Man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. (Gaudium et Spes, 24)

These words which were proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in the Vatican II encyclical Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The Modern World) became the foundation of the writings of Pope St. John Paul II on marriage and family.

In 1960, while Bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla published Love and Responsibility. This foundational work dealt with the issue of how an individual can transform a sexual urge that is fundamentally selfish into something loving and unselfish.

Building on this theme, Pope John Paul II gave a series of 129 Wednesday audiences between September 5, 1979 and November 28, 1984 known as the Theology of the Body. These talks have been published in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (TOB). Dealing with the dignity of the person in human sexuality, he taught that a person actualizes their dignity through giving oneself to another.

The human body, with its sex-its masculinity and femininity-seen in the very mystery of creation, is not only a source of fruitfulness and of procreation, as in the whole of natural order, but contains “from the beginning” the “spousal” attribute, that is, the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift -through this gift-fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence. (TOB, 15:1)

The meaning of man’s being and existence is to make a radical gift of self for another. This is most dramatically demonstrated in the “free, total, faithful and fruitful” love of God, imaged in the love of husband and wife in the sacrament of marriage (see Humanae Vitae, 9).

According to Genesis 2:25, “the man and woman did not feel shame.” This allows us to reach the conclusion that the exchange of the gift, in which their whole humanity, soul and body, femininity and masculinity, participates, is realized by preserving the inner characteristic (that is, precisely innocence) of self-donation and of the acceptance of the other as gift. These two functions of the mutual exchange are deeply connected in the whole process of the “gift of self”: giving and accepting the gift interpenetrate in such a way that the very act of giving becomes acceptance, and acceptance transforms itself into giving. (TOB, 17:4)

After the fall (Gen 3), man’s and woman’s ability to love in this manner was been wounded. John Paul II in the Theology of the Body says:

Concupiscence in general-and the concupiscence of the body in particular-attacks precisely the “sincere gift”: it deprives man, one could say, of the dignity of the gift, which is expressed by his body through femininity and masculinity, and in some sense “depersonalizes” man, making him an object “for the other.” Instead of being “together with the other”-a subject of unity, or better, in the sacramental “unity of the body”-man becomes an object for man, the female for the male and vice versa. (TOB, 32:4)

Furthermore John Paul II says, “Concupiscence brings with it the loss of interior freedom of the gift” (TOB, 32:6).

Given the fallen nature of humanity, how do you grow in your ability to turn selfish sexual urges into the total gift of self? This requires spiritual maturity. In Christian Spirituality, many of the saints described three stages in the spiritual journey to God: the Purgative, Illuminative and Unitive. It is a journey that man must take from sinfulness to transforming unity with God. It is a journey from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. This journey is necessary if we are to live out St. John Paul II’s call to radical self-sacrifice and gift of self for the good of another. By growing closer to God through daily prayer and Scripture reading, we become more like the author and creator of life. In doing so, we become more Christ-like in thought, word and deed.

Grow in relationship to Christ and grow in radical self-giving love for your spouse!