Late Night Session Underscores Truth On Sexuality
Published: August 5, 2004
ATLANTA—Theologian Christopher West spoke deep into the hot summer night of July 23 to young adult singles and others attending a Family Honor conference, acknowledging his sexual sins and the pain of his youthful search to discover God’s truth on sexuality and become a man capable of loving Christ and loving his future wife.
West, who speaks worldwide on Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body,” began his talk, entitled “Love in the Catholic City,” at 10 p.m. with his own conversion story. Running on three hours’ sleep, he then answered a steady flow of questions from his listeners until after 2 a.m. The Family Honor conference, entitled “Sexuality, Marriage and the Family in the Third Millennium,” was held July 23-24 sponsored by the nonprofit Family Honor and by the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., and the Atlanta Archdiocese.
West said as a youth he rejected Catholic teaching on sexuality as just “a long list of repressive rules” and began dating a girl with whom he was sexually active over a four-year relationship. He was so enslaved to sex, he said, that after deciding, with his conscience nagging him, that he would give it up for Lent, he was only able to make it three days. “I remember being disgusted with myself that I couldn’t say no.”
After his girlfriend broke up with him, he devoted himself to seeking God’s plan for sexuality, delving into the pope’s “theology of the body,” which was outlined in 129 general audience addresses on the pope’s integrated vision of the human person’s body, soul and spirit. West earned a master’s degree in theology and is now a visiting professor at the John Paul Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and guest lecturer at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. His articles and books include “Good News about Sex and Marriage” and “Theology of the Body Explained” and the newly published “Theology of the Body for Beginners.”
West described to singles seeking soul-mates the positive side of living chastely and of saving sex for marriage and challenged them to consider whether lack of control over their “urge to merge” is truly sexual liberation or enslavement to bodily pleasure and whether a “yes” is really meaningful if they can’t say “no.” The church teaches that sex is designed by God to be both bonding and procreative and hence is only meant for the sacrament of marriage, where spouses can give completely of themselves to each other while being open to conception.
“In this gap between what you want and what the church teaches perhaps (the problem) is not what the church is teaching,” West said. “Perhaps the problem is with the hardness of your heart. Perhaps the solution is to get on one’s knees and say, ‘God, change my heart.’ If you do that you will come to experience authentic sexual liberation, true freedom and freedom to love. What our culture calls sexual freedom is actually sexual addiction.”
West said men, as the natural initiators of sex and romance, are particularly responsible to restore a healthy Christian perspective on sexuality and to resist the overwhelming cultural messages to lust and to view one’s own pleasure as the goal. Men have a special responsibility to sincerely initiate the gift of love, he said. He spoke of the intuitive way women seem to know that they are being used by men, even their husbands, for sex.
“Women have a more intuitive sense about human dignity, especially their own, and if they intuitively understand (if the man) can’t say no to his hormones then all I am is an outlet to absorb his lust. And as a unique and loveable human being, you are worth more than that. You are meant to be loved,” West said.
In the same way, women may allow themselves to be used or be the user in their hunger for needs such as love or emotional fulfillment.
He called couples using each other for sex “mutual using, mutual exploitation that we tragically call love.”
“We can’t bring God’s law down to the level of our own desire and weaknesses. The power is available to you by love” and the desire to obey God, he said. “It’s called gospel Christianity. It’s called freedom for which Christ has set us free. Freedom from the law is freedom to fulfill the law because we have no desire to break it.”
David Newcomen, a single Catholic from Staten Island, N.Y., has experienced this freedom, having previously embraced more materialistic values. He finds these talks refreshing amidst a “contraception culture” in which God and openness to life are taken out of lovemaking.
“I get really excited when I come to these things. I get reaffirmed in what I’ve learned, in what I know is the truth,” he said. “This is the truth which has set me free in so many different ways. It’s an authentic synthesis of respect for our humanity and an integration of our Catholic faith . . . To deny the goodness of our humanity is also an error. With theology of the body it’s synthesizing the spiritual world and physical world.”
West challenged Catholics to seek redemption for their sexual desire through giving themselves totally to Christ.
“We all experience lust, but when you get that feeling you need sexual healing,” he said. “If you’re willing to be crucified with Christ you can also come to experience the joy of his resurrection, which will bring you into a whole way of thinking . . . As we allow lust to die, we come to a resurrection experience. We experience sexual desire to love in God’s image,” he said. “As I was integrating and living what the pope taught me I was coming to see for the first time in my life women as persons made in God’s image, not as a thing for my pleasure. When you see a woman as made in God’s image you see her true dignity and beauty, and your constant lust, you’re repulsed by it and you can understand why there are Christians who would prefer a torturous death to committing sin.”
West recalled an outing to a park with his future wife and feeling as they embraced the overwhelming sense of love for her and desire to tell her “how good she was.”
He knew that was freedom when he realized “I’d prefer crucifixion to the thought of using her to gratify myself. That is freedom for which Christ has set us free. That is authentic sexual liberation and it’s the freedom to love and it’s real.”
West will return to the archdiocese to lead the “Created & Redeemed” workshop at St. Brigid Church, Alpharetta, on Friday, Sept. 10, from 7-9:30 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 11, from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. For information, call (678) 393-0060.