Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
First National Congress on the Theology of the Body
Normandy Farms, Blue Bell
July 30, 2010
Dear Friends in our Lord Jesus Christ,
I am very pleased to participate in the First National Theology of the Body Congress sponsored by the Theology of the Body Institute, and in this context to celebrate the Eucharist with you today. This Congress is an important initiative which brings all of us together in the name of Jesus priests, religious, and laity from a broad area of scholarship, expertise and ministerial service.
Thirty years ago the Venerable Servant of God Pope John Paul II was laying out a plan, God=s plan for humanity. He was describing it in detail. He did not attempt to hide it, conceal it or keep it under wraps. His plan was called the theology of the body. Thirty years ago John Paul II was one full year into his catechesis on the theology of the body. Thirty years ago, this very week, he told us that there is only one way to form a true communion of persons. That way, he explained, is through love a love which always takes the form of a gift of self.
He repeated his plan in his teaching and travels, in cathedrals, in stadiums and from countrysides, on every continent, in his writings and homilies, to heads of state or local pilgrims. He insisted that love, authentic love, always and everywhere takes the form of a gift of self, modeled on Christ's gift of Himself to His Father.
Love is the most misunderstood word in our language. One syllable, four letters. A secularistic culture in the world has long had another plan. There are two main targets of this plan. The first is to attack the inviolable dignity of human life, in particular in its weakest and most vulnerable moments: life in the womb and in advanced age. The second is to deconstruct marriage as the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman. In this regard modern society faces a deep cultural crisis. It is a crisis of love.
For over two generations now this secularistic culture has been forming what may prove to be the most threatening ideology in all of history. This contemporary secularistic culture tolerates:
a consumerist materialism that tells us that the more money, popularity and power we have, the better we are;
an individualism that leads us to be selfishly obsessed with our own status and tells each of us that AI am number one@; that my opinion, simply because I have it, is as good as true;
an entitlement autonomy that tells us that there is no authority over individual choice;
a dominant relativism that insists that popular opinion replaces timeless truth. Here the sense of right and wrong all but vanishes. There are no limits on what passes for entertainment. Violence has moved from the television and movie screen into our schools and neighborhoods.
The contemporary secularistic culture not only tolerates the frenetic pursuit of pleasure, but it accelerates the notion that if we feel a need, we must satisfy it immediately. It tells us that no craving should go unmet and all urges are irresistible. Human sexuality is being reinterpreted as the absolute right to satisfy every craving.
Embracing consumerism, materialism, individualism, entitlement autonomy, relativism and hedonism the one thing that the abiding secularistic culture appears unable to tolerate is religion. Faith, the moral law and belief in God are relegated to the realm of private practice, which we are told repeatedly must never reach into the culture.
All of these attitudes form the secularistic ideology that has paved the way for numerous errors and distortions resulting in promiscuity, cohabitation, divorce, contraception, direct sterilization, adultery, abortion, domestic violence, sexual abuse and the attempt to deconstruct marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Remember the two targets: the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of marriage.
Despite all of the messages we hear in advertisements and the popular media that our self-worth depends on our net worth, that our individual choices and opinions are sacrosanct, that there is no objective right and wrong, that there are no limits, and that having a craving is reason enough to satisfy it, this generation knows despite all claims to the contrary, something is missing. The current generation is desperately hungry for something more. It is searching for what St. Paul referred to in the Letter to the Ephesians, which we heard proclaimed a few moments ago, as "the inscrutable riches of Christ"(Eph 3:8). The secularistic culture views excess as glamorous and exciting. That culture tells us that self-control is pointless, and that for our life to be worthwhile we must move from one excitement to the next. Yet, these tenets evaporate very quickly and abruptly. They are illusions. Once they dissolve, the only thing left for those who embrace them is a raw inner emptiness that congeals in a deep wound. In fact, with the passing of time, painful wounds highlight the true nature of the secularistic culture. The wounds tell society that something indeed is missing.
What is missing? What is missing is the one thing that can never be found in all the false promises of consumerism, materialism, individualism, entitlement autonomy, relativism, and hedonism. The one thing that transforms the pain of an abject secularism into the promise of life is the gift the gift of self in love. That is the theme of this Congress,"Receiving and Proclaiming the Gift." As the Second Vatican Council taught, and Pope John Paul II quoted so often: "... man can fully discover his true self only in the sincere gift of self"(Gaudium et Spes, 24). This generation knows it is hungry, and Pope John Paul II knew for what, or, rather, for Whom it was hungry: Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, the gift of the Father's love, the fruit of the Virgin Mary's womb. No amount of possessions, prestige, or pleasure can totally block the deep yearning of the human heart, which calls out with the psalmist: "Lord, teach me your statutes"(Ps 119:12).
