Given the aspirations of human beings to satisfy their most profound desires, to recognize their identity and to be fulfilled, Christopher West affirms that the Theology of the Body is a stupendous answer of the Holy Spirit for our time.
Christopher West, regarded as one of the main experts and divulgers of this Theology, visited Spain on July 1-2, 2019, to teach “Living the Joy of Beauty: Discover How God Speaks through Your Body,” organized by the program “Let Us Learn to Love,” of the Development and the Person Institute of the University Francisco de Vitoria of Madrid.
The Theology of the Body (TOB) is the message of the catecheses that Pope John Paul II wrote and taught between 1979 and 1984, as a biblical response to the crisis of the sexual revolution of the 60s, which has led subsequent generations to a profound crisis of identity.
Thus John Paul II’s proposal is a way of discovering the meaning of human existence and of loving our condition of men or women in a context such as that of the present, full of confusion.
Following is the interview Christopher West gave Zenit during the known formative event directed by docents of the University of Francisco de Vitoria, but extensible to all publics: young people, older people, parents, single people, priests, and consecrated persons . . .
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–Q: I would like to know, in the first place, about your profound encounter with John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. How was your life before it, and how has it influenced your life since then?
–Christopher West: Where to begin? I simply cannot imagine my daily life — the hope that keeps me alive, my wife and children whom I love, the work I do — without John Paul II’s TOB. I found it for the first time in 1993 and a felt as if I had discovered the cure for cancer. I really felt it was something so great, so important, and I knew then that I would spend the rest of my life studying it and sharing it with the world.
It was such a dramatic find for me because I had grown up in what could be called “strict fasting” in regard to desires. The principal message was: “Your desires are bad; they are only going to get you into problems; you must repress all that and follow these rules.” It’s no surprise them that I converted rapidly to the “diet of rubbish food” of the secular culture, the promise of the immediate satisfaction of desires. I learned the hard way that one can die of hunger but also of intoxication by food. My heart was crying out: “Is there something good out there? Is there something that really corresponds to this painful cry of my heart to be able to be fulfilled?”
Through his TOB Saint John Paul II was the first person that told me that Christianity doesn’t consist in dying of hunger. It’s an invitation to the satisfaction of the heart’s profoundest cry — a cry that with reason is called eros — in the eternal happiness of Marriage in Christ and in the Church.
–Q: For some, this Theology — presented for the first time by John Paul II in a series of catecheses between 1979 and 1984, at the beginning of his pontificate — might seem “antiquated.” Can you explain to them how this message is totally vivid and valid today?
–Christopher West: Antiquated? It’s exactly the opposite. On giving these talks 40 years ago, Pope John Paul II was very ahead of his time. He was farsighted; he saw where the culture was going and he knew beforehand what was needed. For a time like ours — of generalized sexual chaos and gender confusion — the Holy Spirit has given us John Paul II’s TOB.
–Q: In Christus Vivit, Pope Francis points out that, in a society such as ours, “which emphasizes sexuality excessively,” it’s difficult “to maintain a good relationship with one’s body and live serenely in affective relationships.” From your experience as a catechist of TOB, what are the main obstacles that you believe people find to live according to this Theology?
–Christopher West: I would say that it’s the two errors I described earlier: the focus on “strict fasting,” the fearful and repressive conception regarding the body and the erotic desire that is erroneously conceived as “holy”: and the focus on the “rubbish food,” the undisciplined satisfaction of desires that promises satisfaction (and, yes, let us admit it, the “rubbish food” can have quite a good taste, especially when you are dying of hunger), but which leads to addiction, to emptiness, to broken and wounded relationships, to profound confusion , to alienation and to despair.
As Benedict XVI said, what is needed is an adequate pedagogy of desire. I like to say that God gave us eros (desire) so that it would be like the fuel of a rocket that has the power to launch us to the stars, to the infinite. However, there is an enemy who is determined to “disorient” our rockets. And that ‘s what happened to eros with Original Sin, it got confused and lost the direction. That’s why many of us go out into the world seeking happiness and satisfaction, but it backfires. The good news I learned from John Paul Ii, which changed my life and that I’m compelled to share with others is this: Christ didn’t come into the world to condemn the “disoriented” rockets. Christ came into the world to redirect our rockets to the stars.
–Q: Obviously, one of the best ways of struggling against these obstacles is to go to events such as “Living the Joy of Beauty: Discover How God Speaks through Your Body,” which is taking place these days at the University Francisco de Vitoria, but, can you give us an additional recommendation?
–Christopher West: Yes, we should take advantage of the true glory, of the true riches, of the true splendor of what the Church really teaches, and free ourselves of that terribly slanted image (. . . ) of the clear distortion of what the Church teaches on these subjects. John Paul II’s TOB is a good starting point (…).
However, the reason that John Paul II’s TOB is so transforming for people is because it puts us in contact with the Word made flesh. And it is Christ himself who saves us, not a simple teaching or program; and we are saved by His Body and His Blood, ours is an incarnate faith. We must be very, very careful not to “disincarnate it.” According to Saint John, in his Letters in the New Testament, the way to recognize the anti-Christ is to identify the one who denies that Christ became Man, that He came made flesh.
