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Putting the love back in sex: an interview with Theology of the Body expert Christopher West

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Christopher West
Christopher West

Since the publication of his book, Theology of the Body Explained (2003), Christopher West has become “The” (capital T) populariser of St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. His ability to make the profound-yet-esoteric thought of the Polish saint available to everyone has made him one of the most sought after Catholic speakers around the globe. Don’t miss your chance to see Christopher live in Sydney this Saturday, 22 October speaking on ‘God, Sex and the Meaning of Life’.

The following is a taste test-of-the-West experience.

You have chosen to defend sexuality in one of the most hyper-sexualised cultural eras in history, has this come at a personal cost?

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I’ve given my life to defending what John Paul II calls “the original good of God’s vision” of sexuality–not the terrible cultural distortions of it.

Lust reduces sexual desire (eros) to a base quest for pleasure at the expense of others. While our fallen humanity certainly inclines us in this direction, John Paul II insisted that there is another way to live and experience erotic desire. He insisted that “the redemption of our bodies” won for us by Christ (Rom 8:23) allows us to rediscover, “that fullness of eros, which implies the upward impulse of the human spirit toward what is true, good and beautiful, so that what is ‘erotic’ also becomes true, good and beautiful.” That redemption of the body, that redemption of sexuality is what I’m proclaiming and defending.

Does it come at a personal cost? When you believe in something with your whole being, you don’t count the cost.

How would you describe the culture we live in today?

Saint John Paul II described it–grimly, but accurately–as a culture of death. Death refers to the separation of body and soul. That’s what a culture of death is, a culture that separates body and soul. We see this both in the secular world and among believers.

People of faith often fall into the error of “spiritualism” (soul separated from the body) while the secular world tends to lean towards “materialism” (body separated from the soul). The result, on both sides, is a deeply dangerous divide between sexuality and spirituality.

How does John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) answer to this “death”?

John Paul II’s TOB is the cure because it links up deeply and organically the God-ordained unity of the physical and the spiritual. That is the cure for all the sexual chaos and gender confusion so rampant in the world and within the Church today.

How do men and women each look at sexual union? 

In the words of Bruce Springsteen, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.” Men and women are looking for love, for affirmation, for joy, for happiness. That’s the fundamental cry of every human heart.

In our fallen state, men will often use love in order to get sex, while women will often use sex to feel loved. Put that selfish combination into a house together, and you’re going to have conflict. But let’s never forget where Christ performed his first miracle and what he did! Christ came to a wedding to restore the wine in superabundance!

The vision of JPII’s notion of ‘person as gift’ is beautiful, but hard to live. Could you speak to this?

We all struggle to learn how to love. I’ve been very candid about that in my lectures and books. The number one ingredient of a successful human relationship is mercy. We’re all so broken. And that’s okay because there is a remedy. But it’s not okay to normalise our brokenness. It’s not okay to call our brokenness “health”.

What advice would you give to those struggling with chastity?

Make peace with the journey. It’s a journey. And make use of all the means God provides to continue growing. St John Paul II says there are three “infallible and indispensable” means for living the TOB: prayer, and frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist.

We really need to learn how to pray (not just “say prayers”). Prayer, the Fathers of the Church tell us, is nothing but a longing for God. All sin, in the end, is misdirected longing. Penance grants forgiveness for misdirected longing. Prayer redirects the longing. And Eucharist, the wedding feast of heaven and earth, is the proper object of all longing. It’s the food that satisfies Bruce Springsteen’s hungry heart.

In Australia one of the ‘hot button’ issues is the same-sex marriage debate, followed closely by gender identity politics. Why do you think there is such a push towards redefining marriage, sexuality and gender–not just in Australia, but across the West?

Pope Benedict XVI said it best. He said we are atoning in our day for having separated sexuality from procreation. “It logically follows from this,” he observed, “that every form of sexuality is equivalent … No longer having an objective reason to justify it, sex seeks the subjective reason in the gratification of the desire, in the most ‘satisfying’ answer for the individual.”

In turn, everyone “is free to give to his personal libido the content considered suitable for himself. Hence, it naturally follows that all forms of sexual gratification are transformed into the ‘rights’ of the individual.” From there, people end up demanding the right of “escaping from the ‘slavery of nature,’ demanding the right to be male or female at one’s will or pleasure,” as he put it.

In short, when we separate gender from generation, the very word loses its meaning. Gender is based on the root gen (same as words like generous, generate, genitals, progeny) that means to produce or give birth. Gender basically means “the manner in which you generate.” There are only two ways to generate: as a father or as a mother.

Contraception is the original attempt to thwart gender. It’s the original gender confusion, if you will. But we are so deep in to having embraced the contraceptive view of sex and marriage and family that we can’t even make sense of the mess we are in today. None of this is said to scold or condemn. But we simply must humble ourselves before the astounding wisdom of the Church. History will prove, and is proving, her right on this.

You have just released a new resource that connects the vision of Our Lady of Fatima with the Theology of the Body. Could you expand on this?

The fact that John Paul was shot on the memorial of Fatima is well known. What few people know is that the pope was planning to announce the establishment of his Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family on that afternoon. This was to be his main arm for disseminating his teaching on man, woman, marriage and sexual love around the globe. Could it be that there were forces at work that didn’t want John Paul II’s teaching to spread?

By 13 May 1981, John Paul II was only about half way through delivering the 129 addresses of his TOB. Had he died, obviously, the full teaching never would have been presented. And could it be that, by saving his life, the Woman of Fatima was pointing to the importance of his teaching reaching the world?

What’s next for Christopher West?

The name of the apostolate I run is The Cor Project. Cor is Latin for “heart.” The “cor project” of the new evangelization, as we see it, is to inject the hope and healing of Christ into our sexually confused world. In a word, we want to show men and women how beautiful they truly are.

So, beyond the travel and live events, which I love, continuing to build our [Cor Project] Membership Program is where a lot of my energy is going.

Christopher will be talking at the Seymore Centre, Chippendale this Saturday 22 October from 1-4pm as he presents The Cor Project on ‘God, Sex and the Meaning of Life’. He has been sponsored by Catholic Youth Services and the University Catholic Chaplaincies of the archdiocese of Sydney.


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