In this anniversary year of Mulieris Dignitatem
, it would be good to revisit the document written to women to help them find the essence of their femininity. Twenty-five years ago, relatively early in his pontificate, John Paul II reached out to a society that had imbibed various philosophies deeply antithetical to the human person. The culture that had sprung out of these world views was crushing faith, shredding families, and leaving destructive pathologies in its wake--not the least of which were a spiraling number of diseases previously unknown to mankind. How could anyone with authentic pastoral sensibilities look on this diminished landscape without Christ's own grave concerns about the sheep in dire need of a shepherd?
An authentic understanding of the human person is grounded in the firm belief that man is not made for himself, or created solely for a material end. Man without God makes no sense, because all of his transcendent gifts would be for naught. The nobility inherent in the human person--his virtuous inclinations, elevated affections, and artistic sensibilities--have no place in a strictly material world. Rather, these are reliable signposts to an invisible plane of good and evil, where an ethical framework reveals a divine component.
To step back and test this theory, one need only consider the widespread reaction to the recent tragic events in Newtown, CT. No matter what political outcome accrues, the fact is that everyone agreed that killing five-year-olds is heinous. Even those who will not agree about who God is, or whether God has revealed himself can agree that murdering those innocents comprised an evil act. In that sense, a natural law is written on our hearts, and although we may differ in the degree of our reactions--some are more verbal, some more emotional, others less expressive--no one would shrug his shoulders and insist that the event was inconsequential.
Moreover, while we can agree that at least some things are reprehensible, we also share an appreciation for what is good. Anyone who has loved deeply will also agree that such emotions make little sense in a material world. Beyond that, the expression of beauty in various media--music, visual arts, or literature, for example, is a sophisticated dimension of man that finds resonance in a spiritual realm. Each of these elements remind us that we are more than flesh and blood,, and the Church teaches that it is the divine image, stamped on our very being, that finds expression through these channels.
And yet, for a variety of reason, human society--which celebrates the individuality of its members—has lost sight of the value of the human person. Individuals who treasure their own opinions trampled over others; individuals who are absorbed in their feelings ignored the same in their neighbor; individuals who set about expressing their unique philosophies ignore those who suggest that such human islands are sorely lacking in those resources found in millennia of wisdom.
This document revisits the primordial question that every generation asks: “What, finally, is that ultimate and unutterable mystery which engulfs our being, and from which we take our origin and towards which we move?" Here, John Paul II seeks to reintroduce man to God, the Giver of all gifts, the Source of our most meaningful ideas, and whose own Personhood will explain more about the human animal than anything else in the created world. In particular, we’ll find that familial relationships will enhance each person’s well-being—motherhood, fatherhood, and divine filiation. Despite seeming trite, these are sources of grace, well-springs of mystery, and our surest path to joy.