Celebrating You: Of St. John Paul II and the Deeply Important Message of Two Talking Vegetables
I’ve always been a fan of VeggieTales. For the last 20 years or so, Big Idea Productions has been feeding kids Bible verses and Christian morals cloaked in light hearted vegetable frivolity. It’s fun and quirky and blessedly clear of the unsavory. After two decades of watching the show and as a student of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, I have come to realize that ever since the very first episode, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber have offered to us a truth that, in all of its beautiful simplicity, is the silver bullet for the Culture of Death. St. John Paul II knew it too (but not from VeggieTales) and he based his whole life, and much of his teaching on this truth: “God made you special and he loves you very much.” That’s it. That’s all there is to defeating the evil of our world today. “God made you special and he loves you very much.”
It may seem overly simplistic but spend some time with these words. They are spirit and life to a culture that has reduced the human person to a status posted on Facebook or a selfie on SnapChat. “God made you special and he loves you very much.” What is meant by this simple phrase can fill volumes. It is the heart of St. John Paul II’s teaching on the human person. We are created out of love for love and each and every one of us is unique and unrepeatable. Psalm 139:13-14 says “For you formed my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am wondrously made!”
I teach Theology of the Body for engaged couples with a program called God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage. When I talk about the appropriate use of our sexuality, I actually make the men in the class turn to their fiancees and say “You are totally unique and completely unrepeatable.” It has a visible impact. I always have to pause the class for a few minutes to let the couples steep in the truth that’s been spoken and they want to keep talking about it. I watch as each and every couple’s eyes lock and and they forget the rest of the class is there. I can see them basking in this affirmation of the other person. When I call them back to class, I’m always interrupting. No one’s told them this truth before.
Yet all of us long for this truth. “God made you special and he loves you very much.” The culture has taught us that uniqueness is not inherent to us, that we have to make ourselves special. Most of us don’t feel special enough. In fact, I would argue, that this wound is at the heart of the transgender movement. The transgender person was never told that God created him to be special and that is enough. In some cases, transgender people have even been told that taking on a new identity, a new gender, different from who you were made to be, will make them special. For me, it is heartrending to try and comprehend how deep the wound must be to want to surgically alter who you are. They don’t need to hear that they are wrong as much as they need to hear how rightly they were created. How God has a plan for their lives. How they are “wondrously made” from the very beginning.
But it’s not just the transgender community that deeply needs this message. Every single child needs to hear it and has a right to know that “God made you special and loves you very much.” How special did God make us? Genesis 1:27—“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” We are created in the image and likeness of God, each and everyone of us. Precisely as male and female, our bodies reveal God. Think about this for a moment. You reveal God. Your body, your whole self- body and soul—is meant to speak to the world about God. That’s how special you are. That’s how special each of us is. That’s why we as Catholics are pro-life. That’s why we insist that marriage is between one man and one woman and lasts their whole lives.The value of each human person demands it because the human person, every human person, is meant to be celebrated.
Included in this truth is a call to live a life that can be celebrated. Today we celebrate the birthday of Our Lady for a reason. That reason is her profound and total “yes” to God. To the world, she was just a simple girl from Nazareth, but God made her to be the one to bring the Incarnate Christ into this world. Her uniqueness brought us our Savior. Like Mary, each of us is unique and unrepeatable, we each have a unique and unrepeatable way in which we are meant to bring Christ to the world. We call these special gifts “charisms.” The world needs our unique charisms. As St. Catherine of Siena once said, “Be who God made you to be and you will set the world on fire.” Being made special, being deeply loved by God, is a call to evangelization. All it takes is our “yes” to who God is calling us to be. He doesn't want to change who we are, he wants to lead us to be the people we are meant to be because “God made you special and he loves you very much.”
Do you know this? Do you live it? Does your spouse know it? Your children? What is your charism? Are you using it? This is not a matter that we can remain neutral about. Either we embrace who God made us to be and embrace his love for us, or we lose ourselves to the culture of death.