Among Pope John Paul II's initial pastoral priorities was to teach the theology of the body. With enduring consistency, from the very beginning of his papacy, he reached into the deposit of faith and drew forth a new concentration of hope hope for the human person and marriage. Like St. Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians, Pope John Paul II proclaimed Athe inscrutable riches of Christ"(Eph 3:8) and brought Ato light for all what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known ..."(Eph 3:9). Pope John Paul declared society's answers to be superficial and found wanting. He showed us that the limelight of the world is a false glare that blinds the human person to the true and the good. Only the luminous radiance of Jesus Christ unveils the plan that fulfills man. John Paul II repeated the instruction of Jesus, that we must go back to Athe beginning"(Mt 19:4, 8) to learn the true identity of the human person and the true nature of marriage.
Pope John Paul II showed us in specific detail how, in the plan of God, the gift of love in marriage transforms man and woman into husband and wife. That same gift of love, expressed in and through their bodies can further transform them to be father and mother through the gift of the child; it can bestow the gift of life on the world. Pope John Paul II showed us that, within the inner logic of love, only the gift transforms a person into a new creation. Week after week, month after month, year after year, from 1979 to 1984, Pope John Paul II moved from St. Matthew's Gospel, to the Book of Genesis, to the writings of St. Paul, and distilled the sublime benchmarks of human identity in a personal style which attracted the entire world.
Pope Benedict XVI has continued this generational summons. In his recent Apostolic Journey to Fatima, he emphasized that AInitiatives aimed at protecting the essential and primary values of life, beginning at conception, and of the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, help to respond to some of today's most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good. Such initiatives represent, alongside numerous other forms of commitment, essential elements in the building of the civilization of love" (Church of the Most Holy Trinity, Fatima, May 13, 2010).
Today, this First National Congress on the Theology of the Body shows us that the catechesis given thirty years ago is now the curriculum of the Culture of Life. This Congress must not end. The contribution of the speakers and participants, the fruits of the seminars, discussions, and artistic performances must advance still further. This Congress must become a campaign of human and catechetical formation. The teaching of John Paul II on the theology of the body must be further introduced into Pre-Cana programs, RCIA instruction, Natural Family Planning training, parish adult education programs, campus ministry programs, youth groups, homilies and religious education among children and adolescents. Its rich content must be mined and proclaimed so that the next generation can continue to access and comprehend it.
In the theology of the body, Pope John Paul II has given us a step-by-step, Spirit-laden presentation that resonates with the hunger so many people feel every day. How many times have we heard the phrase, AWhy have I never heard this before?"from audiences who listen to this splendid catechesis? In its pages lies a multi-level, clear and definitive response to a secularistic culture: The body is created for the authentic gift of self in love. No ideology, no trend, no fad, no lobby group can deliver the lasting sense of truth as can this catechesis drawn from the Ainscrutable riches of Christ"(Eph 3:8). The emerging generation simply must, without qualification, be transformed into a generation that understands the meaning of Christian marriage and that honors the inviolable dignity of human life from the first moment of conception to natural death. This generation must embrace the truth that human sexuality is based only on the spousal meaning of the body.
This First National Theology of the Body Congress takes place three decades after John Paul II had begun his catechesis on the theology of the body. As we heard in the Gospel of St. Luke a few moments ago: "Every tree is known by its fruit"(Lk 6:44). Today, the tree planted by Pope John Paul II is producing its rich fruit. The roots of the tree are deep. Its branches are strong. The fruit is plenty. This Congress is planting seeds coming from this same tree. Our task now is to care for these seeds, being planted deep in our desire, deep in our lives, parishes, families and homes. We must nurture these seeds by courageously proclaiming the two great hinges of the Culture of Life: the inviolable dignity of human life from the moment of conception to natural death and the protection of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Dear friends: the Lord of the harvest is providing a springtime that so deeply manifests the Ainscrutable riches of Christ"(Eph 3:8). He is leading us to the harvest, which is that great fulfillment in our own day of Athe plan of the mystery"(Eph 3:9) of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.