See as God sees – Catholic Telegraph
This article is part of an ongoing series on the “Theology of the Body” (TOB) of Pope John Paul II.
I began several months ago to explore the three “original experiences” that Pope John Paul II meditated on in his Theology of the Body. In these reflections we have seen that original experiences reveal fundamental truths about who we are as human persons (identity) and how we are called to live (vocation). Through original solitude, we discovered that we alone in the visible world are embodied persons, capable of self-awareness and self-determination, existing in a unique relationship with God as his sons and daughters, and are called to freely associate with him in his divine plan. Through the original unity, we reflected on how our bodies reveal that we are created male and female in the one human nature. This sex difference affects the whole person and makes it possible to form a communion of persons through the total and incarnate gift of self. The “place” that God designed for this total self-surrender is called marriage, which is the union of a man and a woman for life. By their mutual gift, the love of the spouses can be personified through the child born of their union. Thus, the communion of the family forms an icon of the Divine Communion of Persons which we call the Holy Trinity.
There remains one last original experience to ponder: original nudity. Pope Saint John Paul II used this term in reference to Genesis 2:25: “Both the man and his wife were naked and were not ashamed. This verse associates the absence of shame and the freedom enjoyed by man and woman vis-à-vis each other and even vis-à-vis God.
Shame is a powerful emotion that arises when we feel particularly vulnerable and exposed in the presence of others. It is linked to the fear of being used, abused, judged or rejected by the other. It gives rise to a desire to hide or conceal oneself physically or psychologically. Thus, shame cuts us off from others, but it also serves to preserve and protect our dignity in the face of real or perceived threats.
The Holy Father underlined that the absence of shame felt by our first parents is not the sign of a lack, but rather the reflection of a plenitude. Because of the absence of original sin and the abundance of grace bestowed on them, our first parents possessed a fuller ability to see the world and each other as God intended. For them, the body perfectly revealed the person. Rather than just seeing the outside (eg, feminine or masculine characteristics of the body), they saw the spiritual reality and dignity of the person made in the image of God shining through the body. This inner vision of the person naturally gives rise to a feeling of admiration, reverence and non-possessive love. It also creates the conditions for the man and the woman to share fully without risking being reduced to a simple object to be used. Thus, the absence of shame and the corresponding fullness of vision lead to a greater capacity for true intimacy – to see the other and to be seen as we really are.
This way of seeing clearly involves more than the eyes. It involves the heart and requires purity of intention and an openness to see the transcendent value inscribed by God in created things, especially the human body. As Pope Saint John Paul II wrote,
“Seeing each other, through the very mystery of creation, so to speak, man and woman see each other even more fully and clearly than by the sense of sight itself, that is to say through the eyes of the body. They see and know each other, in fact, with all the peace of the inner gaze, which precisely creates the fullness of personal intimacy” (TOB 13.1).
Reflecting on original nudity enhances the dignity of the person and highlights the depth of intimacy for which we are created. It can help us gradually reorient our vision so that we can see ourselves as the divine gifts that we are. To that end, we will delve deeper into these themes next time.
Dr. Andrew Sodergren, MTS, PSY. D is a Catholic psychologist and Director of Psychological Services at Ruah Woods. He talks about the integration of psychology and the Catholic faith. He and his wife, Ellie, have five children.
This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your free subscription, click on here.