Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Daily Gift

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My proposal to my fiancée did not go how I planned it. I'm sure plenty of guys can say the same in today's day and age where proposals are often choreographed with more extras than a Cecil B. DeMille epic. There is pressure to infuse as much meaning as possible into the moment. In my case, I proposed, as planned, in front of the Blessed Sacrament on St. John Paul II’s first feast day. Instead of being private, however, it ended up being in front of fifteen other random strangers in the chapel – my fiancée's personal nightmare.  

As our engagement proceeded, I was surprised by the feeling of normality. I had those periodic “Woah, I'm getting married” moments, but in general, the monumental life change I was preparing for seemed very much matter-of-fact. “Of course I'm marrying Maureen, it would be weird to think otherwise.” Now for someone who never ceases to seek the profound in anything less than the weather, I was alarmed at what I was feeling about my own betrothal. This should be a time of being overwhelmed at the depth of what I was entering into with this woman I loved and instead I felt very matter-of-fact about it all. Something had to be wrong with me, my maturity, the engagement, something.

As I reflected and prayed about all of this, two things occurred to me. It was entirely appropriate for me to feel this way, but it also signaled that I needed to grow. I thought of two concepts that St. John Paul II wrote in his Theology of the Body. The first was the sacramentality of the body and the second was the body as a task.

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A sacrament, as we all remember from our second grade religious education classes, is “an outward sign, instituted by Christ to give us grace.” Sacraments are those visible things that not only point to invisible things, but also really make those invisible realities present or efficacious. For example, when someone is baptized, the symbol in the rite is one of being washed. Yet, the physical pouring of or immersion into the water, is not merely a sign of what God is doing, the physical action actually brings about the spiritual action. Sacraments efficaciously make present the very things they signify.

John Paul takes this truth and then applies it to the body. Man and Woman are made in God's Image and Likeness. God, who is a Trinity of Persons, exists as a constant and complete gift of self. Being made in his Image as male and female, this gift-reality is written precisely into our bodies in our relation to one another. 

Man, in fact, by means of his corporality, his masculinity and femininity, becomes a visible sign of the economy of truth and love, which has its source in God himself and which was revealed already in the mystery of creation. Against this vast background we understand fully the words that constitute the sacrament of marriage, present in Genesis 2:24: "A man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." (19, 5)

So, in a certain sense, there is a sort of “naturalness” to the idea of getting married. There is a certain matter-of-factness that one should expect with this because God created us to be a gift to this other. It is in our very nature to be gift, just as it is in our nature to eat, sleep, exercise, etc. So, there should be a certain “of course” quality to my betrothal.

And yet, we know almost by instinct, that there is something wrong with staying simply in the realm of the “of course.” We know that marriage is on a higher plane, even if marrying her seems as natural as breathing to me. It is, but we also need our growth from the sacrament of marriage itself to come close to grasping marriage's reality. John Paul simultaneously affirms that man already has written into him this reality of gift, and that the body is also a task for men and women. Yes, my body, as it was the moment I was born, was given to me as a sign of my interior reality to be a gift to another, however, my body is also an assignment. I must grow into the reality that I am:

The Creator has assigned as a task to man his body, his masculinity and femininity; and that in masculinity and femininity he, in a way, assigned to him as a task his humanity, the dignity of the person, and also the clear sign of the interpersonal communion in which man fulfills himself through the authentic gift of himself. Setting before man the requirements conforming to the tasks entrusted to him, at the same time the Creator points out to man, male and female, the ways that lead to assuming and discharging them. (59, 2)

My task is to, in a sense, become who I am. I'm not there yet. There is a depth written into my creation as a man to more fully become a gift and to more fully enter into this communion of persons with my beloved who also has a depth written into her creation and must more fully become a gift to me. The body reveals to me that this is who I am, but it also educates and leads me to a fuller depth of this mystery. A maturation needs to take place:

In its masculinity or femininity the body is given as a task to the human spirit. By means of an adequate maturity of the spirit it too becomes a sign of the person, which the person is conscious of, and authentic "matter" in the communion of persons. In other words, through his spiritual maturity, man discovers the nuptial meaning proper to the body. (59, 4 emphasis mine)

And so, while it is the most natural of things for me to enter into marriage with my fiancée, the reality of what we are doing goes to the very heart of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God. By entering into this matrimonial covenant, we continue this “pedagogy of the body” by the revelation of the communion of persons not only to ourselves but to the rest of the world. Our wedding and our married life together is a sacrament of this reality of who and what we are created to be, but also stands as our task to more fully become that reality.

My plans to infuse meaning into my proposal to Maureen didn't work and my time of betrothal has been less a matter of being overwhelmed by the gravity of it all and more an ordinary day to day affair. From what I know of family life, that's probably an experience most of us have. We go to work, make the meals, do laundry, mow the lawn, but written into each of these very normal mundane affairs is this reality that while doing them, we are being drawn to consider this life as a gift. That married life, in the normal day to day, is a task given to us to live out more completely the reality that in these moments of picking the kids up from school and untangling the Christmas lights I am living for another  - and I'm receiving from another. And just like my proposal, the truth of this reality is already there, it doesn't need a grand scheme to infuse it with meaning. This gift-quality of life isn't just part of life, it is life. I am nothing else but gift, and only in pursuing this as task, can I truly become who I am.   

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