CALLED TO LOVE
Approaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body
By Carl Anderson and José Granados
261 pages, $23.95
To order: randomhouse.com
The authors of Called to Love illustrate a point about gift-giving by telling how the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke and a friend walked by a beggar woman who stood at a church gate all day long, every day. Rilke’s friend gave the woman some change, and she did not even lift her eyes to him.
“Rilke, like a true poet, bought her a rose and presented it to her when the two friends passed by the church again later that day,” the authors write. “The woman’s response to Rilke’s apparently useless offer was totally different from her reaction to the change proffered by his friend: She raised her eyes and smiled and was not seen at the gate of the church for a whole week afterward. When Rilke’s friend asked him what she had lived on during that week, Rilke answered without missing a beat: She had lived on the rose.”
The authors, Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, and Father José Granados, assistant professor of patrology and systematic theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute at The Catholic University of America, note that Rilke touched the “very dignity” of the beggar woman, the dignity of the human person as taught by John Paul II in his theology of the body.
Using quotes from the early Fathers of the Church and a diverse range of writers and thinkers, such as T. S. Eliot, George Bernanos, J. R. R. Tolkien, Gabriel Marcel and Sigrid Undset, Anderson and Father Granados explain John Paul’s teaching that “man is the way of the Church, while also insisting that man’s way is the way of love.”
This love was first known by man in the Garden of Eden. John Paul teaches us that man’s body was God’s first gift to man and that all of life is a gift. The body is what makes it possible for us to come to know God and the world, to love and be loved. The first section of Called to Love explores this original paradise of God’s fatherhood, his gift to Adam of his body and of Eve to Adam and vice versa, as well as how our “vocation to love” was built into our masculine and feminine bodies and how the resultant families were to be images of the Trinity.
The second part of the book delves into how paradise was withdrawn when man gave in to the temptation to not accept God’s gift of life on his terms. “The serpent’s lie is that man can truly live only by deciding for himself what is good and evil,” the authors write. “Adam and Eve succumb to the temptation to think of God, not as the origin of the gift, but as an aloof dictator who protects his omnipotence by keeping everyone else at arm’s length.”
Through God’s redemptive love we recover the gift and become mutual gifts through marriages true to nature: open to its unitive and procreative meanings. Thus, the third part of the book develops how Christ’s redemption works out through marriage, the family, and thence into society, of which the family is the basic living cell.
Call to Loved is well-written and challenging, but an easier read than John Paul II’s original works. I wish I had had this book available when I first read Love and Responsibility years ago. It is truly a book that can, in Rilke’s famous words, “change your life.”
Franklin Freeman writes
from Saco, Maine.