After all, that’s what the TOB is about: it’s about God who took a body to redeem ours; the Lord who entered the dynamic of human existence (. . . ). However, I am also conscious, when I say this, that we often “disincarnate” our faith; we don’t keep in mind that God became man; we don’ believe that Jesus has much to say or much to do with our sexuality. There is nothing farther from reality!
God wrought His first miracle t a wedding where the bride and groom were left without wine. Wine is a symbol of divine love. The purpose of the sexual relationship is to share in divine love, but “the wine has run out” for all of us, and you can’t give what you don’t have: this is the root all the pain, the confusion, and the human dysfunction.
Jesus’ first miracle is the redemption of the sexual relationship because that’s where we most need it. As Father Cantalamessa said, the Papal Household Preacher: We must change the idea of “a Kingdom of God that is coming to ‘judge’ the world, with that of the Kingdom of God that is coming to ‘save’ the world, beginning with the eros, which is the dominant force.” Salvation begins with the most dominant force in our humanity: the eros. It begins with the redirection of the engine of our rockets to the stars!
–Q: In regard t non-believers and persons estranged from the faith, what do you think is the best way to bring them to this Theology of the Body, as a way of Evangelization
–Christopher West: John the Evangelist puts in his Gospel as the first words of Jesus’ mouth: “What do you seek? “ (. . . ).That is the common denominator of our humanity. Everyone is seeking something. Everyone has that thirst that we are trying to satiate. As deceased Monsignor Albacete aid, one of my mentors and professors, and a friend of John Paul II: “Religion is either the search for the satisfaction of the original desires of the human heart, or it is a harmful, divisive and dangerous waste of time.
There was a Man who lived 2000 years ago who affirmed that, not only had He found the way to slake that thirst but that He was the Way. We must go back to examine that affirmation for ourselves and become witnesses of the “living water” that slaked the thirst of the woman at the well. In that passage, there is a woman of passion, thirst, and desire, but she had directed it to a mistaken place. And Jesus didn’t condemn her, but He redirected her desire to what she was really seeking. That’s evangelization: a thirsty person helping another thirsty person to find the living water.
–Q: Today the number of single people (who are not married but are not celibate either) is increasing, and it seems to them more difficult to find the best way to live a healthy affective life without falling into the “rubbish food.” What do you think is the message for them according to this specific catechesis of John Paul II?
–Christopher West: John Paul II says that the essential and innate vocation of every human being is love. It’s summarized, of course, in Christ’s commandment, which is the same for all, regardless of his civil state or vocation: “Love one another as I have loved you.” How did Christ love us? “This is my Body given up for you,” we go back to the body.
One of the key ideas of John Paul II’s TOB is that this evangelical call to love as Christ loves is sealed by God in the human body like man and woman. The sexual difference reveals the call to be a gift that gives life. A man’s body makes no sense on its own, or that of woman. Unless we are blind, we recognize that the genital difference itself reveals the divine call to be a gift that gives life.
Marriage is the original and paradigmatic way of living this call to be a gift. Christ also reveals another way, that of consecrated celibacy. This is really a corporal gift of oneself (. . . ). These two “types of commitment” (marriage and celibacy for the Kingdom) are the most complete expressions of that total “surrender’ of oneself. However, in each state in which a person is learning to love, each time that someone is learning to be a gift for others, this too is to live the TOB. A single person who only lives to please him/herself doesn’t live this call; however, those single persons who give themselves generously to others are living the Theology of their bodies.
Another important thing that must be kept in mind in this regard is that human love, especially conjugal love in this case, is only a sign and a Sacrament of something much greater. The Bible begins with a human marriage in an earthly paradise, but it ends with Christ’s Marriage and the Church eternally in Paradise. Only this Eternal Marriage provides the complete fulfillment of the eros. Human love and earthly marriage can be a beautiful sign of that eternal reality, a presage of what we really desire.
However, we must not hope that this profound “pain” for love and union in our hearts is always satisfied in this life. Not even the most beautiful of human relationships is able to put an end to this pain. Saint Augustine said it better: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” If we could really let this truth penetrate and transform us, we would be much less disappointed and disillusioned in this life, regardless of our state.
–Q: Finally, how important is the presence of experts in TOB in the present world to spread this important message on affectivity? Who do you think should take the course of formation certified by the Institute of the Theology of the Body? Please, tell us if it’s possible for people worldwide to have access to it and how to do so?
–Christopher West: I’m a man of great hope, but I’m also a realist and I know that the cultural situation — both within as well as outside of the Church — is desperate. We live in a pornographic culture of death, a “war zone” in which the grenades are exploding everywhere and human beings are being harmed (. . . ).
Moreover, numberless people are abandoned for the simple fact that we haven’t found the way to reach them and treat their lesions. Our pre-fabricated human solutions often have the same effect as salt on wounds. John Paul II’s TOB is oil poured on these wounds. It’s not about a new “magic cure” — the cure is the same as always: we must enter in the mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ with all our being, with all our broken humanity.
However, when the Church is faced by crisis, the Holy Spirit pushes the great Saints to respond with the necessary answer. I believe John Paul II is one of those Saints and his TOB is exactly what we need at this time. However, to have the answer without the means to spread it among those that most need it doesn’t benefit us.
The Institute of the Theology of the Body was founded in 2004 with a simple mission: to form an army of well-prepared men and women to respond to the crisis of our time. If our program of certification is of interest to someone, he can get more information at theologyofthebody.com