Welcome to TOB Tuesdays Refreshed. Over the next few months we will revisit Katrina’s past blogs followed by Jack Henz’* reflection.
Total Cereal and the Inner Life of God
If you were to walk into my living room, besides seeing my wall of icons and my shot-glass collection from around the world, you might notice a rather unusual decorative item: A box of Total cereal. This may seem quite odd, until you recall the end of last week’s blog – every person is created for a total gift of self in love through the body.
You see, my hope is that people will see my living-room Total box and ask me, “Katrina, why do you have a box of Total cereal in your living room?” Immediately, my eyes will light up and I won’t be able to contain myself: “Oh!” I will say, “because it reminds me of the way God love us – with a total gift of self – and what I am created for – a total gift of self in love.”
It reminds me of the way God love us – with a total gift of self – and what I am created for – a total gift of self in love.
What I’ve discovered is that through concrete, tangible reminders like a living-room Total box, Theology of the Body is taken out of the abstract and gradually seeps into our head, heart, and most especially, our identity. So permit me for a moment to open this “Total box” and pour out a little bit of TOB concreteness into our lives.
Many of us grew up hearing the amazing truth that “God is love.” My whole world changed at age 16 when I attended a Youth Encounter Retreat weekend. On that weekend, I experienced in the depths of my being that God is love, and that he loves me personally! Perhaps you’ve had this same experience, where the words “God is love” suddenly moved from being intangible sound waves in your ear to tangibly gripping your heart so that you knew in the depths of your being that God loves you personally, concretely.
While this amazing truth that God is Love and He loves you personally must reach every cell of our bodies, there’s even more “love” in the Total box than we could ever absorb. God is love first and foremost not because He loves you and me (sorry to break it to you…), but because God, in Himself, is Love.
While Jesus indeed came to die on the cross to forgive our sins, there’s an even more fundamental reason why He became Incarnate – to reveal the inner life of God as Trinity. I realize this might seem like stale news to you, but we need to remember how passionately the Jews guarded the Oneness of God for millennia. Every morning, they recited the central profession of their faith: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Dt 6:4) When Jesus claimed equality with God, the Jews took up rocks to stone him for blasphemy (see John 10:31). How could Jesus of Nazareth be one with God if God is only One?
As Christians, we also passionately profess and guard the central truth of our faith, that God is not only One, but Three: a Divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We profess this every time we make the sign of the cross, baptize a baby, pray the Rosary, say grace before meals, or begin the celebration of Mass.
In his apostolic letter “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women” (MD) which I referred to last week as being my “crib notes” for the Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II caused me to ponder the meaning of God’s inner life as Trinity. Here’s what he wrote: “…the New Testament will reveal the inscrutable mystery of God’s inner life. God, who allows himself to be known by human beings through Christ, is the unity of the Trinity, unity in communion” (MD, no. 7).
Think about this for a moment – through Christ, God has opened the door for us to know and see his inner life. This should send us reeling. Through my words and actions, I can try to reveal to you what’s going on inside of me; I can try to disclose to you my deepest thoughts and feelings. However, when all is said and done, my inner life remains largely inaccessible to you because, well, it’s hidden.
Jesus Christ on the cross and in the Eucharist reveals that
we are created to make a total gift of self in love through our bodies.
Through Jesus Christ, God’s inner life as a Trinitarian Communion of Love has been made visible. We can begin to understand God not as rules, but as relationship, a relationship of total, self-giving love. St. John Paul II says that being a person, made in the image and likeness of a Trinitarian God, means “striving toward self-realization… which can only be achieved through a sincere gift of self” (MD, no. 7).
Ah, we are back to that powerful word: gift. Why are you created as a gift to be a gift? Because the inner life of the Trinity, the inscrutable divine mystery that only Jesus Christ can fully reveal thru the Spirit, consists of the Father pouring himself out in a total gift of love to the Son, and the Son pouring himself out in a total gift of love to the Father, and the Holy Spirit bursting forth, overflowing, as the fruit of their total, self-giving love. Through Christ’s total gift of self on the cross, the veil between heaven and earth is torn and we can glimpse the inner life of the Trinity, the total, self-giving love of God that holds nothing back, that gives away all. As St. John Paul II piercingly said: “…the expression of God’s love is human, but the love itself is divine” (MD, no. 23).
The expression of God’s total self-giving love takes a human form, the form of a human body. This means we hit a double jackpot – not only do we glimpse the inner life of the Trinity through Jesus’ total gift of self on the cross, but we also glimpse the fullness of meaning of the human body and our embodiment. We are given the gift (not the curse!) of our bodies because it is only through the body that we can make a total gift of self in love.
Would you humor me by rereading that sentence: It is only through the body that we can make a total gift of self in love. This is one reason why St. John Paul II repeatedly quotes a passage from the Second Vatican Council that says, “Christ…fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (GS 22). This quote is but another way of saying that Jesus Christ reveals not only the inner life of the Trinity, but the full truth about the human person and our embodiment.
