Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, visited Australia recently and delivered the Harman Lecture for the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family. He had taught at the Roman session of the Institute at the Pontifical Lateran University (1996-2002) where he held the chair of dogmatic theology. His lecture, titled Cooperators of the Truth of the Human Person, discussed the role of the Institute in the new evangelisation, especially regarding contributions to an authentic Christian "human ecology."
The lecture began with the imagery of Bl John Paul II's post-synodal exhortation Familiaris Consortio, describing the cultural shadows that plague marriage and family today. One particular shadow that the Cardinal discussed was "gender theory." This theory denies the existence of human nature and reduces sexual differentiation to a cultural construct. Such a theory has led to a crisis of the human person wherein the individual is left to construct his identity for himself.
This exaggerated individualism has resulted in the severing of man's relationship from God and the closing of man in upon himself. Man is no longer willing or able to commit himself in love to another, revealing the most fundamental crisis in contemporary culture: the crisis of the gift of self.
This crisis has further contributed to a proliferation of maladies including the breakdown of the family, the eclipsing of fatherhood and motherhood, and an increase in drug abuse, violence and suicide. Despite these shadows, Cardinal Ouellet spoke of the Church's response as a prophetic light that the John Paul II Institute has the responsibility to reflect upon and cultivate.
The pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI provided the impetus for the Church's response to this crisis. Citing John Paul II's encyclical on the dialogue between faith and reason, Fides et Ratio, Cardinal Ouellet addressed the need to move from human experience to its metaphysical and anthropological foundations. In essence, the foundation that must be returned to is human nature. Contemporary culture in general and gender theory in particular are characterised by a forgetfulness of human nature. This forgetfulness, he argued, inevitably ends in positivism and the subordination of law to power.
The Cardinal noted the irony of contemporary culture seeking to affirm the nature of animals and plants while at the same time denying human nature. What is required is a rediscovery of what has been rejected, namely, human nature. This re-discovery will take place through the two pillars of reality: love and reason. It is the fruitful interplay between love and reason, ultimately taken up by the logic of the Incarnation, which will reveal the truth about man. It is the Logos Who became flesh Who reveals both the beginning and end of all reality: that the source and goal of creation is love.
Thus human nature only comes to light within the context of the gratuity of creation and the source of this creation, Divine Love. As such, the re-discovery of man – which will lead to a proper "human ecology" – can only take place through a re-discovery of God.
Cardinal Ouellet concluded his lecture with a discussion of the creation of the human person in the image of God. He argued that man's creation in God's image inscribes in the human person the vocation to love. This vocation forms the basis of the human capacity and the responsibility for communion and it is lived in the complementary vocations of marriage and celibacy. At the heart of human existence is the desire for communion and this can only be fulfilled through man's participation in Trinitarian communion.
As St Augustine declared, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." Therefore, the crisis of the gift of self can only be overcome by a rediscovery of man's call to communion and participation in God's own life. It is this truth of the human person that the John Paul II Institute is to reflect upon.
In closing, the Cardinal described the role of the Institute in the new evangelisation in this way:
"Conjugal life, the life of the family, and consecrated life can survive and blossom only through the love that is the gift of self. Formation toward this gift requires a new evangelisation, which roots human love more profoundly in the Trinitarian Love opened up to our participation in Jesus Christ. Spouses and families can endure, they can accomplish their sacramental mission in today's world, if Christ is welcomed at the heart of their love, together with the gift of Trinitarian communion he bears in himself."
The Melbourne session of the John Paul II Institute was opened in 2001 and is associated with the central session in Rome. The Institute offers graduate certificates in religious education, bioethics and marriage and family studies, graduate diplomas in the same fields, a masters degree in bioethics and theological studies (marriage and family) and a PhD degree. Since its opening, there have been 106 graduates from 18 countries.
In the latter half of 2013, the Institute will offer online classes for its graduate certificate in religious education. In 2014 it will also offer accredited bioethics courses at the Queensland Bioethics Centre.