Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Prayer and Action Summer Mission Trip – a Theology of the Body reflection on “prayer” and “action”

We’ve just concluded a wonderful summer experience at “Prayer and Action,” a local mission trip here in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. I’d like to reflect briefly on the experience of Prayer and Action from a Theology of the Body perspective.
An overriding thesis that is proven time and time again in our human experience from Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is that we persons are created by God in order to give ourselves away in love, and this meaning can be discovered by a sincere reflection on the human body as males and females. When we fail to offer ourselves in love by grasping out for esteem, attention, power, worth, or security we are reduced to experiences of sadness. But, when we actualize our personhood by giving ourselves away in service and love, we discover and experience joy, satisfaction, fulfillment and completion. That is to say, we find ourselves only by giving ourselves away since we are created to be a gift. This is a very important point for young people who often do not experience themselves as “gifts.” “Who would want me?” Young people often think and question. “I’m not worthy,” young people often feel.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam longs for another one like himself and when he sees Eve for the first time, he exclaims: “This one, at last, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). It’s as if Adam understands in the person of Eve, this other one who is like himself; that he is created to give himself away to her in love and in the action of this love / gift he finds fulfillment, “at last”. There is satisfaction to our longing when we are able to give ourselves away. From this point in his Theology of the Body, the late Holy Father reflects on the meaning of sex and the body, as we’ve already discussed in this blog. But, now we are capable of understanding and interpreting the theology of the body through the “hermeneutics of the gift,” (see TOB 13:2, from the General Audience of January 2, 1980) which is simply a fancy way of saying: the person is designed to be given away and we can know this first by reflecting on the body as male and female, second by reflecting on the meaning of sex, and third by reflecting on what the meaning of the body and sex signify: participation in that eternal exchange of God’s love and life. (Again to clarify: it's not that "having sex" is the meaning of life; but that making our love complete in a total gift of ourselves, in context, is the meaning of life.)
So, here’s a wonderful actualization of this concept lived out in the great St. Francis of Assisi, centuries before Blessed John Paul II was talking about a Theology of the Body, but long after a theology of the body was changing the world in Christ. There are many stories of St. Francis recorded in history. Many of his heroic acts of love are well known. One of my favorite stories of St. Francis, however, include an experience that he acknowledged and admitted fear and repugnance upon meeting a person with leprosy for the first time. Francis saw the leper, his boils and wounds, then experienced repugnance, disgust and fear. He then stepped back from the leper in an effort to protect himself and keep a safe distance. When St. Francis noticed himself acting this way, he rebuked himself and the vice he discovered within. Going against his fear, repugnance and disgust he reached out to the leper and embraced him, kissed one or many of his wounds and, I’m sure, tasted the blood, puss and infection of leprous boils. St. Francis later reflects that this exercise of 1) being repulsed or disgusted at a person with leprosy and then; 2) noticing the vice of fear within himself toward that person which kept him from communion and finally; 3) going against the fear, disgust and repugnance by God’s good graces; that St. Francis was able to increase in charity and offer himself as a gift to the leper. In that “gift” the leper was able to experience the love of Christ through Francis. This experience of gift is what caused St. Francis real joy, even though it meant kissing the wounds of a leper in this case. It was not the initial act of protecting himself from the leper that caused joy, but the act of giving himself away in love and service to this person despite the dramatic condition or sickness which seemingly threatened his safety. This is a realization and an expression of a theology of the body, par excellence.
During our summer mission trip, “Prayer and Action” our group was able to go into a local community and serve people by painting houses, porches, hanging doors, cleaning and landscaping in helpful, humble ways. One of the days was over 100 degrees and some of the service was challenging. During the mornings and evenings the community prayed and celebrated in preparation for the mission ahead during the day. “Prayer and Action” functions as a school that we train for the “hermeneutics of the gift” of our personhood. I pray our group realized this. The experience lasted one week, yet it’s essential to find a life-long training camp; a life-long training mission to receive and practice the hermeneutics of the gift of our personhood. Like Blessed John Paul II and St. Francis of Assisi knew and practiced, we persons are created to give ourselves away in love.

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