We are not created for our souls to escape from the prison of our bodies and finally be free! This is the teaching of Plato, not Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ on the cross and in the Eucharist reveals that we are created to make a total gift of self in love through our bodies. The body is never left behind as if it were merely temporary housing. Even Jesus didn’t leave his body behind; it was raised from the dead and glorified for all eternity. So, too, our bodies in the shape of their masculinity and femininity and our call to “mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God” (MD, no. 7) are not temporary, but permanent. Our masculine and feminine bodies carry within them a symbolic dimension – to reveal the inscrutable mystery of the inner life of the Trinity. Or, put beautifully and bluntly: your body reveals God!
So this week, buy a Total box, put it in your living room and ponder the inscrutable mystery of Trinitarian Love and the capacity of your body to reveal a Trinitarian God through a total gift of self in love. And remember…you are a gift!
© Katrina J. Zeno, MTS
God is Love-Totally!
After reading Blog 3, Total Cereal and the Inner Life of God, I bought a box of Total cereal and put it on my bookshelf. I simply looked at it for a few days and hoped for inspiration. Curiosity got the better of me, and I opened it up.
Boom – I WAS BLINDED BY THE LIGHT!
You know the light that blinds you while you’re driving at night and an approaching driver has their LED projector lens “brights” on and doesn’t turn them off? It leaves you shocked, blinded, and with a blue spot in front of your eyes for what seems like hours. Only this light continued to radiate in my mind for days. “God is Love – Totally!” All I could think was WOW! How can I experience that kind of inner life of the Trinity within myself and also share it with others?
I heard the phrase, “God is Love,” for the first time from my father when I was a teenager. He said it to me not once, but over and over again, usually after he came home from work as a pharmacist. He would drink and begin talking loudly to whomever was still up. Since I was frequently up doing homework, I was his usual target. He demanded total attention from me and often ended the talk by arm wrestling with me. It was very unnerving and uncomfortable. I did not understand him.
“You should do everything for others. You have to love them just as God loves us. We have to love others back. Sometimes it took everything I had to do that.”
I never really understood why he was talking about God and love until months before he died in 1983. I went to visit him when I was 38 years old, and he said at that time, “You should do everything for others. You have to love them just as God loves us. We have to love others back. Sometimes it took everything I had to do that.” His comments weighed heavily on me. What did it all mean?
Admittedly, I still didn’t get it, so I asked my Mom. She avoided explaining it to me, followed by a brief cry. I didn’t understand why until, finally, my aunt, Sister Mary Monica, a School Sister of Mercy, shared an insight with me: My Dad, as a pharmacist, frequently went above and beyond to help others who were either very ill or approaching death. Death scared him.
She told me he loved the Gospel of John and tried to live it. But he found it very hard to spend time with people who were dying. His drinking was related to an old World-War-II wound. The drinking eased the pain and the memories of what he saw when he was in Nagasaki, Japan.
His Navy hospital ship, the Sanctuary, docked in the harbor of Nagasaki only three weeks after Nagasaki had been hit by an atomic bomb. He spent a week riding on trains into the nearby foothills to extract Americans from Japanese POW camps as sniper bullets flew by the train.
When offered a couple days leave, he and several other Navy medical personnel went into Nagasaki to administer medical treatment to people who were horribly injured from the atomic bomb blast and lingering radiation. He cut his leg on bombing debris and contracted a slow radiation disease in his leg. The drinking eased the leg pain but not the memories of the horrors he saw. The drinking hastened his death and clouded his message to me that God is love.
Long story short, I believe my Dad understood John’s Gospel message of God’s complete love for us and tried to live it in his own way. He lived his life working in a profession that provided care for others. He risked his life to help others during WWII. He shared patient’s pain and terror of death while offering heartfelt advice and facing the pain of his own deteriorating body. His bodily actions revealed God’s love for others in need until his death.
Every time I look at that box of Total, I’m reminded not of cereal or a blinding flash, but of the depth and complete love God has for each of us: Total Gifted Love!
When I reflect now on my Dad saying God is love, I don’t think of the discomfort I felt or the arm wrestling. Instead I think of a man who loved working in a medical profession that helped others. I think of a man who risked his life to help others desperately in need of medical attention. I also think of a man who ran his own pharmacy for a decade and continued to work professionally until he was 70 years old as an expression of love. Everyone I met at Dad’s funeral told me, “to know your Dad was to love him” and “he always went the extra mile for others.”
Katrina’s blog about the totality of God’s love for us and how “we can only make a total gift of self in love through the body,” sparked an epiphany for me – this is what my Dad was trying to say to me all those years ago. Now, every time I look at that box of Total, I’m reminded not of cereal or a blinding flash, but of the depth and complete love God has for each of us: Total Gifted Love!
©by Jack Henz
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*Jack Henz is a retired meteorologist and a graduate of the Diocese of Phoenix ‘s Kino Catechetical Institute. Together with his wife Karen, he is a passionate catechist concerning all things Catholic, especially the Theology of the Body.