I recently finished reading and posted my review of Christopher West’s recent book Fill These Hearts. That review can be found here. This was the first book of Christopher’s I have read, but I have known about his work for some time now and was very excited when he agreed to an interview on the book and his ministry on the Theology of the Body. Thanks Christopher for taking time out of your certainly busy schedule and sharing some answers with my readers!
Q: For my readers who may not know, you have established yourself as a very well-versed teacher of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body with an ever-increasing library of books you have written on the subject. Let’s go back to the early days of your ministry. What prompted you to get involved with spreading the word on the Theology of the Body?
A: A family friend told me about JP II’s TOB in 1993. I remember reading it and realizing I was holding the cure for the world’s cancer in my hands. I knew then I’d spend the rest of my life studying it and sharing it with others.
Q: How is John Paul II’s Theology of the Body the cure for the world’s cancer?
A: If society has a “cancer,” you have to treat it at the cellular level. The fundamental cell of society is the family. But the nucleus of that cell is the union of man and woman in “one flesh.” As our understanding of the body and sexuality goes, so goes marriage. As marriage goes, so goes the family. As the family goes, so goes the world. In our world today, we don’t know the meaning of marriage because we don’t know the meaning of sex, of our creation as male and female. TOB takes us into the depths of the “great mystery” of our creation as male and female giving us a “why” far more beautiful than we can think or imagine on our own.
Q: As each year has passed in my adult life, I have become more and more aware of the continuing focus on sex as a selling point from TV shows to products. What do you feel is the best method for the ordinary layman to combat this?
A: You’re not going to be surprised at my answer: take up a serious and prayerful study of JP II’s TOB. We’ve been given the cure. But if we don’t inject it into our blood stream it does no good.
Q: In reading your most recent book Fill These Hearts, I found your three gospels (The Starvation Diet Gospel, The Fast Food Diet Gospel and The Banquet) analogy very insightful. What led you to develop that comparison?
A: It was simply the fruit of reflecting on the hungers of the human heart and what we do with them. As Bruce Springsteen put it, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.” The question is, where do we take that hunger? What do we do with it? Christianity is a banquet – a wedding feast – that corresponds to the deepest, most wild desires of the human heart. Tragically, most people think of Christianity as a “starvation diet,” and by this I mean the suppression of desire in favor of an unfeeling and “dutiful” submission to a dry list of rules. This is why the culture’s “fast food gospel” – the promise of immediate gratification of our hunger – starts to look very attractive. As I say in my book, if the only two choices for my hunger are starvation or greasy chicken nuggets, I’m going for the nuggets.
Q: I am a father of five children — four girls and a boy — and my wife and I homeschool (clarification I am the financial backer, my wife does all the teaching….props to my wife!). At what age do you feel it is appropriate to introduce children to Theology of the Body, and are there any books you would recommend for teaching children the TOB?
A: The Church says that education in God’s plan for life and love should begin at the moment of conception and continue throughout the course of a child’s life and into adulthood. It’s an uninterrupted education that passes through different age-appropriate phases. And this means we have to get away from the idea of having “the talk” at some magical age. We have to get beyond the birds and the bees talk. Speaking of resources to help parents in this regard, that’s the title of the best book I know on the subject: Beyond the Birds and the Bees by Greg and Lisa Popcak.
Q: With all the books you have written and talks you have given, do you ever feel there will come a day when you have found all there is to know from Theology of the Body?
A: Never. Theology by its very nature is infinite, because God is infinite. Theology of the body, it’s so important to understand, is not just about human sexuality. It’s the study of how God reveals himself through the human body. It’s all about the Incarnation of God. And that’s what Christianity is: the Incarnation of God. These are infinite mysteries we’re talking about. And that means there is always more to learn.
Q: Time to close with my signature question. This is a blog about books. What is currently on your bookshelf to read?
A: My “to read” shelf has about 30 books on it. I have another 15 that I’ve started and in the middle of. So let’s go with the ones I most recently finished: George Weigel’s latest: Evangelical Catholicism and volume two of the Collected Works of Teresa of Avila.