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At the Heart of the Gospel

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At the Heart of the Gospel by Christopher West
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Jan 31, 2012 | ISBN 9780307987112

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“The light of the Gospel, which is a clear but at times painful light, can illumine human sexuality to its very depth in order to transform it and bring it to its full beauty. Here lies the great strength of Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. In this peaceful and positive response to critics, Christopher West proves once again that he is a faithful and inspiring interpreter and communicator of this great pope’s teaching, a teaching so urgently needed for an effective proclamation of the Gospel.” —Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, cardinal archbishop of Vienna; general editor, Catechism of the Catholic Church; and grand chancellor, International Theological Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family

“Christopher West is to be commended for the courage and strength of conviction with which he proclaims, upholds, and defends the spousal vision of the Church, particularly as it’s articulated in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.  It’s with great enthusiasm as his diocesan bishop that I endorse this magnificent book and recommend it to a wide, wide readership.” – Most Reverend Joseph P. McFadden, Bishop of Harrisburg, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Catholic Education
“Inspiring, compelling, faithful and compassionate – At the Heart of the Gospel invites us to follow in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II as authentic witnesses of the truth and beauty of the Gospel amid the many challenges of contemporary culture.  A must read for everyone involved in the new evangelization!” – Most Reverend Kevin C. Rhoades, Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend,  Chairman, USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

“Christopher West has gone to the desert … and come back stronger than ever.  Those who may previously have thought his work was one-sided in its celebration of the body and sexuality will find here, brought out more clearly than ever, the deep balance and integration that has always been the foundation of his work.” – Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson, Archbishop of Saint Louis,  Chairman, USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations
“As a former professor of West’s, I may be biased in his favor, but I can honestly say that he has taught me a great deal through this magnificently developed and theologically sound work.  His balanced and insightful analyses make it clear that West has immersed himself in the great mystics, Fathers, and doctors of the Church.  His treatment of a delicate question of foreplay by married couples is perhaps the finest I have ever read.  In short, this is a magnificent theological work that ought to be widely read by all interested in the Theology of the Body and the new evangelization.” – William E. May, Emeritus Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America.
“West’s highly anticipated work At the Heart of the Gospel is in keeping with the man I have come to know and respect since our close collaboration on the new English translation of TOB.  In short, this balanced and judicious work demonstrates what I have long understood: West knows John Paul II’s TOB as few others do and he shows great theological skill in presenting, explaining, and upholding the late Pope’s teaching.  He grasps its letter with remarkable completeness and is led faithfully by its spirit.  He is to be commended for his courage in defending John Paul II’s teaching (and the theological tradition upon which it’s based) in the face of strong opposition.” – Michael Waldstein, Max Seckler Professor of Theology, Ave Maria University
“The beatification of Pope John Paul II is more than the Church’s official recognition of his sanctity.  John Paul II’s teaching is now bequeathed to the Church in a new way – not only by his authority as Pope, but also by his personal experience of sanctity.  Christopher West is an authentic witness to the transformative power of John Paul II’s teaching and this book accurately captures the meaning of his Theology of the Body and its critical importance for the new evangelization.” – Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, Theologian, Author, and Founding Professor of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, Washington D.C.
“Why should you read this book?  Because Christopher West is the “translator” of Pope John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body into clear, simple, popular language; and the Theology of the Body is the Church’s answer to the great heresy of our time, the “Sexual Revolution”; and the Sexual Revolution is the main cause of the corruption and decline of marriage and the family; and the family is the primary key to the health of any civilization; and our civilization is already half way to “Brave New World.”  At the Heart of the Gospel provides the alternative.” – Peter Kreeft,
Professor of Philosophy, Boston College

“If complacency in the Church is a sleeping lion, then one can expect many swipes of the paw at the work of Christopher West.  At the Heart of the Gospel compellingly demonstrates the truth of the matter: West is bringing fresh grace to both the Church and the wider culture.  With the wisdom born of trial and the humble acceptance of his own poverty, West targets our aching need and directs us to healing with surgical precision.  His proclamation of the Gospel is joyous, contemporary, and contagious!  Onward Christopher, we are listening!” – Anne, a lay apostle
Direction for Our Times; Author, Lessons in Love

“At the Heart of the Gospel presents the wisdom and knowledge of an evangelist who’s been on the front lines for nearly twenty years.  With great humility, clarity and charity, Christopher West unpacks the life-giving teachings of the Catholic Church on what Blessed John Paul II considered the most pressing issue of our day – what it means to be a person made in God’s image as male and female – and teaches us how to communicate this life-saving truth to a world starving for love.” – Matthew Pinto, President, Ascension Press

“Christopher West is a pioneer in reaching today’s culture with the Gospel.” – Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.

Author Q&A

What inspired your latest book At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization?
Since I first discovered John Paul II’s magnificent Theology of the Body (TOB) in 1993, I’ve been doing all that I can to tell others about this treasure.  Our world today is in desperate need of a redeeming vision of human sexuality – one that takes us to a freedom beyond the polarizing extremes of sexual indulgence, on the one hand, and sexual repression on the other – and that’s what the TOB provides: authentic sexual liberation, which is the freedom to love as we are created to love.
There is still much work to be done in terms of just raising awareness about the TOB, but through the efforts of many fine speakers and authors, the word has gotten out and interest has been raised among many.  Now it seems we’re at a new stage of needing to clarify what this TOB is really all about.  People have raised important questions about that nature of the TOB and they’re looking for answers.   That’s what inspired me to write this book.

