“If we are not able to speak of sex in a sacred way, society will speak of it in a way that isn’t.”
On July 1st – 2nd, 2019, Christopher West presented a Theology of the Body course called The Joy of Beauty at Francisco de Vitoria University, run by Regnum Christi in Madrid.
Using reflections, music, and videos in The Joy of Beauty, West showed how “God speaks through your body” and how the love of Christ for humanity and the Church is manifested, following the doctrine of St. John Paul II. The message and approach were revealing and impressive.
The event was organized by the program Aprendamos a Amar (Let’s Learn to Love), part of the Institute of Development and the Person at Francisco de Vitoria University. Along with Regnum Christi and the University, several religious and media organizations were also present: New Life, Religion in Freedom, Mission Magazine, ZENIT, Catholic.net and the network of the Centenary of the Consecration to the Heart of Jesus.
After the course, Christopher West gave the following interview with Paula Carrasco Cerritos.
Paula: Why is the title of your course The Joy of Beauty?
Christopher West: We love the beautiful; the beautiful awakens our hearts and beauty brings us happiness. But it is essential that truth and beauty go hand in hand. When truth is taught without beauty we come to reject it, and when beauty is taught without truth, we turn it into pornography. The goal is to unite the true and the beautiful. The nature of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty is that everything is united, and thus our hearts awaken to drive our deepest desires. John Paul II says that Eros is what drives our hearts towards the true, the good, and the beautiful.
What is the beauty of the Human Being? Are there levels within beauty?
I’m going to start from something Jesus said to get to the truth of human beauty. He said: “They look but they do not see” (Matthew 13:13). Then I will ask you: what is the difference between when a man looks at you and when a man sees you?
The difference is that you “look” at an “object” and you “see” when you recognize the meaning and importance of something or someone.
Exactly! When we just “look” at someone, we evaluate that person on a superficial level, but when we “see” the person there is a new depth in the beauty that we are able to see. When we only look, we evaluate people by their physical appearance, and if we stay there, we can tend to treat them as an object. But, when we see, we recognize that there is an inner mystery, a connection between the body and the soul. The body reveals a deeper mystery. When we only look, we stop at the body and fail to recognize that the body is a sign of a greater mystery.
Here is an example: if you only “look” at Mother Teresa, you would only see an old and wrinkled woman. She would not be very attractive, and you wouldn’t think that her wrinkled skin is beautiful. But if you “see” Mother Teresa, you see beauty shining in her wrinkled face and her thin fingers, because you see her body, her age, and her wrinkles as a sign of how she has loved. Once one of the visionaries who has seen the Virgin Mary asked her why she is so beautiful – all the seers who have seen her appear describe her as the most beautiful woman imaginable – and she replied: “I am beautiful because I love.” That is a deeper level of beauty.
We have to learn to see and not just look. The problem is that we look but we do not see. We are all blind. Jesus invites us: “Come and become someone who sees.” We want to be seen, but many times we settle for being looked at. We want to be seen in the depths of our being, but we are afraid that no one can truly see me. So, we settle for being looked at. That is why we strive to take care of ourselves on the outside and accept the impersonal looking of others. We even accept them treating us like an object. What the human being truly wants is what St. Augustine said: the deepest desire of the human heart is to see another and be seen with a look of love. If we only look, we treat them as an object; if we see, we personalize and understand the other person’s full dignity.
Could we say that the body is a map of happiness? In what sense?
Yes. If we read the map correctly, we will arrive at the ultimate mystery of the universe, and it will make us happy if we say yes to Him. But we can also read the map badly and end up in a very different place. John Paul II teaches us how to read the body correctly so that it guides us to where we want to go. We can ask ourselves what it means to “read the body.” The body has a language, speaks a divine word, tells a divine story, and we can ask how it does it. The body tells a story in which sexuality takes us to sacred communion. A man’s body does not make sense by itself, and a woman’s body does not make sense by itself. If we look at them together, we see a call to Holy Communion. And that call is a sign of the sacred communion that God wants to have with us.
The image that the Bible uses, from the beginning to the end, to help us understand love, is marriage. God wants to marry his people, that is the commitment he establishes with his people, and that commitment is fulfilled in the marriage of Christ with the Church. Saint Paul says that this leads to an eternal union. The problem is that if we look but do not see, we will stagnate in the pleasure that our body can give us and we will not see that the union between man and woman is the sign of something bigger. When we stop at the sign and fail to see that it points to something greater, that’s when we separate beauty from truth and make it pornography. We make it only one thing for our selfish pleasure. Saint Paul calls it idolatry because we end up worshiping the body itself and the pleasure it can give us. We become selfish and treat others selfishly as objects for our enjoyment. Back to your point… yes, the body is a map that is made to take us to Heaven, which is our true happiness. If we fail to read it correctly, we condemn ourselves to a living hell. Being looked at but not being seen hurts us deeply.
What does it mean to be truly happy?
Jesus said: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” (John 15:11-12). Thus, happiness is learning to love and let yourself be loved as God loves. Our world talks a lot about love, but often we do not know what this means. We confuse love with desire. The way we understand sexuality leads us to different lives. If we understand it as something to give us pleasure, then we sacrifice the dignity of others for ourselves. But if we look at sexuality as a call to love divinely, we will learn to sacrifice ourselves for the dignity of others. If we sacrifice others, we will be miserable, but if we sacrifice ourselves for others, we will be truly happy.
