Author and speaker Christopher West has spent more than a decade spreading the message of Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” a series of audiences he give during the first five years of his pontificate. West’s new book “At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization” (Image Books) offers a summary of the Pope’s teachings, as well as ways to use them to reach people more effectively through evangelization.
In a recent email interview, the Miscellany and some young adults from the Diocese of Charleston asked West questions about the Theology of the Body and its role in today’s world.
Q. Our attention is pulled in so many different directions by secular society and an increasingly busy, technological world. What is the best way to let the faithful know why the Theology of the Body is important?
A. We must appeal to what I call the “ache,” that hunger, that longing we all feel inside for something, and we must demonstrate that the Gospel provides the real hope of satisfying our deepest, most real desires. The culture directs our desires towards indulgences that can never, ever satisfy. Theology of the Body, we must understand, is simply the Gospel put into its proper frame: Christ is the Bridegroom who has given up his body for his bride so that the bride might live in unending fulfillment. This is our living hope.
Q. While the meaning of Theology of the Body might be obvious, say, to a married woman with children, how would you also reach out to single Catholic women or career women and show them how this message might be relevant to them?
A. the Theology of the Body teaches us how to love, how to be a gift to others as a man and as a woman. This is critical in married life, but it is equally critical in the workplace and in all the diverse situations in which women find themselves today. A woman’s body reveals “a great mystery.” She is designed to welcome life within her. This is not just a fact of her biology, but of her personhood, because, as John Paul II taught, the body reveals the truth of the person. In all walks of life, we can see this genius of woman, this readiness to be present to and welcome the gift of others. Tragically, this particular gift of woman is not well respected in our world today, and we all suffer greatly because of that. The TOB can teach women how to embrace and live their true dignity as women.
Q. Are more Catholics – and non-Catholics – receptive to the message or as the culture erodes, has the message been harder to spread?
A. I’ve always seen a hunger for this beautiful vision, and that hunger is only intensifying as the fallout of the sexual revolution becomes more and more evident. It is certainly spreading beyond Catholic borders…I am getting invited more and more to speak in evangelical circles. In fact, it may well be that the evangelical community takes this up and runs faster with it than we Catholics. That wouldn’t surprise me.
The following two questions came from young adults:
Q. Taking into consideration the state of the world’s young adults and the intense sexual propaganda they’ve been subjected to by the world, how does the Church intend to reverse those distortions?
In my book “At the Heart of the Gospel,” I quote Pope Benedict XVI who observes that these distortions come from our desire for eternal pleasure, that is, our desire for heaven. But when we don’t believe in God (or we don’t believe he wants to fulfill our deepest desires), the Pope says we must now create “a false eternity.” That’s what the big sexual lie in our culture is all about. It’s our desire for heaven gone berserk. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body “unberserks” it by redirecting our desire for heaven toward heaven.
Q. Most in my generation reject the church’s beliefs as stuffy because they didn’t receive the depth (of the teachings) in their early years. How can the church realistically fight this spiritual battle and come out with our young adults more empowered and encouraged to embrace a holy marriage? Young people today haven’t been raised with an understanding of the great splendor of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality because their parents, pastors and other educators weren’t raised with it either. There really has been and continues to be a crisis in Catholic education. The good news is that the human heart is created for authentic love, and the counterfeits can only carry us so far. Sooner or later, the heart cries out for the truth and goes in search of it. That’s where our hope lies, but we must make that truth easier for people to find.