Our Bodies Are Theological (Part 1)

Christopher West on Striking Down a False Sacred-Secular Divide

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, NOV. 28, 2011 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II’s theology of the body explains that the human person is not simply a soul that resides in a corporeal body; rather, human biology and physicality are, from a theological standpoint, profoundly relevant to man’s unique dignity as a creature made in the image and likeness of God.

The challenge of proclaiming this to a secular world that has become confused in its perception of sexuality, however, is immense. In order to evangelize the secular world, it therefore becomes essential «to find the meeting place between the sacred and the secular.»

Christopher West provided these insights following the talk he gave at Regina Apostolorum’s recent conference on John Paul II’s theology of the body. The conference included a production titled «Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing,» an event produced by West, which is touring internationally.

Christopher West is a research fellow and faculty member at the Theology of the Body Institute.

ZENIT spoke to West about the inspiration behind Fill These Hearts, and the overall challenges of promoting the ideals within the theology of the body to both Catholic and secular audiences alike.

Part 2 of this interview will be published Tuesday.

ZENIT: What was the inspiration behind the Fill These Hearts event?

West: The event called Fill These Hearts, I like to describe it [among Catholic circles] as the meeting point between John Paul II’s theology of the body and John Paul II’s «Letter to Artists.» In the «Letter to Artists,» he gives really a clarion call for the Church to use art as a way of communicating the Gospel. In fact, if you look at the teachings of the popes since the [Second Vatican] Council, Paul VI, John Paul II, Pope Benedict, all three of these popes have been adamant in saying the Church cannot adequately proclaim the Gospel without art. Art is the making visible of the invisible. And obviously that’s the essential idea of the theology of the body as well; the human body is the greatest work of the greatest artist — God. And the body — and only the body — can make visible what is invisible, as in art — whether it is through painting, or a sculpture, colors, forms, sounds: through music. The goal of the artist is to make visible what is invisible. Pope Benedict says in this sense: «All art is religious.» And so, one of the goals of this Fill These Hearts event is to overcome what has kind of crept into the thinking of a lot of Catholics in the modern world: and that’s the strict divide between the sacred and the secular.

There is a distinction to be made between the sacred and the secular; but it shouldn’t be a division. And so, in the Fill These Hearts event, we have a live band there, Mike Mangione and the Union. He’s a secular musician with credibility in the secular music world. But, as a Catholic and a student himself of John Paul II’s TOB, he infuses his music with a Catholic sensibility. This is one example of trying to find the meeting place between the sacred and the secular.

I describe it as follows, this is the meeting place: Bruce Springsteen sings, «Everybody’s gotta hungry heart,» right? And Mick Jagger sings, «I can’t get no satisfaction.» And the Catholic Church sings, «You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat.» There’s the touch-point. And so through a creative interaction of art, music, movie clips, and spoken presentation, the Fill These Hearts event is trying to get to that touch-point of the sacred and the secular and thus cast a wider net in our efforts to get the theology of the body out to the culture.

I’d also say this; that we’re inspired primarily by Christ’s invitation where he says: «Go into the main streets, and invite everyone to the wedding feast.» That’s the goal of the Fill These Hearts event. If we’re going to do that, if we’re going into the main streets to invite everyone to the wedding feast, we have to use a language that they understand. And the language they understand is music, movies, images. The Fill These Hearts event weaves all that together in order to speak the language of main street, in order to invite everyone on main street to the wedding feast.

Part 2 of this interview, on the human body as God’s love story, will be published Tuesday.

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