Thursday, May 9, 2013

Leo XIII, John Paul II, and the Purpose of Society

In a previous essay, I introduced a point that some found surprising:  When trying to understand Blessed John Paul II's Man and Woman He Created Them, one should look to the Catholic Social teaching of Leo XIII for insight.  The root of both Leo's social magesterium and Blessed John Paul's Wednesday audiences stem from the fact that man was created in the image of God, and hence for union with God.  I would like to continue in that vein of thought today.

Why does society exist in creation?  Even amongst the beasts of the earth there exists hierarchies within their circles.  As the highest of animal creation, the society of man is far more advanced than those of beasts.  Why should such a society exist?  In his encyclical Immortale Dei Pope Leo gave the following profound insight:

Man's natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties. Hence, it is divinely ordained that he should lead his life -- be it family, or civil -- with his fellow men, amongst whom alone his several wants can be adequately supplied.

Man exists in a society because he must by his very nature.  He is not perfect, and as a result will always lack in some things which others will complement him in.  From this simple insight flows all of Catholic social teaching.  The Social Magesterium of the Church teaches how individual Catholics interact with civil society, government, and vice-versa for both.

Blessed John Paul II takes this insight and probes even deeper.  He asks his audience to ponder why this is the case (why can man only find satisfaction through the other), and believes the answer is found in man's creation as male and female:

When God-Yahweh said, "It is not good that man should be alone," (Gn 2:18) he affirmed that "alone," man does not completely realize this essence. He realizes it only by existing "with someone"and even more deeply and completelyby existing "for someone."
According to John Paul, the mystery of creation sheds new light on this timeless truth explained by Pope Leo.  It is not enough that man simply live in a society so that only his needs are taken care of.  Such a society cannot last because it is full of nothing but selfish individuals.  As a result, Pope Leo speaks of the necessity of people living for the common good. (ID 3)  For John Paul, the only way one can live for the good of society is by living "for" that society, and at its most basic institution, the society of marriage, where two become "one flesh."

Through our relationship with others as male and female, we discover the truth of our existence.  John Paul II references the Second Vatican Council when he states the following:

 Let us recall here the text of the last Council which declared that man is the only creature in the visible world that God willed "for its own sake." It then added that man "can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself".
Pope Leo XIII discusses the nature of man in different terms, but terms I believe are essential to understanding John Paul's teaching:

Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness, because we belong to Him and must return to Him, since from Him we came, bind also the civil community by a like law.   (ID 6)

Now as you read this, you might go:  these two aren't alike at all.  There's absolutely no relation!  John Paul II is concerned with the gift of self, and Leo is concerned with the worship of God as a result of our roots.   The answer to this conundrum is Jesus Christ.  Christ lived a life of complete sacrifice and self-donation when He left His heavenly home to become man.  He showed the depths of that self-donation when he died for our sins on the Cross, and because of that self-donation, returned to His heavenly home.

When Christ calls us to self-donation as He did, He calls upon us to return to our original calling, and through that calling, return to the Father.  The purpose of John Paul II's Wednesday audiences is to provide insight into how recognizing the truth of our creation as male and female can lead to the Father.  In this one could say he is providing a legitimate development of Leo's profound insight.

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