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«Retr ieving the Tradition A MEDITATION ON GIVENNESS1 JOHN PAUL II “[I]n creating man as man and woman, God imprints on humanity the mystery of that ...»

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This thread is woven into the whole history of man, especially the history of man’s salvation. The culmination of this history is the Resurrection of Christ, and the Resurrection is the revelation of the greatest beauty, a revelation foreshadowed at the Transfiguration. The Apostles’ eyes were awed by this beauty, and they wished to remain in its orbit. The beauty of the Transguration strengthened the Apostles so they could endure the humiliating Passion of the Transfigured Christ. For beauty is a source of strength for man. It is inspiration for work, a light that guides us through the darkness of human existence and allows us to overcome all evil, all suffering, with good, since hope in the Resurrection cannot be misplaced. All men know this—every man and woman knows this—for Christ is Risen!

The Resurrection of Christ initiates the renewal and rebirth of that beauty which man has lost through sin. St. Paul speaks of the new Adam (Rom 5:12–21). Elsewhere he speaks of creation’s great thirst for the revelation of the sons of God (Rom 8:19). It is true that in humankind there is a great yearning and thirst for the beauty with which God has endowed man in creating man and woman. There is also a quest for the form of this beauty that finds expression in all human creativity. If creativity is a special way in which man expresses himself, it is also an expression of that yearning of which Paul speaks. There is suffering connected with this yearning, since “all of creation is groaning in the pangs of childbirth” (Gn 8:22).

The yearning of the human heart after this primordial beauty with which the Creator has endowed man is also a desire for the communion in which the sincere gift of self is manifested. This beauty and this communion are not goods that have been lost irretrievably—they are goods to be redeemed, retrieved; and in this sense every human person is given to every other—every woman is given to every man, and every man is given to every woman.

878 JOH N PAU L II

4. R E DE M P TION OF TH E BODY

These strivings of the human soul that are associated with longing for the beauty of the human person and the beauty of communion come up against a certain threshold. Man can stumble at this threshold. Instead of finding beauty, he loses it and begins to create only ersatz substitutes. Man can clutter up his civilization with these substitutes. It ceases to be a civilization of beauty because it is not born of that eternal love from which God brought man into being and made him beautiful, just as the communion of persons—of man and woman—has been created beautiful. Norwid, who had an immensely perceptive intuition of this truth, wrote that beauty is the form of love. Beauty cannot be created if one does not participate in that love. One cannot create beauty if one does not look with the eyes through which God embraces the world he created in the beginning and beholds man whom he created within that world.

All this is not to say that our era is devoid of people who strive for this with all their might.10 We have never been short of such people. That is why the overall balance sheet of human civilization, so to speak, is after all still positive. This balance is created by the few who are great geniuses and saints.

They are all witnesses to how mediocrity can be overcome, and especially how evil can be overcome with good, how good and beauty can still be discovered despite all the deprivation and degradation to which human civilization succumbs. As we see, this threshold over which man stumbles is not insurmountable.

We need to be aware that it exists, and we need to have the courage to cross it ever anew.

How are we to cross this threshold? I would say that we must cross it by following our conviction that God gives man to man, and in giving man, he gives him the whole of creation, the whole world. When man discovers the disinterested gift that the other human person is to him, it is as if he discovers the whole world in that other person. It is important to recognize that it can happen that this gift ceases to be disinterested and

10. Cf. John Paul II, Audience on the Occasion of the 180th Anniversary of the Birth of the Poet Cyprian Kamil Norwid (1 July 2001).

A M E DITAT ION ON GI V E N N E S S

sincere in the realm of the human heart. One man can become the object of use to another. This is the utmost threat to our civilization, especially to the civilization of a materially affluent world. A disinterested, loving predilection is then supplanted by the urge to take possession of the other and use him. Such an urge is a great threat not only to the other, but especially to the person who succumbs to it. Such a person destroys within himself the capacity to be a gift, and thus destroys the capacity to live by the precept: “be more a man;” he succumbs rather to the temptation of living to: “possess more and more”—more pleasures, more experiences, more sensations, fewer real values, less creative suffering for good, less readiness to sacrifice self for the good and beauty of humanity, less participation in Redemption...

It is by dint of our Redemption that the other person— the woman for the man or the man for the woman—is such a great and inestimable gift. Redemption is rightly understood to be the settlement of the great debt that fell to mankind due to sin. Nevertheless, it is also, and perhaps mostly, a re-giving to man and to the whole of creation of that goodness and beauty which had first been given in the mystery of Creation. In Redemption, all becomes new (Rev 21:5). Man, as it were, is given his humanity anew in the Paschal Mystery, through Christ Crucified and Risen. Man receives anew his own maleness, femaleness, his capacity to be for the other, his capacity to be in mutual communion. This throws a new light on the words: “God gave you to me.” God gives man to man in a new way through Christ, in whom the full value of the human person, that value which he had in the beginning, which he received in the mystery of Creation, is made manifest and present once more.





Each person carries within himself an inestimable value. He receives this worth from God, who himself became man and revealed the divine life that he confided, as it were, to man.

Thus, he created a new order of interpersonal relationships. In this new order, man is even more so “the only creature on earth which God willed for itself ” (Gaudium et spes, 24) and a personal being revealing a likeness to God, a being who can only fully find himself through a “sincere gift of self ” (ibid.). Redemption, therefore, is the opening of human eyes to the whole 880 JOH N PAU L II order of the world that is founded upon sincere, disinterested gift. It is an order that is deeply personal, and also sacramental.

Redemption affirms the sacredness of the whole of creation. It affirms the sacredness of man created as man and woman. The source of this sacredness is in the holiness of God himself who became man. As the sacrament of God present in the world, Christ transforms this world into a sacrament for God.

