I’ve just released a podcast episode with a friend of mine, Kale Zelden, in which we have a conversation about a broad range of topics: the self-conscious church; distinctive garb and priestly identity; the church as an expert in humanity; the naked public square and moral unbelievers; self-exploitation, social media and grifters; the institutional and the charismatic; the long wait for renewal; and Catholic identity and liturgy.
Twenty-seven years ago today, Saint Pope John Paul II gave the Church an outstanding gift, his letter on the moral life: Veritatis Splendor.
The letter closed with the following reflection and prayer:
Mary shares our human condition, but in complete openness to the grace of God. Not having known sin, she is able to have compassion on every kind of weakness. She understands sinful man and loves him with a Mother’s love. Precisely for this reason she is on the side of truth and shares the Church’s burden in recalling always and to everyone the demands of morality. Nor does she permit sinful man to be deceived by those who claim to love him by justifying his sin, for she knows that the sacrifice of Christ her Son would thus be emptied of its power. No absolution offered by beguiling doctrines, even in the areas of philosophy and theology, can make man truly happy: only the Cross and the glory of the Risen Christ can grant peace to his conscience and salvation to his life.
Mother of Mercy,
watch over all people,
that the Cross of Christ
may not be emptied of its power,
that man may not stray
from the path of the good
or become blind to sin,
but may put his hope ever more fully in God
who is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4).
May he carry out the good works prepared
by God beforehand (cf. Eph 2:10)
and so live completely
“for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 6 August, Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, in the year 1993, the fifteenth of my Pontificate.
On Wednesday, October 22, 2014, immediately following a performance of the play, I joined three others in a panel discussion of the text. I don’t know nearly as much about John Paul II, the theater, or the play as the others on the panel, but on the basis of my sheer enthusiasm for the play, I was invited to participate.
Here’s a short description of the play, from the official English translation:
Love is “one of the greatest dramas of human existence,” writes Pope John Paul II. In this illuminating three-act play — here in the only English translation authorized by the Vatican — he explores relationships between men and women, the joys — and the pain — of love and marriage. The action unfolds in two settings at once: a street in a small town, outside the local jeweler’s shop (people go to buy their wedding rings there), and the mysterious inner landscape of personal hopes and fears, loves and longings. Each act focuses on a different couple: the first happily planning their wedding, the second long-married and unhappy, the third about to marry but full of doubts. Writing with power and understanding about a love that survives the grave, a love that has withered and died, a love budding out of complexes and insecurities, the Pope addresses such fundamental human concerns as: What does it mean to fall in love? When do we know that a love is real — and can it last? If it dies, how do we go on living — and loving — again? There are no easy answers, and there is no happy ending — such is the nature of men and women, and such is the nature of love — but there is hope, if we only acknowledge our need and accept the risks of a deep and lasting commitment. This is a play full of wisdom on a subject of great relevance to all, and it provides a special insight into the thoughts of the man who, like no other, has captured the imagination of people of all faiths throughout the world…. Karol Wojtyla — Pope John Paul II — has long been involved with the theater. As a student of literature, then priest, bishop and archbishop, he acted, directed, wrote dramatic criticism, made a Polish translation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, and has authored six plays. (source)
The panel discussion lasted about an hour. Here it is in audio format:
Abby Johnson’s story is unique in that it gives insight into the thinking behind both sides of a supremely important debate over a uniquely crucial issue. It makes an appeal to the conscience of every human being about the value of life itself. Forming conscience correctly is essential: the stakes could not be higher.
Today, I’m not writing a review. Steven Greydanus has an insightful and balanced review over on his Decent Films site.
The movie was so compelling that I bought 7 tickets on my way out of the theater. I drove over to the nearby Burbank Planned Parenthood, and rang the door buzzer. I said I had seven tickets for the 7:20 pm show if they wanted them. The woman said they wouldn’t be interested. I said I thought maybe they would want to see it so they could be part of the conversation. She said they wouldn’t be interested. So I offered to leave them on the ledge outside the door, but she asked me not to do that. So I said I would offer them to people in the parking lot.
As it turns out, there weren’t many people in the lot, so I started entering other shops in the strip mall.
In El Criollo Cuban Bar & Grill, I found four older men conversing in Spanish. I introduced myself and explained I had free tickets to a movie tonight just down the street. I explained it was about Planned Parenthood. They kind of lit up and said they would be happy to take them and get them in the hands of interested viewers.
Thank you, gentlemen. Well done.
