By NICHOLE GOLDEN | Published February 20, 2020
What does it mean to be made in the image of God as male and female?
St. Catherine of Siena Church invites those interested in learning about the call to live in God’s image to its second Faith and Love Conference.
The conference, featuring author Christopher West and musician Mike Mangione, will be Saturday, March 14 from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
More than 500 Catholics attended last year’s inaugural event at the Kennesaw parish. Pastor Father Neil Dhabliwala determined a need for such a program as many parishioners began to ask him about the church’s teachings on human sexuality and marriage.
“I just recognized a lot of confusion in the culture and the church,” said Father Dhabliwala. He wanted to provide “a place where people could go to get real solid teaching.”
The overall theme is the dignity of the human person particularly regarding morality and sexual ethics. West’s program will be “Living the Joy of Love” and will include talks, music and reflections.
West is an expert on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and is co-founder and president of the Theology of the Body Institute in Pennsylvania.
Mangione is a professional touring Americana/folk/blues musician who has collaborated with West at events for many years. He has traveled the world as a solo artist and with his two bands.
“My goal is to facilitate an experience that is communal between presenters, recipients and the Holy Spirit, where we can all gather around and discuss the deepest mysteries of what it means to be human and be part of the human mystery,” said Mangione. “It is sometimes easier to achieve this with music because, like most art forms, it is often felt first and understood later.”
In an interview with The Georgia Bulletin, West provided a glimpse into his conference topics and the collection of 129 talks of St. John Paul II, delivered as the first major teaching project of his pontificate and known as “Theology of the Body.”
What is Theology of the Body?
It’s a stunningly profound reflection on what it means to be made in the image of God as male and female, which, in turn, opens us to the “great mystery” of Christ and the Church (see Eph 5:31-32). Our bodies are not only biological, they’re theological because they tell God’s story. God is an eternal exchange of life-giving love, and we see a divine call to live and love in the image of God stamped right in our bodies.
How did you discover these teachings of St. John Paul II?
I was raised on what you might call the “starvation diet gospel”—the basic message in the air was that your desires are “bad” and should be repressed. Christianity seemed like nothing but a list of rules to follow. Not surprisingly, I turned to what I call the “fast food gospel”—the secular culture’s promise of immediate gratification of my desires. The fast food tasted good going down, but eventually all the grease and sodium, so to speak, caught up with me in my college years. The pain I was in compelled me to seek answers to some deep and pressing questions about life, love, desire, sex. I figured if there really is a God, he’s gotta have a plan for all this.
My seeking eventually led me to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which I discovered in 1993. I learned from him that Christianity is not a starvation diet. It’s an invitation to an infinite satisfaction of our hunger in what Scripture calls “the wedding feast of the Lamb.”
You’ve said TOB “rocked” your world when you first read it. How so?
John Paul II was the first person to tell me that that “ache,” that hunger I felt inside for some kind of lasting fulfillment, was good, and that God put it there to lead me to an infinite satisfaction. And then John Paul told me that that desire had a name, “eros.”
God gave us eros, John Paul says, as an upward impulse of the human spirit towards all that is true, good and beautiful. I like to say that God gave us eros to launch us to the stars like a rocket. The problem is, with original sin, our rocket engines became inverted. That’s why our efforts to find joy and happiness so often backfire on us. And the good news that changed my life is that Christ came into the world not to condemn those with inverted rocket engines. He came into the world to redirect our rocket engines to the stars.
John Paul drives this point home over and over again: Christ doesn’t invite us to the repression of the body and sexuality, but to the redemption of the body and sexuality. Our faith is not about salvation from the eros, but salvation of eros. When you grew up thinking Christianity invites you to a starvation diet and you find out it’s actually an invitation to an infinite feast of ecstasy and fulfillment, that rocks your world.
The Theology of the Body Institute, says West, offers parish events, books, a podcast, a certification program for catechists as well as other formation programs. The March 14 conference is for adults and teens, noted Father Dhabliwala. The program includes lunch and a workbook. An exhibitor fair will be held during lunch.
Catholic organizations and ministries may purchase space for the lunch exhibit. For more information, contact Charissa Saenz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: Christopher West’s answers were edited for length.
Registration for the Faith and Love Conference is required. Early discounted registration is available through Sunday, Feb. 23 and is $25 per person. After Feb. 23, the registration is $30 per person.