“But Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?’” – Lk. 22:48
With the barrage of Valentine’s Day merchandise hitting the shelves, and considering our current “hook up” culture, it seems relevant and reasonable to ask the question: “Does a kiss mean anything anymore?”
Yet, this is just one small example highlighting a more fundamental division in our culture. It is a fundamental division over the answer to a more fundamental question: “Do the world and the things in it have an objective meaning and purpose, or is all meaning subjectively assigned and thus merely relative?” In short, does anything mean anything?
I have come to believe, however, that these questions ultimately lead to the ultimate question, to the question of all questions, to the question of The Ultimate: Is there a Creator or not?
If there is a Creator Who is an Intelligence, then the world is intelligible. If there is a Creator Who is Rational Being, then things are created for a reason, for an end, and have intrinsic meaning. Simply put, if there is no God, then there is no meaning. No real meaning anyway; nothing upon which you can hang your hat (or bet your life). All there would be is the meaning that we make for ourselves. Faced with the “existential vacuum” of a meaningless universe, we become the self-proclaimed masters of the meanings of things (at least for us). And we dub it “freedom.” Consider this quote from Justice Anthony Kennedy from the 1992 Supreme Court abortion case, Casey v. Planned Parenthood: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Seems to me yet another vain attempt to “be like God” (Gen. 3:5) and to “make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4).
If all rational beings act for an end, as Aristotle posited and appears manifestly true, then certainly the One Who is Reason Itself, because He is the Logos, would do so. As Pope Benedict XVI clarified, “Logos means both reason and word – a reason that is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason” (The Regensburg Lecture, no. 17). If everything that exists began as an idea in the mind of God, then everything has been “creatively thought.” St. Thomas Aquinas, whose feast day we celebrate on January 28, wrote that the divine ideas are “exemplar forms existing in the divine mind” and “what is real is called true in so far as it realizes that toward which it is ordained in the mind of God” (Disputed Questions on Truth, I, 2). Thomas considers final cause as the “first” among causes because things are only moved by an agent and “the agent only moves by intending an end” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, 1, 2). He uses the term “nature” to refer to “the essence of a thing as directed to its specific operation” (On Being and Essence, I, 4). In summary, every created thing has a “nature” and a characteristic activity given by God that is directed towards some end or purpose. In fact, a thing’s “nature” is revealed in and through this characteristic activity and end.
All of this to say what? If there is a God, then the world and the things in it have an objective meaning assigned by the One who thought of them. Then a kiss is not “just a kiss” – a kiss has meaning apart from whatever we might mean by it.
St. John Paul II said, “If the human being… gives to his behavior a meaning in conformity with the fundamental truth of the language of the body, then he too ‘is in the truth.’ In the opposite case, he commits lies and falsifies the language of the body” (Theology of the Body, 106:3). It seems that this is what Jesus was getting at with his rhetorical question to Judas. Judas was not only betraying the Son of man, but the meaning of a kiss.
It may well be that all the confusion in our culture on issues of sex and sexuality, gender and generation, and the definition of life, marriage and family comes down to a question of meaning.
And that ultimately comes down to the question of God.