John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is the antidote for our times in which we are embroiled in an “all-out war” on the meaning and value of the human body, says Dr Christopher West.
Among the casualties are untold numbers suffering from damaged and damaging relationships and confusion about what it means to be male or female, but here is precisely where the light of Christian wisdom can make hope spring anew, Dr West told The Catholic Weekly in an exclusive interview this week.
At the invitation of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation the world’s most well-known teacher of the Saint John Paul II’s theology will travel to Sydney in January before visiting Melbourne in a two-city tour.
The founder and president of the US-based Theology of the Body Institute will present the highly acclaimed Made for More event, along with musician Mike Mangione and Theology of the Body Institute’s Jason Clark.
“The work of the Theology of the Body Institute takes the great scholarship of John Paul II and translates it into a language, images, music and stories that the average person can understand and connect with and that resonate in the heart,” he said.
Part of the message is that despite relentless propaganda to the contrary, “the truth of sexual difference cannot be erased”.
“Every human life literally depends on it, the whole way back to the beginning of time. Human existence is the fruit of the sexual difference. When we try to erase that difference, the culture is committing suicide. And I say this not to wag fingers, to shame or to scold anybody, but to turn the lights on.
“It is understandable that we are confused about the meaning of the sexual difference when the main messenger about sex is a pornographic culture.
“I think one of the main reasons young women in droves are not wanting to be women is because they have been exposed at a very early age in an unprecedented way to the horrors of violent pornography and the way women are treated [in it]. Well if that’s what it means to be a woman why would anyone want to be a woman?
“…the Christian meaning and understanding of the body has really yet to be proposed to the modern world” – Dr Christopher West
“But what pornography is, is a hellish mockery of a heavenly reality. We are in an all-out war in our modern world for the meaning of the body. And it’s not that the Christian meaning of the body has been understood and rejected, the Christian meaning and understanding of the body has really yet to be proposed to the modern world.”
Cultural problems aside, the ultimate justification for the expression ‘theology of the body’ is Christ’s Incarnation, Dr West explained.
“John Paul II said if it seems strange to speak of the body as a study of God it shouldn’t if we believe in the Incarnation, because through the fact that the Word of God was made flesh, the body entered theology through the main door,” he said.
“This is the astounding proposal of Christianity that I don’t think even 2000 years later, Christians have really reckoned with.
“Let’s be honest … a purely spiritual God who loves us in a purely spiritual way is much more becoming and acceptable to human sensibilities than a God who literally bleeds to love us and even more so says, ‘Drink my blood, eat my flesh’.
“But this is the path of salvation … If we are trying to divorce ourselves from our bodies to reach God, we can make no sense of a God who has wed himself to the human body to reach us – a God who sent his son, a male child born of a woman.
“This is why the body, precisely in its maleness and femaleness, is under such violent attack in the world today. It’s the clue that reveals the ultimate purpose and meaning of the universe. And there’s an enemy who doesn’t want us to know this, doesn’t want us to know who God is or who we are.”
Daniel Ang, the Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation, said that in a culture that “leans toward disembodiment – seen in the attempted rupture of body and personhood, in the anonymous outrage we see online, even in the diminishing appreciation of the Eucharist within the Church itself – there’s a need to retrieve an understanding of the body as sacrament, revealing the inner person as a creation of God’s love expressed in human history”.
“So many questions that people have of the Church today, about the Gospel, the family and their own identities have to do with the body and sexuality” – Daniel Ang, Sydney Centre for Evangelisation
“The complementarity of man and woman, created together in love as the image of God’s own communion (Genesis 1:27), and the implications of this for relationships, for the significance of marriage and the sacredness of life itself are at the heart of John Paul II’s teaching,” he said. “So many questions that people have of the Church today, about the Gospel, the family and their own identities have to do with the body and sexuality.
“It’s for this reason that the visit of Christopher West and the Theology of the Body Institute Made for More event to the Archdioceses of Sydney and Melbourne signifies a response to the questions of our time, one that can foster discussion and reflection about who we are, and even be an experience of evangelisation and conversion for many of us – bringing us closer to Christ who reveals not only God but us to ourselves.”
Dr West said that the truth speaks for itself at the Made for More events which are the latest incarnation of three decades of study and work. He invited Sydney Catholics to come along to them next January, and also to explore the resources at the TOB Institute website tobinstitute.org.
“The number one response I have Received in doing this work for nearly 30 years is, ‘Why haven’t I ever heard this before?” – Dr Christopher West
“This message is life-changing. The number one response I have received in doing this work for nearly 30 years is, ‘Why haven’t I ever heard this before? If I had known this sooner, I would have saved myself and others a great deal of grief and distress’,” he said.
“We discover that what John Paul II is teaching is something we all know to be true way down inside ourselves but we just haven’t had a language to express it.
“I discovered the Theology of the Body in 1993 and it has been the most exhilarating and the most challenging adventure that one could imagine. Taking this up, coming to know and learn and teach it, but also to live it is the challenge.”
Made for More in Sydney!
The Made for More events in Sydney will be held at two locations on Friday, 20 January and Saturday 21 January 2023.
Watch the trailer and get your tickets at www.sydneycatholic.org/TOB/