Man has a powerful connection to his past, and that is by design. Since we were created with a heavenly vocation (Leo XIII, Libertas), and share a likeness not with the created world but with God (John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them, 9/12/79), that remembrance of past things is meant to lead us back to God (Ecclesiastes 1:11). This is a powerful and compelling message, provided it is presented properly.
For some popular commentators of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, they go beyond this central message of the Gospel. According to their message, just as our original parents were “naked without shame,” the goal of the Wednesday audiences is to get us to see the human body correctly, then we will also be “naked without shame.” Some even boldly state that with a proper understanding of the theology of the body, we can (in a certain limited sense) go back to the days of the Garden of Eden where we have a state of “mature purity.” Such an interpretation is not supported by the texts of the Wednesday audiences; more importantly, the exact opposite message is taught by the Sacred Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church. To present the message as these commentators do fails to give credit to what St. Pius X and Blessed John Paul II viewed the most important event in all of salvation history: the Incarnation. (Pius X in Acerbo Nimis and JPII in Redemptor Hominis)
As discussed in my previous article, St. Pius X teaches in his catechism that man’s original destination was heaven and, had he not sinned, at the end of his life he would have been taken to heaven without death. Due to sin, we not only die, but heaven is closed off to us. Even the paradise God created for us on Earth was closed off to us. In the Incarnation, one of the things (but certainly not the only!) accomplished is that God “gave human life the dimension that he intended man to have from his first beginning” (Redemptor Hominis 1). Yet if we remember the point I have been emphasizing ad nauseum, our intention from the beginning, even before sin, was to go to heaven to return to God.
Even after we sinned, this original plan remained the same, albeit with the minor complication of concupiscence. (More on that later.) We were still destined for heaven, and this world was just a pit stop to our final destination. This powerful symbolism was demonstrated when God placed one of His most powerful creations (a cherub) at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, blocking off the entrance with a flaming sword drawn in perpetual vigil. We are never returning to Eden.
Why would we want to return? In Eden lay the Tree of Life which we view as granting immortality. (Genesis 2:9, 3:22) Yet what good is immortality? We would still be unable to fulfill our original purpose, which was eternal union with God. That is what the Tree of Life signifies: the ability to live our life as God originally intended for us. Left to our own devices, this path is forever closed to us. I don’t care how deep an understanding you gain of the Bible or some Wednesday audiences. I don’t care how good you live your life, or how mature your purity is. Left to our own devices, our heavenly vocation will be forever unrealized. Like every other plot and scheme of man in the Bible to reach heaven, it will only end with confusion and loneliness. (Genesis 11:6-9)
Thankfully, it is not left to our own devices. Due to the Incarnation (and eventual ultimate self-sacrifice) of Christ, that path is once again opened. Christ states that to the one who believes and holds fast to Him, “I will give to eat of the tree of Life, which is in the paradise of my God.” (Rev 2:7) Christ’s message to the Church of Ephesus is simple: you have left your first love, your first vocation, your very purpose for creation, the desire for heaven! Believe in me, follow me, and I will give it back to you! What is Eden compared to such a promise?
This powerful message is given greater symbolism when we speak of the matter of clothing. While our original ancestors were naked on earth, we are not portrayed as naked in heaven. We look not to once again be naked without shame, but clothed in heavenly glory. (2 Cor 5.) In the Apocalyptic Literature, this is how we are presented. Christ does not return to earth naked, but returns to earth in the full splendor of a King adorned with glory. The bride of Christ (The Church) is not presented as naked in the end, but rather clothed in the finest white linen, fit for the bride about to be made queen of all creation. Our nakedness symbolizes what we once were. Our royal adorning in heaven symbolizes what we will become.
The writer of Hebrews states that returning to the old ways crucifies Christ again and makes a mockery of him. (Hebrews 6:4-6) The Blessed Apostle Peter compares a return to the old ways as a “dog returning to his vomit, or a pig, once cleaned returning to filth. Returning to the former days is so abhorrent because for the Christian there is nothing to return to. When we try to get back to where we once were, we reject our original calling and the very purpose of our creation. We reject it for what our first parents had, instead of receiving what they were promised. Let us not seek something which is worthless to the Christian today, but that which is forever profitable.