What are the questions people are raising about John Paul II’s TOB?
What does the TOB actually teach?  Is it all about sex?  What is sex all about?  Is it something new?  Is it a revolution?  Is it really possible to overcome our selfish erotic tendencies and see “the mystery of God” revealed through our bodies?  What is the best language and approach to use in communicating John Paul II’s dense scholarship to a popular audience?  How do we reach out to our sexually wounded culture with a message of hope, healing, and redemption?  What role does this TOB play in the new evangelization?
In At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization, I return to the sources – the Scriptures, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II, and a host of saints and mystics from the theological tradition to answer these and many other questions and to demonstrate what the Church has always taught us about the “great mystery” of our creation as male and female and how it takes us to the heart of the Gospel itself.

How does our creation as male and female take us to the heart of the Gospel?
Our bodies have a “prophetic language,” according to John Paul II.  In other words, they proclaim the truth about God, or, at least they’re meant to.  The Bible begins with the marriage of man and woman and ends with the marriage of Christ and the Church.  God has wed himself to us in Jesus Christ.  That’s the good news of the Gospel – not only that our sins our forgiven, as wonderful as that is.  Our sins are forgiven so we can enter the wedding feast!  God wants to marry us, to live with us in an eternal union of joy and ecstasy that the Bible compares to a marriage.  That’s what we hunger for, that’s what we ache for: eternal joy, eternal love, eternal ecstasy, and the whole purpose of our sexuality is to reveal this stupendous plan of God.  Our bodies tell this story, the divine story of God’s plan to marry us.  When we learn how to read the “prophetic language of our bodies,” we discover that our bodies proclaim the central message of the Gospel itself.  This is why the two become “one flesh” – to reveal Christ’s love for the Church, as the Apostle Paul says (Eph 5:31-32).

So, is this what it means to “reclaim the body for the new evangelization”?
To quote that old country song, our world is “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places, lookin’ for love in too many faces.”  Eros – that yearning and hunger for love that we all experience – is meant to lead us to God.  As beautiful as sex is meant to be in God’s design, it is not our be-all and end-all.  But it is meant to be a sign of our be-all and end-all: it’s meant to be a sign that points us to what the saints call “mystical marriage” or “nuptial union” with God.  When we confuse the sign with our ultimate fulfillment, we end up worshipping the body and sex.  We end up creating a “false heaven,” and, as I explain in my book, that leads to a living hell.
Reclaiming the body for the new evangelization means, first, that Christians themselves have to rediscover what it means that the body and sexuality proclaim the Gospel.  If we ourselves don’t know the beauty and gift of our sexuality, then we are the blind leading the blind, and all we’ll have is a list of rules to offer people that don’t connect, that don’t make sense.  As we reclaim the truth of the body ourselves, then we can show the world what it’s really looking for when it “worships sex.”  The sexual confusion so prevalent in our world today – and, let’s be honest, in our own hearts – is the human desire for heaven gone berserk.  John Paul II’s TOB “unberserks” it, so to speak.   Untwisting the distortions of the culture is how we reclaim the body for the new evangelization.  That’s what evil is: a twisting or a distortion of something good, in this case, something very good.  Redemption doesn’t throw evil out the window.  It recovers and restores the good that evil distorts.  It overcomes evil with good.  This is what the death and resurrection of Jesus is all about – untwisting what has been twisted up by sin and thus restoring creation to the purity of its origins, as the Catechism puts it.

What does the Church really have to offer the world in the ongoing cultural debate about sex and marriage?
The Church has a treasure beyond measure to offer the world – a vision of the human body, sex, and marriage that illuminates the very meaning of existence and the universe; a vision of the human body, sex, and marriage that makes sense out of our deepest hopes, desires, sorrows, and sufferings.  We have such high hopes for love, but we suffer because, to use a biblical image, we’ve all “run out of wine.”  And that’s to say we’ve all run out of divine love.  The purpose of the sexual relationship is to share in the very love of God.  But we cannot give what we don’t have.  The good news of the Gospel is that Christ does not condemn us for having “run out of wine.”  In his very first miracle, he restores the wine in superabundance.  So, let’s drink deeply!  This book is meant to help people do precisely that – drink deep drafts of healing grace from the wine of Christ’s wedding feast.

Who should read this book?
Anyone and everyone who is concerned about where the sexual revolution has gotten us and how we should respond as Christians.  Anyone who is wanting to help the culture recover from the wounds of sexual dysfunction, I think, will find this book compelling.  And anyone who is looking for a way to engage the culture in a “new evangelization” will also want to read this book.
I quote extensively from both Popes Benedict and John Paul II on the pressing need for a new evangelization.  Many people are raised on the Church, but “so very little sticks,” laments Pope Benedict.  Why?  As the Holy Father admits, the modern crisis in faith stems in part from the fact that the Gospel has been proclaimed “in formulas that, while true, are nevertheless at the same time outmoded.  They no longer speak to our living situation and are often no longer comprehensible to us.”  Thus, he says, we “must seriously reflect on ways to give catechesis a new heart and a new face.”
This book is an invitation to one and all to reflect on the challenge, hope, and promise that the Theology of the Body represents for the Church and the world at the beginning of the third millennium.  The TOB really does give catechesis “a new heart and a new face.”  It gives us a “new language” for entering into a meaningful conversation with the culture.  John Paul II’s response to the sexual revolution was basically this: “You wanna talk about sex?  Okay, but let’s really talk about it.  Let’s not stop at the surface.  Let’s enter into the depths of the “great mystery” of our creation as male and female.  When we go into the depths of this “great mystery,” we find ourselves at the very heart of the Gospel itself.  

What do you hope readers will take away?
My prayer is that readers will come away with a sense of awe and wonder at the grandeur, the glory, the beauty of God’s eternal plan for human life and that they will feel both compelled and equipped to “go into the main streets,” as Jesus said, “and invite everyone to the wedding feast.”

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