuff?” The doctor replied, “Who cares? The important point is whether you do.”

The physician took out his prescription pad and wrote these words from Jesus: “Whatever you do for the least of these you did for me” (Matt. 25:40). The physician then added, “For the next two weeks, live these words as if they were true, and then call me.”

John returned home, and when his dad came in the door from work, thought, “Well, if Jesus were just arriving here, I’d get up and greet him,” so John did. His dad was stunned: “Everything all right, son?”

Before he sat down again, John saw his mother cooking dinner in the kitchen and thought, “Well, if Jesus were in the kitchen cooking, I’d at least see if he needed any help.”

Near the end of dinner, when only a single hamburger remained, John offered it to his younger brother, who said in alarm, “Dad, something’s wrong with John.”

In fact, something was right with John. With God’s help, he had begun to live the wisdom of Saint Mother Teresa; “Each person is Jesus in disguise.” As he loved the people he saw in his ordinary, everyday life, John soon began to love the God he could not see. John became a passionate believer and lover of people—not through argument, but by loving his neighbor as Jesus would.

Radically living out the two Great Commandments that Jesus taught us!

Glory To God!