While the main focus of this homily is on the relationship between St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and the Right to Life, I would also like to share some thoughts, both mine and others on the important close relationship between “social justice” issues and “right to life” issues. Actually, these issues were never treated separately, but only recently are they discussed separately, as if they do not flow from the same undivided God. The reason why we want to help all people in a social or public setting is because we do have a “Theology of the Body.” Just as we cannot separate body and soul, which is death, we cannot separate “social justice” issues from “pro-life” issues.
The reason why the Church feeds the poor in soup kitchens or brings turkeys to people at Thanksgiving or shelter the homeless during cold weather is not to make us feel better about ourselves. While that may be a byproduct of giving, this should not be our reason to serve others. The real reason is to be Christ-like and love others as He loved us – unconditionally. Love is willing the good of the other for the sake of the other, without expecting anything in return. When we look for a thank you, pat on the back, admiration, or respect, we are being at least partially self-centered. We may be asking ourselves, “What’s in it for me?” These mixed motives or intentions need to be cleansed and purified, so our focus can be shifted back to Jesus and the other, not on the self. We share our very being and our resources with others, due to their inherent dignity, because God’s imprint and very Spirit is within them – even if we can’t see it. St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body gives us the very foundation for all pro-life and social justice activity.
St. John Paul II starts right in the beginning in the Garden of Eden and shows us who we truly are as men and women created in His Image and Likeness. Oh how beautiful it must have been in original unity, innocence, and solitude. No, Adam and Eve were not in heaven, but it was a foreshadowing of it. They were gifted in ways we are not. They were not poisoned with the affects of original sin; they could see the deepest beauty in each other, God’s actual Presence. I equate this to being able to see all the way down to the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean –the great Marianas Trench, located in the western Pacific which is over 36, 000 feet deep. Without original sin that’s how crystal clear and beautiful they must have been. But, that wasn’t good enough for them, Satan beguiled them into thinking they, on their own, could do better, see better, and know better than God. He convinced them God was holding them back and keeping things from become like Him. Well, we should know Our Father wants to lavishly bestow His gifts upon us. They are not to be grasped at, but received. Our Father wants to give to His children His very Life, His Son Jesus Christ. So, they sinned against their Father and Creator and against each other. Now, the likeness is polluted, tarnished, and instead of seeing down 36, 000 feet into the depth of each other, we’re lucky if we could see anything at all into each other. They could only see the surface, that they were “naked.” But, now they saw the body, not as an icon or window to see the Divine life within each other, but as an idol to be grasped at and used.
But, God did not leave us there He sent His only Son, Jesus, to redeem us on the Cross. He removed the polluted water and purified all of humanity with His Precious Blood, which is why even the most sinful, dirty, abandoned, wealthy, poor, white, black person is worthy of help and assistance when they need it. This is due to their great immense dignity. If Jesus offered Himself to be crucified and die for them, who am I to say they are unworthy of love? This is the foundation of all social justice. But, also, who am I to deprive them of the right to life in the womb? How did we, Christians, allow ourselves to be duped by Satan as our first parents were in the Garden? Didn’t we learn from them? How could we allow this to happen? Well, we lost focus on who we are, the fact that we didn’t create ourselves, the reason why we were created, and we lost purpose in life, because we took our focus off God and put focus on “me, myself, and I” and my rights. Even though we are indeed a redeemed, beautifully created human person, we can’t see down 36, 000 feet anymore into the hearts of others, nor the true dignity of body and soul. We can’t see their God-given beauty, so we use and dispose of them as we see fit. We deconstruct the human person to such an extreme that all we can see are separated body parts to be used for our pleasure. However, with proper reception of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, and Holy Eucharist and a continual growth in virtue Christ, we can clear away some of the murky waters down deep and we can probe, with His grace the beautiful depths of ourselves and each other, but we are limited due to the affects of original sin and the woundedness caused by our own sins and those of others. We have the great hope of seeing down deep once again, not 36, 000 feet, but unlimited depths, when we see God in the Beatific Vision in the eschaton. We are not going back to Eden, but forward with Christ to the Father with joy and hope. We so joyfully call this Heaven, the real paradise that awaits us, if we persevere in Christ.
