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Realization of the value of the body according to the plan of the Creator

45 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 22 October 1980 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. At the center of our reflections, at the Wednesday meetings, there has been for a long time now the following enunciation of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her (towards her) in his heart" (Mt 5:27-28). These words have an essential meaning for the whole theology of the body contained in Christ's teaching. Therefore, we rightly attribute great importance to their correct understanding and interpretation. In our preceding reflection we noted that the Manichean doctrine, both in its primitive and in its later expressions, contradicts these words.

It is not possible, in fact, to see in the sentence of the Sermon on the Mount, analyzed here, a "condemnation" or an accusation of the body. If anything, one could catch a glimpse of a condemnation of the human heart. However, the reflections we have made so far show that, if the words of Matthew 5:27-28 contain an accusation, it is directed above all at the man of lust. With those words the heart is not so much accused as subjected to a judgment. Or better, it is called to a critical, in fact a self-critical, examination: whether or not it succumbs to the lust of the flesh. Penetrating into the deep meaning of Matthew 5:27-28, we must note, however, that the judgment it contains about desire, as an act of lust of the flesh, brings with it not the negation, but rather the affirmation, of the body as an element which, together with the spirit, determines man's ontological subjectivity and shares in his dignity as a person. In this way, the judgment on the lust of the flesh has a meaning essentially different from the one which the Manichaean ontology presupposes and which necessarily springs from it.

2. The body, in its masculinity and femininity, is called "from the beginning" to become the manifestation of the spirit. It does so also by means of the conjugal union of man and woman, when they unite in such a way as to form one flesh. Elsewhere (cf. Mt 19:5-6) Christ defended the inviolable rights of this unity, by means of which the body, in its masculinity and femininity, assumes the value of a sign—in a way, a sacramental sign. Furthermore, by warning against the lust of the flesh, he expressed the same truth about the ontological dimension of the body and confirmed its ethical meaning, consistent with his teaching as a whole. This ethical meaning has nothing in common with the Manichaean condemnation. On the contrary, it is deeply penetrated by the mystery of the redemption of the body, which St. Paul will write of in Romans (cf. Rom 8:23). The redemption of the body does not indicate, however, ontological evil as a constituent attribute of the human body. It only points out man's sinfulness, as a result of which he has, among other things, lost the clear sense of the nuptial meaning of the body, in which interior mastery and the freedom of the spirit is expressed. As we have already pointed out, it is a question here of a partial, potential loss, where the sense of the nuptial meaning of the body is confused, in a way, with lust, and easily lets itself be absorbed by it.

3. The appropriate interpretation of Christ's words according to Matthew 5:27-28, as well as the praxis in which the authentic ethos of the Sermon on the Mount will be subsequently expressed, must be absolutely free of Manichaean elements in thought and in attitude. A Manichaean attitude would lead to an "annihilation" of the body—if not real, at least intentional—to negation of the value of human sex, of the masculinity and femininity of the human person, or at least to their mere toleration in the limits of the need delimited by the necessity of procreation. On the basis of Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount, Christian ethos is characterized by a transformation of the conscience and attitudes of the human person, both man and woman. This is such as to express and realize the value of the body and of sex, according to the Creator's original plan, placed as they are in the service of the communion of persons, which is the deepest substratum of human ethics and culture. For the Manichaean mentality, the body and sexuality constitute an "anti-value." For Christianity, on the contrary, they always remain a value not sufficiently appreciated, as I will explain better further on. The second attitude indicates the form of ethos in which the mystery of the redemption of the body takes root in the historical soil of human sinfulness. That is expressed by the theological formula, which defines the state of historical man as status naturae lapsae simul ac redemptae (the state of fallen, but at the same time redeemed, nature).

4. Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:27-28) must be interpreted in the light of this complex truth about man. If they contain a certain "accusation" leveled at the human heart, all the more so they appeal to it. The accusation of the moral evil which desire, born of intemperate lust of the flesh, conceals within itself, is at the same time a call to overcome this evil. If victory over evil consists in detachment from it (hence the severe words in the context of Matthew 5:27-28), it is only a question of detaching oneself from the evil of the act (in the case in question, the interior act of lust), and never of transferring the negative character of this act to its object. Such a transfer would mean a certain acceptance—perhaps not fully conscious—of the Manichaean "anti-value." It would not constitute a real and deep victory over the evil of the act, which is evil by its moral essence, and so evil of a spiritual nature. On the contrary, it would conceal the great danger of justifying the act to the detriment of the object (the essential error of Manichaean ethos consists in this). It is clear that in Matthew 5:27-28, Christ demanded detachment from the evil of lust (or of the look of disorderly desire). But his enunciation does not let it be supposed in any way that the object of that desire, that is, the woman who is looked at lustfully, is an evil. (This clarification seems to be lacking sometimes in some Wisdom texts.)

