‘Theology of the Body’ can bring healing, speaker says

MEDWAY -- Pope John Paul’s “Theology of the Body” can bring healing to the Archdiocese of Boston and through the Catholics of Boston to the whole world, said Christopher West who spoke on the late pope’s writings May 11-12.

“We live in a time of crisis. I do not think this is an exaggeration. I think certainly the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Boston have felt it in a very particular way,” he said. “Something is happening in the Archdiocese of Boston. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”

The archdiocese was at the center of the clergy abuse crisis, but it was also the place where West obtained his first copy of “Theology of the Body.” A friend recommended the collection of 129 short talks given by John Paul II to West, so he called the Daughters of St. Paul Provincial House in Boston. The work was published by Pauline Books & Media, he said.

West, now a research fellow and faculty member of the Theology of the Body Institute in Pennsylvania, has written several books including “Theology of the Body Explained” and “Theology of the Body for Beginners.”

He has also given more than 1,000 lectures on the Theology of the Body in nine countries and over 150 American cities. West, his wife and their four children live in Pennsylvania.

West, who had never given a presentation in Boston before, spoke first to priests, deacons and seminarians at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton on May 11. The following day he spoke to about 300 lay Catholics and religious at the Spiritual Life Center in Medway. Catholics of every age group attended with some parents bringing their young children.

In his Medway presentation, West said that John Paul II termed the current era “the culture of death” in which abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage are rife. A cancer is infecting society and attacking its fundamental cell, the family, he said.

Sex is vital because it is God’s means for bringing new life into the world and is meant to be part of a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman, he said.

“A culture that does not know what marriage is, is dead,” West said. “Oh dear God, Massachusetts needs to understand this. You need a bridegroom and a bride to have a marriage.”

“The problem with our culture is not that it overvalues sex. The problem with our culture is that it has no idea how valuable sex is,” he continued.

The modern world treats sex like entertainment and holds it up as a way to attain happiness. West used the example of the popular television show, “Desperate Housewives.”

“What are housewives desperate for anyway?” he asked. “These desperate housewives are having sex every week and they’re still desperate.”

The desire to have sex and to seek unity with another is not entirely misguided, West added. Every human has a desire for unity, and that desire will ultimately be fulfilled in heaven when souls are united with God, he said.

Referring to heaven as the banquet and immoral sexual activity as the dumpster, West said, “When people do not believe in the banquet, they will go to the dumpster.”

Many people in our culture do not understand that the ultimate goal of life is to get into heaven and be united with the Lord. West likened their attitude to going for a walk without a destination in mind. It is impossible to communicate to them that they are headed in the wrong direction because they have no destination, and without that, they cannot understand morality, he said.

Even Christians can have trouble understanding God’s will because they have been brought up in this culture. West urged those gathered to hear God’s voice and avoid the trap of artificial contraception.

“Satan hates our fertility -- hates it. And he spews all his venom here,” he said. “This is a battle, and most of us have been swept away by what our culture says about our fertility.”

Fertility is not a disease, he added.

“We don’t go get our tubes tied to get fixed. We do it to get broken. We mutilate our functioning body parts,” he said.

Many mistakenly believe that since the Church teaches against contraceptives, all Catholic families must be large, he said. Rather, the Church believes in responsible parenthood and approves the use of Natural Family Planning. NFP allows couples to know when they are most likely to conceive and use that information to achieve or postpone pregnancy, he said.

“There’s nothing wrong with abstaining from sex. You’re all doing that right now,” he said.

Many archdiocesan offices came together to organize the daylong event, including the Life and Family Office, Pro-Life Office, Vocations Office, Office of Religious Education and Office for Clergy Support of Ongoing Formation. Additionally several individuals, organizations like Proud 2B Catholic and several religious orders contributed to the planning of the event.

Marianne Luthin, director of the Pro-Life Office, said that the collaboration was entered into with enthusiasm, which underscored the need for “Theology of the Body” in Boston.

“I have my particular interest with my connection to the Pro-Life Office, especially the healing in Project Rachel,” she said. “If this teaching had been more known a generation ago, things would be very different for a lot of people. There is a great need to integrate the spirituality of ‘Theology of the Body’ into the way each and every one of us lives.”

“Theology of the Body” is more than an intellectual exercise. It is about Christian, self-giving love, she added.

Cristina Martinez, who worships at St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in Boston, said West’s comments were “inspirational.” As a young, single woman from a strong Catholic community in Spain, Martinez seeks a deep understanding of Church teaching, she said.

“The more we know, the easier it is to live our faith,” she added.