By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — “Brace yourself, for if you take in what you are about to hear, you will never see things in the same way,” said dynamic speaker Christopher West, who articulated with enthusiasm and passion the “Good News about Sex and Marriage.”
West, director of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Denver and its staff advisor for “Theology of the Body,” spoke Aug. 4 during an in-service program sponsored by the diocesan Office for Evangelization, Initiation and Catechesis. Its director, Paul Schroeder, described West as a modern day prophet who is recognized throughout the world for his ability to explain Pope John Paul II’s revolutionary teachings on human sexuality known as the “Theology of the Body,” a collection of 129 general papal addresses developed over a five-year period.
“‘Theology of the Body’ is rock-your-world theology,” said the graduate of the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and the Family, because it attempts to untwist the lies about sex and the meaning of our bodies that presently saturates society. He said that it is a call for people to remove the “tainted lenses” inherited by original sin and with the help of grace, regain purity, which is defined as the ability to see the revelation of God through the body.
“I have come to proclaim good news about the gift of our sexuality and how God has stamped this plan for life and love in the male and female body,” proclaimed West. “It is good news because it is the truth about love, and true love is the fulfillment of the human person.” He spent the day reflecting on the sacredness of marriage and how when “the one-flesh union of husband and wife” is a faithful expression of their marriage vows, a couple mirrors the “beauty and the glory of God’s own eternal, living-giving love.”
“All sin can do is take what God created to be good and beautiful and distort it. There is an element of truth in this society that is obsessed with sex,” said West, “but we must untwist all the distortion. We can never be used as a means to an end; it is contrary to our dignity as a person.” He illustrated a distortion by contrasting the beauty of the artwork in the Sistine Chapel with the degrading portrayal of the human body in pornography.
In the quest to find love, a fundamental longing of the human heart, many fall for the counterfeit, according to West, and he relayed some of the sad consequences that result. Abortion, for example, is a symptom of the abuse of the gift. “Those fighting for abortion rights are not fighting for the right to kill their babies. They are fighting for the right to have sex with whomever they want whenever they want.”
He also gave some pointers on how to recognize true self-giving love. “We are all called to love as God loves, a love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful,” said West, adding that if any of these four characteristics are lacking, it is not authentic and violates the inner calling to God-like love where the bridegroom says, “This is my body given up for you,” and the bride responds, “Let it be done according to your word.”
On the other hand, “when uninspired sexual desire becomes inverted, self-seeking — lustful, the couple no longer desires to give and receive the sincere gift of self but desires to grasp and possess each other.” West pointed out that the object of lust is not only present outside a marriage but can exist from within. Both can lead to adultery, divorce and other disorders. He warns that constant indulging or suppressing of lust will backfire and that one can only be free by handing it over to Christ to be redeemed from it.
Other difficult issues related to the church’s teaching on sexuality surface when married couples do not know how to love as God loves. Contraception is one such topic even West struggled with until he learned the “why” behind the teaching. When a couple uses contraception, according to West, they fall short of that perfect love because it is not total and not fruitful. “It is a contradiction of the very language of marital act that turns the ‘I do’ of the wedding vows to an ‘I do … not.'” The love expressed in the marital embrace is held back from being total because it says “I love all of you accept your fertility,” and it also does not allow the love to be fruitful because it “impedes the procreative potential” of the one flesh union.
“When a car manufacturer puts a warning label on your car that says, ‘no diesel,’ it is not done to hinder your freedom to choose what gas you can put in your car, but to keep you from ruining it. The same can be said for the church’s teachings, they are designed to guide and protect you,” said West.
He acknowledges that the good news about sex and marriage is also challenging because loving as God loves is challenging. “I tell my couples in marriage prep class that marriage involves four rings, one engagement ring, two wedding rings and suffe(ring),” said the married father, who speaks from experience. “The crucifix is the revelation of true love, ‘This is my body given up for you,’ and if you are willing to die with Christ, you will also rise with him.”
“What a joy. Why aren’t people proclaiming the Good News? The world is dying to hear it, literally dying from lack of this vision. Some priests [and church leaders] are afraid to talk about it because they are afraid to offend. What a terrible injustice,” said West, who does not support “putting a condom on the truth.”
“I have not come here to wag a finger; I have come to call you to embrace your greatness,” said West, who urged everyone to trust God and believe in the power of the cross that has redeemed a world filled with men and women whose bodies uniquely masculine and feminine are reflections of the Triune God.
God has given us abundant graces to overcome our weaknesses, says West, and he describes it as having a bank account with trillions of graces but a person only withdraws 50 cents worth in a lifetime. Yet with this grace, humanity can restore its sight and like Adam and Eve, before the fall, be naked without shame because there is no shame in loving as God loves.
“Mr. Christopher West is a powerful spokesman for the truly Good News that marriage and marital sexual relations are, together, at the very center of God’s plan for our creation as male and female and in his image and likeness, also central to his son’s plan for our re-creation and salvation,” said Father James LeBlanc, pastor of Divine Redeemer Church in Hanahan. “Mr. West is very knowledgeable on our Holy Father’s ‘Theology of the Body’; he is a great speaker, filled with joy, and he is a joy to listen to and to read.”
To order books and tapes by West, call the GIFT Foundation at (847) 844-1167 or visit www.giftfoundation.org.