5. We must, therefore, specify the difference between the accusation and the appeal. The accusation leveled at the evil of lust is at the same time an appeal to overcome it. Consequently, this victory must be united with an effort to discover the true values of the object, in order that the Manichaean "anti-value" may not take root in man, in his conscience, and in his will. As a result of the evil of lust, that is, of the act of which Christ spoke in Matthew 5:27-28, the object to which it is addressed constitutes for the human subject a value not sufficiently appreciated. In the words of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:27-28) which have been analyzed, the human heart is accused of lust (or is warned against that lust). At the same time, by means of the words themselves, it is called to discover the full sense of what, in the act of lust, constitutes for him a value that is not sufficiently appreciated. As we know, Christ said: "Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Adultery committed in the heart can and must be understood as "devaluation," or as the impoverishment of an authentic value. It is an intentional deprivation of that dignity to which the complete value of her femininity corresponds in the person in question. Matthew 5:27-28 contains a call to discover this value and this dignity, and to reassert them. It seems that only when the semantic significance of Matthew's words is respected they are understood in this way.

To conclude these concise considerations, it is necessary to note once more that the Manichaean way of understanding and evaluating man's body and sexuality is essentially alien to the Gospel. It is not in conformity with the exact meaning of the words Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount. The appeal to master the lust of the flesh springs precisely from the affirmation of the personal dignity of the body and of sex, and serves only this dignity. Anyone who wants to see in these words a Manichaean perspective would be committing an essential error."

After the catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

Al pellegrinaggio francese del movimento "Espérance et Vie"

Je tiens à saluer particulièrement le groupe "Espérance et Vie", dont les responsables, venues ici en pèlerinage et en congrès, représentent des dizaines de milliers de veuves, de France et d’autres pays d’Europe, reliées à ce groupement spirituel des Veuves. Mesdames, vous avez été éprouvées par la disparition de votre mari et de tout ce que sa présence physique signifiait d’affection et de soutien quotidien. A la mesure même de la qualité de votre foyer, votre amour demeure tendu vers lui et vous vivez, à juste titre, en communion avec lui, dans l’invisible. Mais précisément vous avez voulu surmonter le découragement et le repliement sur soi, pour chercher librement la volonté de Dieu sur votre nouvelle situation et essayer de vivre celle-ci selon l’Evangile, dans l’espérance et le dynamisme de la charité. Les liens amicaux que vous tissez entre vous vous permettent de partager vos soucis de toute sorte et d’approfondir, ensemble et avec vos dévoués aumôniers, votre foi dans la fidélité de l’amour du Dieu vivant et dans le mystère de sa croix, source de vie; vous apprenez à mieux prier, en offrant votre vie et en demandant le secours de Dieu les unes pour les autres; vous vous encouragez à mieux faire face à vos propres devoirs familiaux, surtout celles qui ont de jeunes enfants; vous êtes les mieux placées pour apporter un soutien compréhensif à celles qui sont désemparées; plus encore, vous vous sentez appelées à prendre d’autres responsabilités ecclésiales ou sociales, à la mesure de vos possibilités, avec l’expérience et la force d’âme qui vous caractérisent. Aussi, tout comme mes prédécesseurs, je vous redis: vous tenez dans l’Eglise une place salutaire, comme il en fut dès l’origine; elle vous soutient et en même temps elle compte sur vous, sur la qualité spirituelle de votre vie et sur votre apostolat. L’ensemble des familles ont besoin de votre témoignage de fidélité. Et je prie le Seigneur, avec Marie sa Mère, de vous prodiguer son réconfort, sa paix et sa force, en vous bénissant avec une particulière affection.

Ad un gruppo di handicappati assistiti dall’Associazione inglese "The Across Trust"

Once again I welcome cordially a group of sick and handicapped persons who have come to Rome from England with the assistance of the Across Trust. I wish to assure you and the other sick and handicapped who are here today of my gratitude for your presence; your presence at this audience and your role in the life of the Church, as well as for your contribution to the world. In particular, I would remind you of the love of Christ for you, and of the love of Christ which, through you, can touch many hearts.

Ad un folto gruppo di studenti, cattolici e luterani, provenienti dalla Danimarca

My special welcome goes also to the various visitors from Denmark, who include a group of Lutheran students. May all of you experience here in this City the peace of Christ, who is our wisdom and our justice, our sanctification and our redemption. And please carry back the greetings of the Bishop of Rome to your families and fellow-citizens in Denmark.

Al gruppo di Vescovi, cattolici e protestanti, del Land di Essen

Einen besonders herzlichen Gruppe richte ich an die Gruppe der evangelischen und katholischen Kirchenleitungen des Landes Hessen.

