The Personalist Project

My "live-blogging" of paragraphs 1-11 can be read here.

Paragraph 12 is, again, strikingly personalistic, strikingly John-Pauline. Dwelling further on Genesis, the Pope writes:

First, we see the man, who anxiously seeks “a helper fit for him” (vv. 18, 20), capable of alleviating the solitude which he feels amid the animals and the world around him.

Again the focus is on man's inner experience, his painful solitude amid the natural splendors of creation. It is, above all, this inwardness that distinguishes Adam from other creatures. And the companionship he seeks is spiritual and wholistic: person-to-person, passionate and intimate:

The original Hebrew suggests a direct encounter, face to face, eye to eye, in a kind of silent dialogue, for where love is concerned, silence is always more eloquent than words. It is an encounter with a face, a “thou”, who reflects God’s own love and is man’s “best possession, a helper fit for him and a pillar of support”, in the words of the biblical sage (Sir 36:24). Or again, as the woman of the Song of Solomon will sing in a magnificent profession of love and mutual self-bestowal: “My beloved is mine and I am his... I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (2:16; 6:3).

And these aren't even yet the "central paragraphs" on love!!

I can't resist quoting also a large segment of paragraph 13, where the scriptural analysis continues, as does the emphasis on interiority: 

The very word “to be joined” or “to cleave”, in the original Hebrew, bespeaks a profound harmony, a closeness both physical and interior, to such an extent that the word is used to describe our union with God: “My soul clings to you” (Ps 63:8). The marital union is thus evoked not only in its sexual and corporal dimension, but also in its voluntary self-giving in love. The result of this union is that the two “become one flesh”, both physically and in the union of their hearts and lives, and, eventually, in a child, who will share not only genetically but also spiritually in the “ flesh” of both parents.

Paragraph 14 reads like a biblical shout for joy over the gift of children, the "living stones" that build up the family and society, generation upon generation.

The scripture-soaked paragraphs 15-17 extol the "domestic church"—the spiritual goodness of a home "filled with the presence of God, common prayer and every blessing"—and remind parents of their role in communicating faith to their children. [Note to self and Jules: "Let us begin anew, for up to now we have done nothing."]

Then, in paragraph 18, an item jumps out: In the preceding section, the Pope had spoken of the duty of children to "honor their father and mother"; here he adds:

The Gospel goes on to remind us that children are not the property of a family, but have their own lives to lead.

This is a theme of personal life that has come more and more to the fore in the course of the modern period. To be a person is to "own" one's self; it is to have sovereignty, the right and responsibility to "dispose over one's own destiny." Parents (like kings and clerics and other authority figures) are often tempted to exercise power beyond the true limits of their authority. They not infrequently think and live and act as if they own their children—as if their children are responsible to conform to their wishes for them, to their parents' sense of right rather than their own. It's a major theme in "recovery rooms" and family therapy today—narcissistic family systems and miseries they bring. It's a big problem in the "Christian counter culture" (where is usually found an exaggerated stress on authority and obedience), one I run into more and more frequently both in reading and among my circle of friends.

The Pope clearly understands it. After mentioning Jesus' obedience to Mary and Joseph, he says that Our Lord "also shows that children’s life decisions and their Christian vocation may demand a parting". He is speaking first and foremost of fundamental vocation, but I think the principle can be extended to all undue interference in a child's life. 

The witness of Jesus of the rights and dignity of children vis. a vis. even their parents was, the Pope shows, as "new" to the ancient world as the idea that women are equal to men, and gentiles included in God's plan of salvation. The power structures of the world (where the strong rule the weak) is replaced with mutual respect and self-donation of love.

I'll stop there, having already given these few, extremely rich paragraphs more than an hour.

 

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