Sunday, June 28, 2015

TOB: What is original nakedness?

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We continue here our explorations into St. John Paul II’s series of Wednesday Catecheses, which eventually became known as Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (TOB, for short). To see other posts on this topic, click here.

I will admit upfront that original nakedness, the third of the original experiences that John Paul II explains in the TOB, has always been the least clear to me: we have seen man alone, in front of God and the rest of the world, understanding both his created nature and his unique place in creation; and we have seen Adam and Eve together, understanding that man does not live or know himself in isolation, that his finitude and bodiliness are in fact good. What more does original nakedness “bring to the table,” so to speak?

Let’s first recall the context of original nakedness: the three original experiences are a meditation by the saint on the subjective experience of Adam and Eve in the state of original innocence. The experiences are not step-wise or successive, but in fact a circumencession: all three are present in the beginning in some sense, albeit in more or less explicit ways at different points. Original nakedness is intrinsically related to original solitude and original unity insofar as it is part of the human experience, and insofar as it too, like the other experiences opens up another dimension of what it means to be imago dei.

"Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden" by Lucas Cranach the Elder is in the Public Domain.
Which dimension is that? Our first clue is the word John Paul II uses to name this experience: nakedness brings the body almost immediately to mind and thus should be a clue that it may have something to do with the immanent experience of man as embodied. Once again, we are being reminded that the body is not something “other” than myself, that in fact I am my body, and my lived experience occurs, so to speak, nowhere else. Original nakedness, then, reminds us of a certain transparency the human being should properly have (even if it has been now distorted) to himself, to others, and to the world.

This does not however mean that in original nakedness we’re laid completely bare to one another, such that there could be no interiority in either Adam or Eve that the other did not see. This would be a violation of man’s integrity, and a violation of his freedom: though there is a proper transparency in original innocence, there is also a proper boundary with the other, such that Adam and Eve can choose to reveal themselves to each other in time. We must not mistake the exteriorization of things for original nakedness; rather it seems to me that original nakedness is another way to look at what intimacy really means.

Though intimacy has become a bit of an epithet for sex or other physical closeness, I think we all know that one can be physically close to someone and not be truly intimate. That’s because intimacy is in fact first a kind of knowing. It is a knowing that sees the other person not just for his body—or for any one-dimensional aspect—but rather sees him as a whole, in all of his humanity—that is to say, as a subjective/objective whole. Intimacy is also, as we know, something that takes time. This temporal aspect is, it seems to me, intrinsic to intimacy because to see and treat someone holistically means to acknowledge that there is an interiority about him that I cannot know unless he reveals it to me himself. Human beings are not machines whose parts can be separated and (literally) objectified—we are persons whose experience is expressed in and through the body in modes we can choose to share.

The intimacy that the experience of original nakedness is, then, helps us understand what knowledge truly is—it is not a running list of facts and figures, but the space in which we can let someone reveal himself and in which we can reveal ourselves. Obviously the bodily aspect of intimacy has a great deal to do with this, but physical intimacy is not the entire telos of original nakedness, and we risk abridging John Paul II’s vision if we cut it off at that point. We must remember that the original experiences, and the Theology of the Body itself is not simply about the relationship (conjugal or otherwise) between male and female, but about man in the world as incarnated imago dei.

Original nakedness is then a way of knowing and being known as God knows and is known. It is God who respects the wholeness of creature so much that he allows him the freedom to say yes to God or not. And it is God who reveals himself to his creature gently and appropriately, such that his creature can come to know him—in time—intimately. If God gives the gift of identity in original solitude and community in original unity, then he gives the gift of his vision and care for his creation in original nakedness.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Walking and chewing gum at the same time

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When I was a junior in high school I began the application process for a U.S. Marine Corps NROTC scholarship.  Along the way I encountered a recruiter for enlistment with the Marines.  His basic selling point was, why go through your first exposure to military training while you’re also becoming accustomed to undergraduate studies?  Join the Marines as an enlisted man and then if you get accepted to the NROTC program you’ll be a step up on everyone.  The unmentioned part of the plan though was that if I didn’t get accepted to NROTC then I’d be a Marine, not a college student, for at least four years and he’d be one step closer to his monthly quota of recruits.  He summarized his sales pitch to me by posing the question, “do you want to have to learn to walk and chew gum all at the same time?”  I must confess, at the time it was a persuasive rhetorical question because of my eagerness to do “tough guy” stuff as soon as possible.  Looking back on the whole brief exchange (my application did not make it past the first wave of scrutiny) I periodically and whimsically call to mind that rather bizarre phrase, “learning to walk and chew gum at the same time”.
"Gum Ball Machine" by Ganesha Balunsat is licensed under C.C by 2.0

            I bring it up here because of two very much non-trivial tasks in which all baptized Christians are called to participate, but most of us don’t have a real good grasp of either of them on their own, and certainly not when paired up!  The two tasks: forming intentional disciples from people within our sphere of influence (walking), and living fully our own Christian state of life (chewing gum).  Expecting that most Christians fulfill these responsibilities currently (or even know how to begin them) is like expecting that Marine boot camp wouldn’t be a culture shock to a pampered city boy.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples and Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples yet, I highly recommend them.  The books equip and motivate the reader to fruitfully respond to the Gospel imperative to share freely what we have freely received (Mt 10:8).  For if we don’t do this, our own faith will atrophy and our friendship with the Lord and our neighbor will deteriorate, perhaps even to the point where we don’t believe it’s possible to have a loving relationship with God himself or care about the condition of our neighbor’s body and soul.  As St. Vincent de Paul wrote, “It is not enough for me to love God, if my neighbor doesn’t love Him.” 