Verehrte Brüder in Christus! Mit Ihrem Besuch an den Gräbern der Apostelfürsten geben Sie ein eindrucksvolles Zeugnis von der geistlichen Verbundenheit und der brüderlichen Gemeinschaft, wie sie von Ihnen und Ihren Kirchen erfahren und gepflegt werden. Seit Jahren bemühen Sie sich im ernsthaften theologischen Dialog und im gemeinsamen pastoralen Dienst, Wege zur Überwindung der not-und leidvollen Trennung der Kirchen zu erschließen. Das vertrauensvolle Miteinander im kirchlichen Leben auf lokaler und regionaler Ebene läßt das Evangelium Jesu Christi in hellerem Licht erstrahlen und fördert das Wachstum des Reiches Gottes in Ihrem Lande und darüber hinaus. Ich erflehe Ihnen die Fülle des Heiligen Geistes für alle Ihre gemeinsamen Bemühungen und freue mich, Ihnen bald persönlich in Ihrem Heimatland begegnen zu dürfen.

Ad un pellegrinaggio tedesco

Herzlich grüße ich ferner die Pilgergruppe von Blinden aus Düren zusammen mit ihren Helfern und Begleitern. Ich freue mich über euer Kommen und bete für euch, daß euch Christus auf eurer Pilgerreise zu den Heiligen Statten mit ebenso großer Liebe begegnen möge, wie er den Blinden im Evangelium begegnet. Wenn er auch in seinem unerforschlichen Ratschluß eure äußeren Gebrechen nicht von euch nimmt, wird er euch um so mehr ermutigen und innerlich erleuchten, daß ihr euer Leben trotz großer Prüfungen als wahre Christen besteht und mit seiner Hilfe zum vollen Mannesalter Christi heranreift.

Dazu erteile ich euch und allen anwesenden Pilgern von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.

Ai Superiori Maggiori dei Servi di Maria

Esprimo vivo compiacimento ai Superiori Maggiori dei Servi di Maria per il loro incontro romano, che ha avuto per obiettivo la verifica del lavoro svolto nelle varie province dell’Ordine ed i programmi di sviluppo per i prossimi anni.

Nell’esortarvi, carissimi figli, a sempre più generosa fedeltà agli ideali professati, v’incoraggio nel vostro impegno di testimonianza di vita evangelica, per alimentare maggiormente il senso di Cristo redentore dell’uomo. Così vi aiuti la Vergine addolorata, a cui siete particolarmente consacrati. Con la mia Benedizione Apostolica, estensibile a tutti i Confratelli.

Al pellegrinaggio dell’Associazione Artigiani della provincia di Bergamo

Rivolgo ora un cordiale saluto ai componenti il pellegrinaggio dell’Associazione Artigiani della Provincia di Bergamo. So bene, carissimi figli, che volete fate onore al nome cristiano, di cui va fiera la vostra terra: vi esorto perciò ad amare generosamente il Signore, a seguire la vita della Chiesa con attenzione e profondo rispetto mettendone in pratica con sincera lealtà gli insegnamenti e le direttive, soprattutto negli ambienti delle vostre fatiche e della vostra operosità. Perseverate, con rinnovato fervore, in tale testimonianza cristiana. Il Papa vi è vicino con la sua preghiera, il suo affetto e vi benedice di cuore insieme a tutti i vostri cari.

Ai giovani

Saluto tutti i cari giovani qui presenti ed assicuro loro il mio particolare affetto. Vi invito a voler essere sempre testimoni forti e gioiosi della vostra fede in Cristo, di cui il mondo d’oggi ha tanto bisogno. Siate sempre fieri della vostra identità cristiana, che dovete sempre più scoprire, e la Chiesa intera sarà fiera di voi; essa, infatti, conta molto sia sul vostro entusiasmo che sul vostro senso di responsabilità per la costruzione di un avvenire più radioso. Perciò di cuore vi benedico.

Agli ammalati

Un saluto tutto speciale va agli ammalati qui convenuti. Carissimi, vi ringrazio per la vostra presenza, sempre tanto significativa. Essa dice che voi fate pienamente parte della Chiesa, e anzi ne siete membri a titolo del tutto particolare. Infatti, la comunanza dei sofferenti con Cristo ricorda a tutti che, proprio attraverso i suoi patimenti, egli ci ha riscattati dalla alienazione del peccato e ci ha ristabiliti in comunione con Dio. A voi, perciò, va il mio augurio, oltre che l’assicurazione della mia preghiera, affinché possiate sempre più penetrare il confortante mistero della redenzione, che non elude ma anzi include necessariamente in sé l’umana sofferenza. E vi accompagni la mia paterna benedizione.

Agli sposi novelli

Ai novelli sposi voglio pure riservare un particolare saluto. Il matrimonio che vi ha uniti rappresenta l’incontro e la mutua donazione di due persone, che addirittura fanno del loro amore un’immagine di quello che intercorre tra Cristo e la Chiesa. Siate sempre all’altezza di queste profonde realtà ed il Signore fecondi la vostra unione tanto fisica che spirituale, così da costruire delle famiglie autenticamente cristiane. E vivete felici. Dei miei sentiti auguri è pegno la benedizione, che sono lieto di impartirvi.

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