You are very good.
In case no one has ever told you that, I want you to know. No matter what your life experience has been, where you come from, what you've done or what has been done to you, what your disabilities are, what you believe, who you support, or who you love - you are very, very good. There is no one else who can fill your particular place in the world, no one who has been given the unique set of gifts and quirks you've been given, no one who can love in the uniquely personal way you can, and I am glad that you exist. Even if we've never met (or if we have and you don't like me), I am glad you are here on this earth.
John Paul II in his writings on the Theology of the Body (TOB), points out this passage from Genesis and dives into its profound depths. He examines this part in particular: "God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them". Here in Genesis, man in the beginning is referred to as both male and female. “It is further significant that the first man (’āḏām), created from the ‘dust of the ground,’ is defined as ‘male’ (’îš) only after the creation of the first woman” (TOB, General Audience, October 10, 1979). So, in the beginning, in a very real if mystical way, man (male and female) was profoundly unified in God. This is the totality of the union we were created for. This is the destiny which awaites us in eternity. We were always meant to be one in Him.
Please, follow with me here. I know this may sound a little far out for those not familiar with TOB, but I promise you, there is powerful truth and radiant beauty here, if only we could be given the eyes to see it.
As I mentioned last week, God is a union of Persons - Father, Son and Spirit. He desires to bring us into this unity, into Himself, but He also desires that we may be unified with one another, in communion as one Body. Just listen to the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John:
May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may always see the glory you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:21-24)
We were created in His image. In His image - His loving, unified image. Read that passage again. See how much he loves you!
God wants to wed humanity, to marry us, to consummate His love and be united to us for all eternity. This is why you were created. This is why, in Revelation, heaven is referred to as the wedding feast or marriage supper of the Lamb. It is an eternal celebration of this consummation, the marriage between Christ and His Bride, the Church. If you have been baptised into the Christian family (and for those who haven't, we are waiting to welcome you with open arms), then you are this Church. She is made up of human persons, each destined for eternal union with Christ, the Bridegroom.
Now, let me clarify something before misconceptions arise. God is not a sexual being. When I talk about spousal union in the context of His relationship with us, I am not referring to a sexual union. When male and female unite in marriage as human persons, they are a sign of the spousal, generative love of the Trinity, but as Christopher West often says, human marriage, as beautiful and life-giving as it can be, only gives us "a little, little glimmer" of the union awaiting us in heaven. This union we will experience is infinitely deeper and more complete than human marriage. This is the great beauty and hope witnessed to us by those who have consecrated themselves totally to God here on earth through vows of celibacy or perpetual virginity - either in the priesthood, religious life, or the single life. These people are signs of this heavenly union awaiting us.
Both married and celibate life are two equal yet different signs of the love of God. This brings up the point I mentioned last week about the difference between chastity and celibacy. Those consecrated to God live out the virtue of chastity through celibacy, but we are all called to live chaste lives, that is, rightly ordered sexuality, whether married or not
We must correct these misguided understandings which have wounded so many, so deeply.
I don't know if any of you have ever shared this frustration, but for a long time I was extremely annoyed/upset by the scripture passage where Jesus states that, "at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven" (Matthew 22:30). What if I would rather be married than be like the angels?
I never understood the point of forming deep relationships here on earth, especially at the depth required in marriage, if we are all just going to love each other equally, as family, in heaven. But this line of thought was based on the assumption that the spousal love in marriage would somehow be lessened in heaven, to become equal to all other human relationships. This really didn't make sense to me. Why would God, who, throughout scripture, is such an advocate for marriage - the union between one man and one woman in their totality of personhood - encourage the exclusivity and incredible commitment and effort of such a relationship in our earthly life, and then take it away as soon as we die? How could that be a good thing? It wasn't until I heard Bishop Barron respond to a question about precisely this issue on one of the Word on Fire podcast episodes, that I finally heard an explanation that dispelled my former confusion/frustration:
"[In heaven] we will be connected with everybody in such an intense way that the exclusivity involved in marriage here below will not obtain there... but it doesn't mean it's anything less than you experience now. It's more. It's greater. You will of course know your [spouse] in this very intense way, but the institution of marriage which exists here below, with all its exclusivity... that will not obtain in the same way in heaven because something much greater will be the case." (Bishop Robert Barron)
In other words, not only will the relationships between husband and wife be deepened in heaven, but all other relationships will be raised and far surpass the intensity of earthly marriage. In heaven, you will know and love every person even more deeply, intimately and passionately than you now know and love your spouse. This is a spiritual union, the depths of which we can barely catch a glimpse of in this life.
Heaven is not a physical place, as it is so often referred to, but rather a state of being - a state of total union with God, and through Him, with one another. As the Catechism states, “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity… is called ‘heaven.’ Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC 1024). Cardinal Sarah puts it beautifully when he says, "Heaven is the heart of God". How we reach this state in the physicality of our bodies is part of the mystery of eternity, but when we reach this eternal union, there is absolutely nothing - no power above or below - that can separate us from this burning love of God. If we know this, it is much easier to understand the existence of hell. Like heaven, it is not a physical place, but a state of complete separation from God - a result of our rejection of Him. God, who is Love itself, will never force Himself on anyone, but instead constantly invites us into His love. It is up to us to listen and respond. We choose, through our own free will, our state for all eternity - with or without Him.
This feast of humanity points us toward the eternal feast of heaven. Eternal life has now been restored and redeemed through the Incarnation and Resurrection, our eternal Garden of Eden is even greater than it was in the beginning before the Fall because out of evil, God always brings a greater good than would otherwise have existed, even if we can't see or understand how. Keep in mind, we have a very limited view in the scope of eternity.
The image of the human person in the beginning is a "call to glory", as John Paul II writes. In the mutual giving and receiving of their person, body and soul, male and female, man becomes an image of the life-giving love of God. Because of this image we still bear, every human person is supremely dignified, and it is crucially important that we recognize and remember this dignity, both in ourselves and in others.
I believe this with my whole heart, even though that holy gift of another person can sometimes be very difficult to receive and live with. I once heard an analogy about this that I think is quite accurate... Sometimes the gift is wrapped in duct tape and it takes a little while to pull off, but it is there.
The gift of each human person is staggering.
Isn't it true that when we heard someone's story, we are much better able to understand their current circumstances or recent actions? This is why we have such a fascination and love for fictional villians with a history that tugs on the heartstrings. Even if we still know what they've done is evil, to hear their story is to understand the 'how' and 'why'. Once we hear these stories, it shatters the boxes we've put people in, and makes us (hopefully) much less judgemental of their actions or beliefs. If we are to truly respect the 'other', we must search beyond the outer packaging, however appealing or unappealing it may be, to reach the gift within. As Pope Benedict XVI said in a homily in 2012, "If I am truly to communicate with another person I must know him, I must be able to be in silence close to him, to listen to him and look at him lovingly." We could certainly use more of this in our world today.
Even before this though, we must recognize our own value and dignity. If we don't understand our worth and the depth of God's desire for our thriving, it will be difficult to extend that understanding to all people. We will be challenged to recognize another's beauty if we cannot see our own.
The story of Genesis in the beginning, before the Fall, is a story primarily of LIFE, not death, and it reveals, in a whole myriad of ways, the radiant beauty of the human person - who we truly are as man, and Whose image we bear.
[NOTE: This is the second in a 3 part series on love, life, and the body all grounded in St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Please check back next week for part 3. Click here to read part 1.]