|7/16/2014 10:15:00 AM|
Only God can satisfy deepest desires of human heart, speaker says
Catholic News ServicePHILADELPHIA -- Christopher West's overarching message to attendees at the 2014 International Theology of the Body Congress was that man is created by God and for God, and thus only God can satisfy the deepest desires of the human heart.
"Man has this insatiable desire for something. God put it there, and it's a desire for God," he told a crowd of hundreds.
More than 700 people gathered in Philadelphia July 9 to 11 for the congress. Laypeople, clergy and religious attended panels, discussions and keynote addresses that examined the meaning and relevance of St. John Paul's theology of the body, and how to incorporate it into a new evangelization.
Drawing from that theology, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the words of Pope Francis, West's evening keynote speech July 9 addressed how to proclaim the joy of the Gospel with theology of the body.
St. John Paul's first major teaching project of his pontificate was a series of short talks given between September 1979 and November 1984 focusing on the meaning of the human body, authentic love, sexuality and marriage in light of biblical revelation.
West, who co-founded the Theology of the Body Institute in 2004, is the author of numerous books and audio programs about the late pope's theology and travels the country spreading its message to people of all ages.
The human heart naturally longs for authentic love, intimacy and communion with others, said West. Culture tries to satisfy this desire, but only communion with God can provide complete fulfillment.
"This old Polish pope (St. John Paul) was able to put his finger on the deepest cry of the human heart and say, Christianity is not calling you to repress that -- it's calling you to open that the whole way up to the point of infinity. Because the infinite one wants to fill the void in you."
West said that too often people direct their desire to the culture and it's "fast food gospel" of instant gratification instead of allowing those desires to be fulfilled by God. Many believers have been raised on what he called a "starvation diet" that encourages a repression of these inherently human desires.
In an interview with Catholic News Service before his address, West used the metaphor of hunger to explain the concept.
"Many people think of Christianity as a starvation diet. We've heard rules, we've heard morality, and we've heard how to behave. But we haven't had the invitation to the wedding feast that Jesus talks about. So when Christianity is just a starvation diet then the culture's fast food becomes very attractive. The culture knows we are creatures of desire, the culture knows we're looking for something and the culture says here's what you want."
"And let's be honest, the fast food tastes good going down and it does seem to satisfy for a time, but eventually fast food makes you sick," said West.
To invite Christians to the fullness of their humanity, their sexuality and God's divine plan for both, "we have to reclaim and then proclaim that Christianity is an invitation to a banquet -- the wedding feast of the lamb. And if we do that, hungry people will come."
West quoted retired Pope Benedict XVI, stating that man will always desire God and when he "begins a desperate and sterile search for false infinities that can satisfy him at least for the moment. ... The good things that God has created as paths that lead to him ... become idols that replace the Creator."
"The sexual relationship," said West, "is the number one idol that people take their hunger to, seeking fulfillment." To prove his point, he cited a number of popular songs that focus solely and intently on love and desire.
That relationship, West said, gives us a "glimmer of divine love," and the sacrament of marriage points to humans' ultimate destiny of union with God.
"God wants to marry us. That's the Bible in five words," West said.
Because it symbolizes the type of spousal love that God calls each human being to, West says it should be no surprise that "there is an enemy that is hell bent on skewing God's plan" for marriage and family. Noting that the family is representative of the love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he said, "God's plan for the family reveals his covenant for eternal love."
In comments at a panel discussion on the upcoming extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family planned for October at the Vatican, he said it should come as no surprise that like Christ, marriage has been "rejected, scorned, mocked, crucified ... but we know that isn't the end."
He predicted there will be "a great resurrection of marriage and the world will come to see the full glory of God through the human body and the creation of male and female."
With regard to evangelization -- spreading the joy of the Gospel through theology of the body -- West recited a common phrase he uses in teaching at the institute: "The Marian dimension of the church precedes the Petrine."
He explained that before Christians can go out into the world and make disciples, we must first "let it be done to (us) according to (his) word" and learn to live theology of the body joyfully.
Further, he told CNS, "If we see Christianity as a list of rules, we're not going to be able to evangelize anybody. But if we see Christianity as an invitation to a banquet that satisfies the deepest hungers of our hearts, then evangelization becomes one hungry person showing another hungry person where to find food."
"Twelve people changed the world 2,000 years ago, and they didn't have Facebook and Twitter," West concluded, as he discussed spreading the message of theology of the body. "Brothers and sisters, we can do this."
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