            So if sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, and purposefully helping others to transition from trusting Christians, to being open, to learning more, to being outright curious about Jesus, to seeking him so as to eventually become his disciple, who can lead others through the same predictable stages of conversion is indispensable to following Jesus (Mt 28:19, Mk 16:15, 1 Cor 9:16), how do you actually do so while (or better yet—because of) simultaneously being a good husband/father or wife/mother?  While it is awesome to have convert (or revert), to the faith as a college student living in bachelor/bachelorette mode and bring your roommate to bible studies/Mass/Adoration/etc., it is not at all the same as being in the thick of sleep-interrupted, diaper-changing, dinner-with-toddler(s)-on-your-lap stage of life and spiritually accompanying (c.f. Evangelii gaudium 169-173) a peer or someone from a different stage of life in your own vocation or a different vocation altogether. 

So how does one bring the orbits together of forming disciples and living marriage well?

Here is a list of items to get the conversation started, please share yours too:
·                     Marry someone decidedly in love with Jesus.  Aristotle and Fr. Barron recommend it!  This way when your baptism, confirmation, marriage and Eucharistic graces kick in, then you can share the love and joy of the Gospel to the fullest.         
o   Tithing 10% of your gross income versus net. This won’t be a source of conflict, it’ll be a source of trusting in God’s providence together which will lead to overall marital joy even in the midst of less cash flow!

·                     Don’t allow people to view your children as a burden preventing you from participating in the life of the community or your parish. 
o   If you sense that the RCIA team leader does not want to impose on your weeknight routine by having you share your testimony with the candidates and catechumens, say explicitly and perhaps repeatedly, “it would be a pleasure and honor to share my faith story with others.  My spouse will support me in this by tucking the kids into bed that night.”

·                     Don’t fall for the mental trap that “we’ll have more time later . . .”
o   There’s no guarantee that tomorrow will be given to us; each of our ends will always be surprising to us (Mt 24:36, 42-44).  Show your children today what it looks like to be a gracious host to God in our neighbors (Heb 13:2) so that when they are older it will be a natural manifestation of their Christian life.

·                     Strike a balance with your time in favor of Jesus and Christian community.
o   What if you only watched TV one night a week for 30 min?  Or what if you didn’t watch TV at all?  What if you visited Jesus in the tabernacle or exposition of the Eucharist once a week?  What if you stopped by an elderly and lonely neighbor’s house each time you were out for a walk?  What if your kids only did one sport per year and you joined teams that your fellow parishioners were on too so that while on the sidelines and during practices you could share your faith journey and struggles with your peers?  What if you read the lives of the saints with your kids each night?  Or said “goodnight” to their patron saint’s icon on their bedroom wall?

·                     What if you prayed obscure Catholic prayers and invited others to learn them with you?

o   You could pray Angelus at noon with coworkers or to St. Michael the Archangel after Mass with your spouse, kids and pew neighbor, or the Memorare at the start of car journeys, or the Glory Be upon hearing emergency vehicle’s sirens wherever you may be, or even simply make the Sign of the Cross before grace at meals at restaurants. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

You Are Not A Rock, You Are Not An Island

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Within the last six weeks or so, I have attended a diaconate ordination, a priestly ordination, a Mass of Thanksgiving for a newly ordained priest, a wedding, and a Mass for the tenth anniversary of priesthood.  For several of these Masses, I noticed something while standing in the back with our squirmy, chatty 16-month-old: I wasn’t alone.

I’m not sure at which event the back of church was more populated.  At the ordinations in the cathedral, babies were walked back and forth on the marble tile.  The wedding Mass had a virtual second world in the back of the large church, where babies were nursed in back pews and introduced to every statue.  And at the Mass of Thanksgiving, the back carpet was covered with crawlers and climbers, intrigued by the baptismal font.

Many of us, perhaps, have heard that the vocation to marriage and the vocation to celibacy are complementary, but it can be easy to forget that we are not set in opposition or relegated to our own corner of the ecclesial room (as it were).  

As I looked around the back of the various churches, I saw more than just mothers, fathers and babies.  I saw the communities from which these new vocations were born.  Attending the diaconate ordination were members of a young adult group that one of the young men, a convert, had attended.  Likely, his discernment of the seminary was occurring at the same time as the dating and engagement of many couples in the group.  The newly ordained priest was surrounded by couples, who, a decade earlier, were at the same college, asking where God might be calling.  And even the newly married couple were surrounded by deacons and priests as they professed their vows to one another.

Photo is licensed under creative commons
No vocation is born in isolation.  We seek our specific path in the call to holiness along with so many other saints-in-the-making.  Some are called to marriage, others are called to be priests or religious, but each person is called to holiness and to eternal communion with God.

Once we have begun living our state in life, said our vows and commenced the day-to-day actions, we live out our vocation, not in isolation, but in the community of others, both married and celibate.  The married couples reveal something of the exclusivity and totality with which God loves every human person.  Those who have embraced celibacy for the Kingdom reveal something of the abundance of God’s love and the promise of eternal communion with Him in heaven.  

There isn’t a competition to see who can rack up more “holiness points” or who has chosen a more difficult path.  The cloistered nun might pray a Holy Hour for her friend with a family, and her friend might offer up middle-of-the-night diaper changes.  The prayers, the sacrifices, the witness are mutually given and received by those within both states of life.  

It was a matter brought home to me in a very real way as I watched young mothers and fathers pacing, patting, and swaying while a friend (or friends) were promising vows of obedience and celibacy.  The parents and the priests (and everyone else filling the pews, of course) are called to a vocation to love, to serve and to draw closer to the God who created us.