We need the voice of St. John Paul II in this day of superficiality, where we seem to care about how things look more than how they actually are, we experience the breakdown of the human person to the point of public approval of the objectification of men and women as a form of entertainment, and sex is used to sell hamburgers. We are witnessing the death of the innocence of children at a younger and younger age, as improper lewd sexual behavior is taught in schools, and much confusion is spread about human nature itself. Furthermore, it seems that we as humans have forgotten the higher call that we are given to lead through self control and virtue, the tasks that truly manifest our noble nature.
St. John Paul II’s teaching is the medicine given to us to help restore us to this greater call, to be human. This teaching can assist us in our escape from the misery and harm that come from a life lived steeped in utilitarianism and moral permissiveness. To do this, St. John Paul II was able to put into words the true longing and purpose of the human person, body and soul, a truth that still needs to be spread throughout modernity to instruct not merely on how to live, but how to be.
In much of his works, he was able to clearly lay out the interior and exterior complexities of humanity instructing us in areas of true freedom, true love, and true happiness. Even though his teachings were given in the 70’s and 80’s in a period following the decades of the mistreatment of human beings found in the movements of Fascism, Communism, and the sexual revolution, he was able to see through the consequential carnage to the issues at root. Humanity is still reeling from the effects of these ideologies and the words of John Paul II are still needed today. Maybe now that we have had time to better understand and reflect on them, John Paul II’s teaching can help more souls escape the terror that utilitarianism and moral permissiveness bring.
To assist others in connecting with his work, here are some of my favorite thoughts from St. John Paul II found in his various writings:
“True Freedom is liberation not from external ‘constraint’ that calls me to good, but from the internal constraint that hinders my choice of the good.”
This counters the lie that states that we are only free when nothing keeps us from doing what we like. However, the opposite is true as many people who choose to do drugs, eat too much, or other modes of immoderation and poor choices find themselves chained to addiction, poor health, or further consequences that restrict their freedom. John Paul II points out that we can only be free from these interior restraints by refraining from the bad choices presented to us and choosing the good. In this case, external ‘constraints’ such as just laws or rules placed upon us to lead us to the good, instead of refraining us from happiness, assist us in remaining free, which makes us more happy.
“Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband & wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love.” (Familiaris Consortia, 32)
Pointing to the profound unity of the body and soul of the human person, St. John Paul II acknowledges the truth that for the husband and wife to withhold from one another the fruitfulness of their bodies — namely their ability to create life — through contraception, they do great injury to what conjugal love is meant to be. Far from a cheap thrill, it is suppose to be a total gift with nothing held back from one’s spouse. Contraception alters what is meant to be communicated as well as closes the door of the heart to the proper end of conjugal love and many times the proper end is itself stifled. This makes the act only about the body, which in turn dehumanizes both partners, as humans are much more than bodies.
“There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.”
He once again points to the dual dynamic existence of the human person. More than Cartesian separation, we cannot forget the dignity that both the body and personal soul provide. We must never forget that humans are more than a body, something that is easy to forget in the allure of pornography. The viewing of pornography, in fact, is the continual practice of only keeping in mind the person’s body. We can imagine then, that this training would easily be continued in one’s view of all people even without the presence of nudity.
“Utilitarianism, based on an individualistic understanding of freedom — a freedom without responsibilities — is the opposite of love…” (1994 Letter to Families)
Remembering that to love is to seek the good of another and an individualistic understanding of freedom through the lens of utilitarianism means for one to do whatever one likes in one’s search of pleasure and escape from responsibility, we can see that love and utilitarianism are true at opposite ends of the spectrum. The first seeks what is best for others, the second, only what is best for one’s self.
“A person must not be merely the means to an end for another person”. (Love & Responsibility, 26)
Another articulation of the profound meaning and dignity of the human person. A person is not an object of use, a way through which one can acquire pleasure or material gains. This treatment is far beneath the dignity of a human. Furthermore, one who uses others for gain is viewing others as less than human, a treatment that will bring only isolation from others causing misery. We cannot have true relationships with people we view and treat as objects, and without relationship is the human person not doomed to despair?
In the world today, we can easily discover the many negative consequences that have arisen from those who fall into the temptations that St. John Paul II hoped we could avoid. However, it is not too late. We can still find the peace and joy that we are given through the proper treatment of others and following the guidance of one of the greatest teachers of the 20th century.
There is much more of the vast treasury of St. John Paul II’s teaching. In fact, many others have composed similar lists or have written much to echo and explain his writing. In service of his mission to spread a correct understanding of human persons and the proper treatment of them, we must continue to promulgate his words. Therefore, I recommend to all to visit and revisit his works, both to shape ourselves and the world.