Many people want to separate the body from the soul, social justice from pro-life, Liberals from Conservatives, Democrats from Republicans, poor from wealthy, whites from blacks. Can’t we remember that Jesus came to heal the wounds of sin and division? Theology of the Body reminds us through the body, and only the body, can we get a glimpse of the Divine. God wants to marry all of us, as He constantly tells us in Sacred Scripture; only Satan wants us to divorce our Bridegroom. All lives matter: white, black, Hispanic, Asian, ALL. They all matter outside the womb and inside the womb. How can one say this group matters, while ignoring that same groups’ unborn? That is a dualistic rupture and separation, which only comes from the pit of hell. As Christopher West often says: “Satan wants to turn the womb into a tomb.” St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is a lens through which, to see God, the other and ourselves. It is the true Christian anthropology which gives us the “why” behind the “what” of social justice and pro-life. Pro-life is far more than a person’s right to life, as you will see in a moment from a social justice “giant.”
I recently read a wonderful article by Dan Hitchens in January 2017’s “First Things” magazine called “Eros and Dorothy Day,” which I highly recommend to you. It shows a much more balanced and full picture of Servant of God Dorothy Day than I had realized. Hitchens states “Day lamented the moral waywardness she was witnessing in Catholic worker communities,” ‘I cannot help but deplore the breakdown of sexual morality. After all it involves life itself.’ He goes on to state, “Day’s service of the poor, as well as her activism against war, exploitation, and inequality, was in defense of human life. As sexual immorality, she thought, was a direct attack on life’s source. Behind Day’s remark’s on sex-‘when it comes to divorce, birth control, abortion…The teaching of Christ, the Word, must be upheld’-was her sense that, although one must reasonably devote more time and energy to making sure people had beds, what they did in bed could be even more fundamental to human happiness and human misery.’” Dorothy Day goes on to say “when man takes to himself the right to use sex as pleasure alone, cutting it away from its creative aspect, by artificial birth control, by perverse practices, he is denying ‘the absolute supremacy of the Creative Deity.’” Hitchens goes on to point out the rejection by Day of the sexual revolution, is a rejection of the Creator, marriage, and life because it rejects the “natural functions of childbearing.” Ultimately Day calls for a total “reverence for life,” not just feeding the poor, but the unborn, and all the aspects of supporting and teaching the dignity of the human person from the moment of conception to natural death. She called for a reverence for “life’s natural origin-a permanent marriage of man and woman, open to new life.” She apparently believed that modern man has been so deprived of the “tenderness from family and friends” that he is basically grasping at love and settling for lust. She even went on to thank Blessed Pope Paul VI by saying, “Pope Paul who upholds respect for life, an ideal so lofty, so high, so important even when it seems he has the whole Catholic world against him.”
As St. John Paul II touted the beauty of marriage between man and woman and the sexual act as a tiny foreshadowing of ecstasy with God in Heaven due to our marriage to him, he also goes on to write about the beauty of celibacy when it is offered for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. In parallel, after many years of struggle Dorothy Day herself grew in a deep reverence of celibacy as she too offered this to God as a sacrificial bouquet. She said, “to offer the suffering of celibacy, temporary or permanent, to the Lord is to make use, in the best possible way, of man’s greatest joy.” I think Dorothy must have been “spying” on St. John Paul II as he was writing Theology of the Body. Her social justice was wedded to her pro-life, not distant or separated. Many people can learn from St. John Paul II, Blessed Paul VI, and Servant of God Dorothy Day that both, social justice and pro-life, flow from the same Catholic understanding of the human person, because both involve life itself. Amen.
To Download a PDF Version of this Homily, Click Here: Right to Life
Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He joins the staff of the Theology of the Body Institute on a three-year leave from the Archdiocese of New York, to become the Institute’s first full time spiritual advisor and Director of Clergy Development.