In the light of our Redemption, which was fulfilled through the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, the sacredness of the human body becomes more visible. This holds true even when that body is exhausted and trampled upon, just as Christ’s was exhausted and beaten in his Passion. The human body has its own dignity, which flows from this sacredness.

This is true of both the man’s body and the woman’s body. Redemption in the body gives, as it were, a special new dimension to the sacredness of the human body. It is a sacredness that excludes becoming merely an object of use. Everyone, especially every man, must be a guardian, a keeper, of this sacredness and dignity. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asked (Gn 4:9), thus triggering the unhappy course of the civilization of death in human history. Christ comes into the midst of this civilization, into the midst of Cain’s question and responds: “Yes, you are a guardian, you are the guardian of holiness, guardian of man’s dignity in every woman and in every man. You are the keeper of the holiness of her body. It is to remain ever an object of your respect. Then you can rejoice in the beauty with which God has endowed her from the beginning, and she will rejoice in you. She will then feel safe under her brother’s gaze and will rejoice in the gift that her womanhood was created to be.” It is then that the “eternal feminine” (das ewig Weibliche) can once again be an inviolable gift to human civilization, an inspiration for creativity and a source of beauty given so that we can rise from the dead (Norwid). Is it not because of this that so many human resurrections find their source in the beauty of woman, the beauty of motherhood, that sisterly, spousal beauty which finds its special culmination in the Mother of God?

A M E DITAT ION ON GI V E N N E S S

5. TOT US T U US

“Behold, you are beautiful, my love” (Song 1:15). If the Song of Songs is primarily a canticle about the love of human lovers, then in all its concreteness it is also open to many depths of meaning. The Church uses the Song of Songs in its liturgy, especially during commemorations of virgins and women who were martyrs for Christ. The cited words speak especially of the great radiance of the beauty of womanhood—not only, or at least not primarily, the sensual beauty of womanhood, but more so the spiritual beauty. One can also say that the latter is the condition for the former. Sensual beauty, by itself, does not usually survive the test of time.

As I have often experienced over the course of my own life, this is especially important for the person to whom God gives, entrusts another person. God has given me many people, both young and old, boys and girls, fathers and mothers, widows, the healthy and the sick. Always, when he gave them to me, he also tasked me with them, and now I see that I could easily write a separate book about each of them—and each biography would ultimately be on the disinterested gift man always is for the other. Among them were the uneducated, for instance factory workers; there were also students, university professors, doctors and lawyers, and finally priests and the consecrated religious. Of course, they included both men and women. A long road led me to discover the genius of woman, and Providence itself saw to it that the time eventually came when I really recognized it and was even, as it were, dazzled by it.

I think that every man, whatever his station in life or his life’s vocation, must at some point hear those words which Joseph of Nazareth once heard: “Do not be afraid to take Mary to yourself ” (Mt 1:20). “Do not be afraid to take” means do everything to recognize that gift which she is for you. Fear only one thing: that you try to appropriate that gift. That is what you should fear. As long as she remains a gift from God himself to you, you can safely rejoice in all that she is as that gift. What is more, you ought even to do everything you can to recognize that gift, to show her how unique a treasure she is. Every man is unique. Uniqueness is not a limitation, but a window into the depths. Perhaps God wills that it be you who is the one 882 JOH N PAU L II who tells her of her inestimable worth and special beauty. If that is the case, do not be afraid of your predilection. Loving predilection is, or at least can be, participation in that eternal predilection which God had in man whom he had created. If you have grounds to fear that your predilection might become a destructive force, don’t fear it in a prejudicial way. The fruits themselves will show whether your predilection is for the good.

It suffices to look at all the women who appear with Christ, starting with Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan woman, then the sisters of Lazarus, and culminating with the Most Holy Virgin, who was blessed among all women (cf. Lk 1:42).

You must never be prejudiced about the meaning of God’s gift.

Just pray in all humility that you may know how to be your sister’s keeper, so that within the orbit of your manhood she might find her way to her vocation and sanctity. Once she is set

free, she has the capacity for even greater courage and for openness to sacrifices that men often find it hard even to fathom. Acknowledging this, the Church repeats after the Song of Songs:

“Behold how beautiful you are, my beloved.” Finally, it also needs to be said that this meditation on gift, givenness, has drawn on a long interior journey that has led me from the advice I heard from my spiritual director in my youth to the words Totus Tuus,11 which have constantly accompanied me for many years now. I discovered these words during the war as I worked in the quarry in Solvay. I discovered them through reading the Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary by St. Louis Grignon de Montfort. This was at a time when I had already decided to pursue my vocation to the priesthood, and so, while carrying out heavy physical labor, I also studied philosophy. I was aware that my vocation to the priesthood would put many people in my path, and that God would entrust each one of them in some special way to me: giving them to me and tasking me with them. It was then that the great need of Marian entrustment was born within me—that need which is encapsulated in the call: Totus Tuus. These words, first and foremost, are not so much a declaration as a plea that I do not succumb to any desire, however subtly camouflaged. They are a prayer that I remain pure, and thus transparent to God and to

11. Totus Tuus means “All Yours: I am all yours, Mary.”

A M E DITAT ION ON GI V E N N E S S

men. I pray that my vision, hearing, and intellect remain pure.

Totus Tuus: they all should be at the service of revealing the beauty God has given to man.

I recall a quote from Norwid’s poem, “Chopin’s Piano”:

I was with you in those penultimate days of uncomprehended threads Complete as a myth, Pale as dawn,

When life’s end whispered to its beginning:

I will not play recklessly with you, no!

I will only hold you up!

I will not play recklessly... not tousle... not ruin... not belittle... but raise up, praise, magnify... Totus Tuus. All yours.



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