And this reality is at the heart of John Paul II’s theology of the body.
The masterful work of the late pontiff offers an insight into what the Church has always taught: that the human person is created from love and for love.
In the spirit of Vatican II, John Paul II wrote the theology of the body as a way of delving into the deepest questions of the human heart: who am I? How do I live in a way that brings happiness, fulfillment?
The simple answer to both questions can be summed up in one word – gift; a word that moves us deeper into the mystery of our human existence.
It’s no surprise that, in guiding us through these fundamental questions of human existence, John Paul II focuses much of his theology of the body through the lens of Gaudium et Spes, one of the major documents of Vatican II. One his favorites lines to quote is “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et Spes, 22).
Here we find the answer to the first question, our identity as human persons. He comes to show us who we are by revealing who He is, taking on our humanity, which includes taking on a body. Christ shows us the depths of this meaning by revealing His existence as the Son of God. He Himself is a gift; One who is from the Father and for the Father, participating in the Communion of Persons of the Holy Trinity.
This is an affirmation of our humanity. Like Christ, I am to understand myself first as gift. I did not choose my existence – it was totally, freely given to me from God. He has given me my existence, I am a gift given unto myself.
And like Christ, my being a gift is in the mode of being incarnate, “embodied”. Our bodies reveal that we exist, that we are human! This is great news!
Christ, in revealing Himself as gift, shows us our very being is a gift. If we are made in the image and likeness of God, we too are called to participate in this communion of persons. And to fully live our humanity is to fully live as a gift to another.
This is when we look to John Paul II’s second favorite quote from Gaudium et Spes, 24: “This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”
I find the fullness of my humanity by receiving myself as gift and giving myself as gift: participating in the communion of persons.
This is the basis of the theology of the body. We are called to find ourselves fully in the gift of self. But to understand how to give ourselves away as Christ gave Himself, we need to know Him. And by knowing Him, we know ourselves, as Gaudium et Spes 22 reminds us. Thankfully, He established the Church so we could fully know Him and thus, understand our humanity more fully. That’s why the Church is considered the “expert in humanity”; so that we can be fulfilled in our very existence, to be really happy.
The Church is here to remind us that we first exist as a gift. This is huge!
In a world in which many people are very sad, lonely, and isolated, it is so important to reflect on this truth. Each of us is a gift, loved into existence.
If we really treat ourselves and others as gifts, then we will live differently. Christ calls us to live according to the truth of our humanity. And He safeguards that call in and though the Church. When we understand how awesome this is, the teachings of the Church don’t seem like “rules”, but the way to love as Christ loves, to participate more fully and freely in the communion of persons.
The theology of the body is a beautiful entry point into understanding this truth more deeply. Be not afraid to recognize yourself as a gift! Only in doing so will you come to know your humanity more deeply and live more fully!