Christopher West is the expert on St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body. In his new book, Word Made Flesh, West helps us to reflect on the Sunday readings through the lens of those teachings. He shared the importance of TOB with us.
Ave Maria Press: Why is Theology of the Body so important in today's society?
Christopher West: “I don’t think I need to convince anyone that we are living in a time of profound crisis in the Church. That crisis is of a sexual nature. We don’t understand in the modern world anymore what it means that God made us male and female. We live in a world that is compelling us by law to say that the body and the difference between man and woman are essentially meaningless.
“But what I’ve learned from St. John Paul II’s theology is that if we don’t understand why God made us male and female and called the two to become one flesh, we don’t understand what Christianity itself is. Why? Because the call of the two become one flesh is a great mystery that reveals Christ’s love for the Church. This is what St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5, and John Paul II, reflecting on that passage, says, if we don’t understand why God made us male and female and called the two to that fruitful embrace, we don’t understand what the Church is, we don’t know what the sacraments are, and we don’t know who God is and who we are as human beings made in his image.
“For such a time as this in the Church have we been given St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. We have the antidote already given to us by the Holy Spirit through John Paul II to the crisis in the Church and in the world. But if antidotes are not injected into our bloodstream, they do us no good. Word Made Flesh is meant to help us precisely do that, inject the antidote into our blood stream so we can see all of scripture as this great love story. God wants to marry us. That’s the essential message of scripture and the essential message of our bodies: Our bodies reveal the eternal plan of God—to be one with us forever. This book is meant to give us glasses to read Scripture precisely in that way.
“The whole world is sacramental. That means the physical world is meant to be a sign that reveals the spiritual world. The physical world is a sign that is meant to point us to that which is spiritual and divine. Theology of the Body, therefore, is for every body. If we want to see the world rightly, if we want to see that the whole world is shot through with the glory of God, we need to have the right lenses to see that. The TOB gives us those lenses.
“If you look at the Church at large, very few people even know that St. John Paul II gave us this magnificent reflection on what it means that God created us male and female. Theology of the Body exists and it is the antidote to the crisis of our times.”
Ave: What do you hope readers get out of this book?
West: “At the risk of sounding trite, the primary message I want to them hear is You are loved. God loves you! And the Scripture is a personal letter to you.
“I think one of the deepest desires of my own heart is that the deep mysteries of my life, the history of my life, the deep stuff that goes on inside me that I can’t put a word to, that I’m known there. And in my reading of scripture, wearing these glasses that John Paul II gave me, I’ve come to experience as a very personal message to me. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still passages in scripture that I find obscure or can’t understand very well. There certainly are. But I would say especially in the Gospel readings and in the letters of the New Testament, I have found a message that speaks to my heart, to my needs, to my yearning, to my desire. We all have this ache for love, for union, for affirmation, to see and be seen, to know and be known. I have come to discover in scripture, wearing these glasses, that indeed I am known. 'You have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand' (Ps 139:1-2). That used to be kind of a scary thing, the thought that I was being watched, but it’s my peace and my life because the one who knows me is Love. I want my readers to know that they are known, and the one who knows them is perfect Love.
“When we go into Scripture reading it as this love story, readings pop. The Sunday Mass readings take on a whole new life and they connect with our hearts. I went to Mass my whole life but never really connected with what was going on. The Eucharist didn’t really come alive to me until I was wearing these glasses. With these glasses on you start to see things that you never saw. My hope in writing this book is that many other people would have the same experience going to Mass. These glasses help us to see in a deeper and deeper way. The scripture contains infinite mysteries, which means there is always more to see, always more to gain. I hope through this book, readers will have the same experience: scripture will open up and a whole new world comes alive.”
Ave: How has TOB impacted your life?
West: “We’re all looking for something. God put that hunger in us. St. Augustine said it the best: 'You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless till we rest in you.' I grew up thinking that Christianity is a starvation diet; that Christianity says, 'Your hunger is bad. You need to repress that and just follow these rules.' This is not our faith. But if we think it’s our faith and that our faith is against our satisfaction, then we’re going to turn to the secular culture, which knows that we are hungry creatures; which knows we are creatures of passion and desire. And the secular culture will say, 'Here! Bring your hunger over here and have immediate gratification!' I call that the 'Fast Food Gospel.' So if a parent is looking at his child and saying, 'I see that my child is going off to the fast food,' it’s probably because your child thinks Christianity has nothing better to offer. I learned from John Paul II that our faith is an invitation to an infinite, exquisite banquet of love. And if we do not know that about our faith, we do not know what our faith is. I’ve been blessed to spend the last twenty-five years inviting everyone I meet to the feast.”