At the Heart of the Gospel Teacher’s Guide

By Christopher West

At the Heart of the Gospel by Christopher West

READERS GUIDE

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Chapter 1: THE GREAT MYSTERY
 
1.      What is the “great mystery” that lies at the heart of the Gospel?
2.      What does it mean to reclaim the body for the new evangelization?
3.      How does the Church define the terms sex and sexuality?
4.      Why is the very “reality of the creature” at stake in the question of sexuality?
5.      What important distinction was the Second Vatican Council making in stating that “the deposit and truths of the Faith are one thing, and the manner in which they are enunciated is another”?

2. Chapter 2: THE WOUND OF PURITANISM
 
1.      What attitudes have “warped and intimidated people” within the Church, according to Pope Benedict?
2.      What is the difference between the “mind of the Church” and the “mind of people in the Church”?
3.      What is the difference between sexual repression and self-master?
4.      What does it mean to be sensitive to the good that is present even in what is evil?
5.      In what sense do we encounter Christ even in hardened sinners?
6.      Compare and contrast angelism and animalism.
7.      Explain the difference between “healthy shame” and prudery.
8.      Why did John Paul II order the removal of several of the loin clothes on the paintings in the Sistine Chapel?
9.      How can we “reveal” the mystery of sexuality while honoring the veil?

3. Chapter 3: THE SACRAMENTALITY OF THE BODY
 
1.      What is the danger of pitting the “material” against the “spiritual,” the “lower” against the “higher,” the “body” against the “divine”?
2.      The Catechism says we can “name God only by taking creatures as our starting point.”  What does this mean?
3.      What is the Christian response to both “materialism” and “spiritualism”?
4.      Eventually we can leave Christ’s body behind as we progress in our spiritual relationship with God.  True or false?
5.      Why does the marriage of flesh and spirit lie at the heart of the Gospel itself?
6.      What does John Paul II mean by “the sacramentality of the body”?
7.      How does the “one flesh” union make visible the invisible mystery of God?
8.      What does John Paul II claim was “perhaps the most important principle” of the Second Vatican Council?
9.      Man is a “spiritual being” housed in human flesh.  True or false?
10.  In what way does the body “fully reveal man to himself and make his supreme calling clear”?

4. Chapter 4: THE TRANSFORMATION OF DESIRE
 
1.      In what way does the question of whether we can “overcome concupiscence” take us to the heart of the Gospel itself?
2.      John Paul teaches not only that overcoming concupiscence is possible, but that it is necessary if we are to love as God loves.  True or false?
3.      What is the difference between “ethic” and “ethos”?
4.      What does it mean to speak of a “new ethos of seeing”?
5.      Those who accept the grace of redemption can expect a steady uphill climb of progression in sexual purity.  True or false?
6.      What is the distinction St. Thomas makes between continence and virtue?
7.      What does it mean to overcome eros with Eros?
8.      Why is John Paul II critical of what he calls “determinism in the sexual sphere”?
9.      What is the “interpretation of suspicion” and why is it incompatible with Christ’s words about lust in the Sermon on the Mount?

5. Chapter 5: THE GREAT ANALOGY OF SPOUSAL LOVE
 
1.      What does it mean to say that, subjectively speaking, sin has caused the body to “lose its character as a sign”?  Why is the qualification “subjectively speaking” important?
2.      Christ says that “if our eyes our not sound, our bodies will be shrouded in darkness.”  What does that mean?
3.      In what way does the “great mystery” of Ephesians chapter 5 (where St. Paul links the union of spouses with the union of Christ and the Church) serve as a “compendium or summa” of Christ’s teaching about God and man?
4.      What does it mean to say that the mystery of redemption “clothes itself” in the mystery of marriage?
5.      What does it mean to say that marriage is the “foundation of the entire sacramental order”?
6.      How does the Eucharist reveal the meaning and purpose of human sexuality?  And what light does human sexuality shed on the meaning of the Eucharist?
7.      What does it mean (and what does it not mean) to say Christ is sexual?
8.      What does it mean to say that the fruitfulness of the cross is “virginal, but by no means asexual”?
9.      Explain the “minimalist” and “maximalist” interpretations of the spousal analogy.
10.  How does natural conception illuminate “spiritual fecundity”?
11.  Define Manichaeism.  How do Manichaean attitudes blind us to the beauty and purity of spousal/erotic imagery in understanding Christ’s love for the Church?
12.  How does Manichaeism provide a “loophole” for avoiding the requirements of the Gospel?
What are the three stages of spiritual growth we must continually undergo if we are to experience a “full purification” and reclaim the body as a “sign” of the divine mystery?

6. Chapter 6: THE NARROW GATE BETWEEN IDOLATRY AND ICONOCLASM
 
1.      Define idolatry and iconoclasm in relationship to the theology of the human body.
2.      What is the “narrow gate” between idolatry and iconoclasm?
3.      John Paul II speaks of a holy kind of “fascination” we should have with the mystery of human sexuality.  What does this mean?  What does this not mean?
4.      As a result of sin we have almost lost the ability to see the body rightly.  What is the significance of the word “almost” in this context?
5.      The idolater says “Keep your ‘spirituality’ away from my image” while the iconoclast says “Keep your image away from my ‘spirituality’.”  Explain.
6.      In what way do both idolaters and iconoclasts have religious motives?
7.      In what way does iconoclasm, like Manichaeism, blame the physical realm for a problem that is of a spiritual nature?
8.      How can false worship be transformed into true worship?
9.      In order to experience spiritual realties, it is important that we learn how to deaden or nullify our senses through bodily mortification.  True or false?
10.  In what way is iconoclasm the “summation of all heresies”?
11.  What is the relationship between fasting and feasting?
Pope Benedict observes that in our attempt to protect divine realities from what some consider the degrading realities of the physical world, “What seems like the highest humility toward God turns into pride.”  How so?

7. Chapter 7: THE NEW EVANGELIZATION AND “THE WAY OF BEAUTY”
 
1.      What does it mean to have “an itinerary of friendship” with the culture?  What does it not mean?
2.      Pope Paul VI stated that, before speaking to the culture, we must take “great care to listen” to the culture.  Why?
3.      Why does the Church “wish to be closer to the secular world”?
4.      What does it mean to “descend” into the culture in order to help it “ascend”?
5.      Philosophically speaking, evil does not exist.  True or false?
6.      What is meant by “the primacy of mercy” and a “theology of affirmation”?
7.      What is the relationship between the sacred and the secular from an authentic Catholic perspective?
8.      What does it mean to speak of the “touch point” between the sacred and the secular?
9.      What does Pope Benedict mean by saying we must seek to integrate the faith with “what is good and right about modernity”?
10.  Behind every evil there is always something good, and we simply must learn to tease it out.  Explain what this means for the new evangelization.
11.  Why are art and artists so important for the new evangelization?
12.  Pope Benedict quotes Hermann Hesse, “Art means: revealing God in everything that exists.”  Does this mean all art is religious art, or should be religious art?
13.  What is “the way of beauty”?
14.  The beauty of the body can provide a “healthy shock.”  Distinguish this from the “unhealthy shock” of pornography.
15.  We scorn truth apart from beauty, and we porn beauty apart from truth.  What does this mean?
16.  “A truth that does not sing is a truth betrayed.”  Explain.
17.  In what way does the Song of Songs express “the essence of biblical faith”?
18.  What does it mean to describe rock musicians as “twisted mystics” and “contemporary Augustines”?
19.  How can eros become a force for our salvation rather than a force for our destruction?  How does Mary reveal this to be true?

 
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