23 August 2018
World Meeting of Families

Rocco Buttiglione (Pontifical Lateran University), “John Paul II, the Pope of the families who speaks of families starting from the family’s “body”

“How is it possible that a man like St. John Paul II, who did not have a family, could penetrate so deeply into the inner dynamics of family love and family life?” The contribution of Rocco Buttiglione, Professor of Philosophy and History of European Institutions, Pontifical Lateran University, in Rome, started his intervention at the Pastoral Congress organized in Dublin on the occasion of the World Meeting of Families (21-26 August) with this question. Speaking on the first day of work dedicated to the theme “The Family and the Faith”, Buttiglione illustrated “A Hidden Treasure: The Theology of the Body of Saint John Paul II,” recalling that we have all experienced the life of families and of women. “We are all born into a family, and we all have mothers,” he explains. “In the family, we meet the woman not as a body that can give pleasure to our body but as a person who radiates joy and peace, who takes care of us, and introduces us into life.”

In the family, we mature “our first idea of the (sexual) relationship between a man and a woman, by observing how our father and mother look at each other and act towards each other.” In Wojtyła’s life, according to Buttiglione, seeing the love between his mother and his father, and how this love was poured out on their children, was a fundamental experience. Although John Paul II’s mother died when he was just 9 years old, the love between his parents left an indelible mark in his heart. Just as indelible, in his life, was his experience as an actor of the Theater of the Word. “An actor is a man who walks in the shoes of another human being and tries to relive his actions from inside,” explains Buttiglione, “to become the other person, the actor must first become, in a sense, no one.” Likewise, the priest—in the etymological sense of the word—is an actor: he “acts mass” in Persona Christi-in the role of Christ; if the actor is nobody, the priest is everyone, entering the lives of others and understanding their lives from within, in the light of the truth, in order to help others, see their lives in truth’s light. He can do it because he first entered into the life of Jesus Christ, the light that illuminates everything.” Buttiglione recalls how Wojtyła learned a lot from the people he met, confessed, and accompanied as a priest: “He taught them and learned from them. His main textbook was the life of his friends, the life of the living Church.”

A life made of men and women, with their flesh and blood, called to live their sexuality with maturity through three phases: chastity, falling in love, and conjugal love. “The reason we cover our sexual organs,” explains Buttiglione, “is that we do not want to be considered and treated as mere sexual objects. First of all, we want to be recognized as human persons and we want to direct the observer’s eye towards the global image of our body and, firstly, towards our own eyes, through which a person’s interiority is expressed in the most direct way. We do not just want to satisfy the sexual impulse.” “The virtue of chastity,” he continues, “has the function of ordering the person’s sexual potential towards its rightful satisfaction, where it is properly human.” The philosopher also recalls that “the God of Jesus Christ is a person, and a person is a being that exists in the relationship with other people.” “Jesus lives entirely in the relationship (person, hypostasis in Greek, means relationship) with the Father,” he explains “just as the Father lives in the relationship with the Son”. If we look for an analogy in the realm of human relations, the first idea that comes to mind is that of a man and a woman in love. “Being in love, however, is not yet loving. Being in love is an emotional state,” Buttiglione points out, “It may happen that we fall in love with the wrong person, someone who does not love us, or someone who cannot love us, or someone we should not love. This is why, when we fall in love, we cannot let ourselves be carried away by the emotions that we experience. We have to stop for a moment, reflect on things, speak with our friends.” Only after the necessary period of discernment, do we finally confirm “with a free act of our intelligence and our will the decision that our feelings had suggested to us: We get married.” Buttiglione emphasizes that in the sacrament of marriage “we become witnesses for one another, particularly responsible for God’s love” and “we call God to be a witness of our love.” By starting from this reality, we can understand why divorce is a serious sin for the Church. “It is as if one were telling his or her spouse: It isn’t true that God loves you,” Buttiglione explains, but then points out that, together with the objective side of divorce, the subjective side must also be kept in mind, that is the full awareness and deliberate consent. “We are not always fully responsible for the evil we do,” he stresses, “This is why, in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis invites the remarried divorcees to go to confession, to evaluate the level of their responsibility with the confessor, to ask for forgiveness, and to enter the path of full reconciliation with God and with the Community of faithful.”

“At the beginning of the pilgrimage towards true love, there is the virtue of chastity,” emphasizes Buttiglione, “and, in the end, the virtue of perseverance.” The philosopher further clarifies that “the inner dynamics of sexuality were created by God to protect the child’s entrance into the world.” “The child grows up surrounded by his parents’ love,” adds Buttiglione. “Let us clarify one point: the child needs not only the love his or her father and mother as if they were two different loves united only in their object that is the child. The child needs the spouses’ love for each other that spills over on him or her. Only this love constitutes the best home in which a child can surely feel comfortable and be educated. The best gift a father can give to his children is to love their mother, and vice versa.”