Anyone else in? Please consider buying some tickets for your local Planned Parenthood clinic and offer them the chance to see the movie at no (financial) cost to them.* If they don’t want tickets, surely you know others that would. But start with the people that might benefit the most.
*Conscience sold separately
The moral life proposed in the Gospel is connected to a promise. What is the character of this promise? In paragraph 12 of Veritatis Splendor, Pope Saint John Paul II takes up this very question.
12. Only God can answer the question about the good, because he is the Good. But God has already given an answer to this question: he did so by creating man and ordering him with wisdom and love to his final end, through the law which is inscribed in his heart (cf. Rom 2:15), the “natural law.” The latter “is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation.”19 He also did so in the history of Israel, particularly in the “ten words,” the commandments of Sinai, whereby he brought into existence the people of the Covenant (cf. Ex 24) and called them to be his “own possession among all peoples,” “a holy nation” (Ex 19:5-6), which would radiate his holiness to all peoples (cf. Wis 18:4; Ez 20:41). The gift of the Decalogue was a promise and sign of the New Covenant, in which the law would be written in a new and definitive way upon the human heart (cf. Jer 31:31-34), replacing the law of sin which had disfigured that heart (cf. Jer 17:1). In those days, “a new heart” would be given, for in it would dwell “a new spirit,” the Spirit of God (cf. Ez 36:24-28).20There are several senses — even several stages — in man’s relationship with goodness. It begins at creation, when man is fashioned in the image of Goodness itself. This is what Saint Paul is referring to in Romans when he writes about the law of God inscribed in the human heart. From the very beginning, the moral life is not “out there,” but is instead intimately connected to our very identity and the shape of our existence. The Pope lifts a beautiful description of this natural law from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Natural law is “nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided.”
But there is more. Not only are the requirements of goodness woven into our very existence as human beings; additionally, Goodness Himself comes in pursuit of us and reveals Himself to us in the course of human history. Goodness wants to be in continuous relationship with us, and thus extends to us a covenant. In the history of Israel, this initiative appears in a particular way when God reveals the Decalogue (ten commandments) to Moses. These commandments are the terms of the relationship… the way in which we can remain in relationship with the good. They are not arbitrary conditions on the part of God, but simply a fleshing out into words of the law written on our hearts at creation. In the Decalogue, God says to us, in effect: Here is who I am; here is who you are, both personally and corporately; and here is how you and I can remain in communion with each other.
And there is still more. Through the New Covenant, the requirements of this relationship will be written anew and definitively upon the human heart. The Pope quotes several passages in the Old Testament that prefigure this development, particularly from the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
Consequently, after making the important clarification: “There is only one who is good,” Jesus tells the young man: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17). In this way, a close connection is made between eternal life and obedience to God’s commandments: God’s commandments show man the path of life and they lead to it. From the very lips of Jesus, the new Moses, man is once again given the commandments of the Decalogue. Jesus himself definitively confirms them and proposes them to us as the way and condition of salvation. The commandments are linked to a promise. In the Old Covenant the object of the promise was the possession of a land where the people would be able to live in freedom and in accordance with righteousness (cf. Dt 6:20-25). In the New Covenant the object of the promise is the “Kingdom of Heaven”, as Jesus declares at the beginning of the “Sermon on the Mount” — a sermon which contains the fullest and most complete formulation of the New Law (cf. Mt 5-7), clearly linked to the Decalogue entrusted by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. This same reality of the Kingdom is referred to in the expression “eternal life,” which is a participation in the very life of God. It is attained in its perfection only after death, but in faith it is even now a light of truth, a source of meaning for life, an inchoate share in the full following of Christ. Indeed, Jesus says to his disciples after speaking to the rich young man: “Every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life” (Mt 19:29).
Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant, does not abolish the commandments, but confirms them and proposes them anew. The Pope notices that the commandments are connected to a promise. While many today may think of the commandments primarily as a series of prohibitions, or perhaps even warnings, the essence of the commandments is that they are linked to a promise: the promise of life.
The commandments open a doorway for us… revealing new possibilities for grace to inhabit our lives. As the Pope says, they give us an inchoate (“just begun” or “rudimentary”) share in the full following of Christ.
In the Old Testament, the promise was connected to the gift of a land, and in the New, to the gift of a kingdom: the kingdom of God… eternal life. In proposing the way of perfection, Jesus does not ask us to give up our lands without promising us a new land, a new dwelling place: his own heart.