Is it possible to be truly happy on Earth?
What we can have now are omens, little tastes of true happiness. But if we think we can find true happiness here, we are wrong. I like Saint Augustine’s definition of happiness. He says: “Happiness is having everything I want and wanting nothing bad.” When I want something that is not good for me, I am being deceived into thinking that it will bring me happiness. Then my desires have to be transformed. I see my own life, and I know that I do not want everything correctly and that I do not have everything that I truly want. In this life, we will not find that happiness, but the promise and hope of true happiness keep us alive.
Being different in the way we live, is the issue of sexuality treated the same or differently for young people, married couples, and religious?
We begin with the essential truth, which is for all of us regardless of our state of life—the call to “be a gift, to be given.” John Paul II used to quote a phrase from the Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 24, which says, “Man can only find himself through a sincere gift of self.” It is the same as saying “love how Christ loves” because Christ surrendered his body for us. That is the call for people who are married, for those who are consecrated, and for single people. It is the call for all of us. We are all called to learn to be a gift, but each one in a different and specific way.
The Church says that marriage and celibacy are the only two complete ways in which you can make a gift of yourself. In other words, you are making a promise of how to live your life as a gift. Single people have not yet made the commitment, but they are still called to learn to be a gift. Right now, you are being a gift to others as a reporter. You are writing this interview, and you are going to give your ability as a writer for others to read it. While you give to others for their sake, you are learning to be a gift. That’s why I say there are many ways to live this; marriage is one, celibacy another, and living as a single person too. That is the message of sexuality, to learn to be a gift in order to give life to others. That is the message that God puts in our bodies: Learn to be a gift to give life to others!
Is there any change in the Church’s message about sexuality before and after the Theology of the Body?
The Theology of the Body has not been implemented yet. 99% of the Church does not know that it exists. Most Catholics have never heard of it. John Paul II proclaimed it, but very few know about this, so there is a lot of work to do to inject it into our bloodstream. We have the cure for this modern crisis, but for the cure to work, it must be injected into the bloodstream, and much remains to be done to inject it into the bloodstream of the Church. To do this, we have to bring it deep in our hearts and learn to share it and proclaim it to others. You cannot give what you do not have.
On the other hand, how can we stop making sexuality a taboo?
We need to heal internally. We need a transformation of our mind and heart. We have so many sick images and ideas about the human body and sexuality that are given by our cultural education.
In front of an audience, I would ask who has grown up in a Christian family, and almost everyone would raise their hands. If I ask, how many of you have had an open, honest, normal, and healthy conversation about how beautiful and amazing erotic desire is…? Surely, almost no one would raise their hand. We are scared; we do not know how to talk about this. But as the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum, which means that an empty space that is not being filled with the truth, beauty, and goodness of God’s plan will be filled with lies, pornographic images and sick thoughts about the understanding of our body and our sexuality. Not wanting to talk about this just creates a bigger problem. There is a lot of shame and pain connected to this.
To find the right language and be able to speak in a healthy and sacred way, we must understand it in a healthy and sacred way. We have to heal the wounds and these sick images that we have. Christ came precisely to bring that healing. Where did the first miracle of Jesus take place? At a wedding! Jesus came to heal us at a wedding so that we can understand the beauty and sanctity of the sexual relationship and the union between man and woman. It is essential for life. None of us would exist if it were not for the unions of our parents and of their parents.
When we understand sexuality badly, this affects the whole meaning of life. It is essential— not optional—to understand it well. As John Paul II said: “It is an illusion to believe that we can build a culture of life if we do not accept and experience sexuality and love with respect to its true meaning.” The reason that we live in a culture of death is that we do not understand the meaning of our sexuality. Disorderly sexuality leads to death. Sexuality itself is an instinct for life, but when we pervert it, it becomes an instinct of death, and we devour each other. This has a domino effect on all of society.
Please think about this! Why are there so many abortions? Because people are having sex and do not know what they are doing with their bodies. They do not understand the beauty and dignity of their union. We will never end the problem of abortion until they understand that it is a problem concerning sexuality. Also, think about the confusion of gender in culture today. All this is due to a misinterpretation of sexuality and what it means to be an image of God. A lot of this can be caused by people in the Church who do not know how to talk about this or are afraid to do so. If we are not able to talk about sex in a sacred way, society will talk about it in a way that is not.
The “yes” of a woman changed the world. This woman who decided to open her sexuality to God changed the universe. You have to learn to open your sexuality to God; this is what changes the universe.
How can chastity be liberating?
Chastity is liberating because love is liberating, and chastity is the virtue that allows us to love. Chastity is not a repressive “no,” it is a “no” to sexual disorder in order to say “yes” to the experience of a well-founded sexuality. Saint Paul says that we are made to be free, free to love. Culture only talks about sexual freedom, which means satisfying your impulses whenever you want, and that’s not it. The real freedom is to control your impulses to satisfy and learn to be a gift. Chastity is the virtue that makes us free. It involves discipline and sacrifice, but it is like a pianist who learns to master the muscles of his hands to learn to create beautiful music.
You can read the original on the Regnum Christi site of Spain.