In the fall of 2002, I was pregnant with my first child and a fairly new parish employee. I was tapped to drive a couple of teenagers to a neighboring town to hear Jason Evert speak. The talk was designed for teens, and though I cringe to call it a chastity talk (that just sounds so…boring, and the evening was more exciting than any of the concerts I’ve attended), that’s what it was.
Maybe Evert stole my heart when he mentioned that his wife would be there, except that she had just given birth to their first child.
Father Pat would tell you he hasn’t heard the end of it since then. My husband would tell you it’s a bit of an obsession of mine.
I would tell you that these three men–Jason Evert, Christopher West, and John Paul II–changed my life by changing my heart. They showed me the beauty of God’s design for our bodies and they made me dig into my Bible, Church teaching, and the world around me with a new appreciation.
Before I knew it, I was leading a book study on Good News About Sex and Marriage and listening to Naked without Shame. It wasn’t long before my Adoration time had me immersed in the text of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and cross-referencing it with Christopher West’s companion, Theology of the Body Explained. I read the text a second time and then there was an updated version of TOB (which I have not, sadly, yet read).
All of that brings me to the latest book by Christopher West, At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization, which I read as part of the Patheos Book Club.
I’ve been following West’s work for some time, but this book brings something new to the table.
For one thing, he ties in two of my favorite topics–Theology of the Body and the New Evangelization–together in a way that is nothing less than brilliant.
For another, I can feel, in this text, how Christopher West has matured and grown as a writer, speaker, and man. When I first started listening to him and reading his work, he had one or two kids. Now he has five and he’s been through some fire and brimstone for his work.
You can feel that in this work. While it is very powerful, it steps back from some of the emotion I’ve read in his writing before. This work is more scholarly-feeling than what I’ve read of his work in the past.
If you were looking for a place to start with TOB, I’d suggest this book as the ideal place. West quotes his previous writings, John Paul II’s work, and many other works. (My to-read list is completely out of control after looking at the bibliography for this book.)
What I loved about this book, more than anything else, though, is the enthusiasm behind it. West’s love of God shines through, and he has pulled together resources and insights that are needed for us right here, right now.
At Mass last Sunday, Father Pat mentioned that the word enthusiasm has its root in a Greek word which means “with God.” In At the Heart of the Gospel, I saw that, despite many years of being immersed in not only the work of study, but also the nastiness of misunderstanding and being misquoted, West is no less enthusiastic–with God–than he was in the early days.
At the Heart of the Gospel is a guidebook for each of us, and it helps us reconcile the apparent contradiction we face in our culture. “Evangelization should begin with an affirmation of humanity’s fundamental and original goodness, rather than a declaration of our sinfulness,” West writes. Here’s hoping that we can all work together for this ideal in our work in the New Evangelization.
My copy is dog-eared and marked, and the cover, sadly, did not stand up well to being dragged all over creation in my attempt to read it in every spare moment. I may lend it to a friend, but more likely, I’ll encourage them–as I highly encourage you–to purchase their own copy. It’s an investment worth making.