Christopher West is a world renowned teacher of John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” – a bold, biblical vision of love and sexuality. As Founder and President of The Cor Project (“cor” is Latin for heart), Christopher leads an international outreach devoted to disseminating this liberating teaching and empowering others to live and share it.
In 2004 Christopher co-founded the Theology of the Body Institute which spreads the life-giving message of Theology of the Body through graduate level courses, on-site speaker programs and clergy enrichment training. The Theology of the Body Institute seeks to penetrate and permeate the culture with a vision of true sexuality that appeals to the deepest yearnings of the human heart for love and union.
With permission, we share one of Christopher’s recent blog posts on Pope Francis’ encyclical, Amoris Laetitia.
Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love): The Bible Begins and Ends with Marriage
As Pope Francis affirms right at the start of chapter one of The Joy of Love, “The Bible is full of families, births, love stories and family crises. This is true from its very first page, with the appearance of Adam and Eve’s family … to its very last page, where we behold the wedding feast of the Bride and the Lamb” (8). Later in his document he proclaims that the “Gospel of the family spans the history of the world, from the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God to the fulfillment of the mystery of the covenant in Christ at the end of time with the marriage of the Lamb” (63).
As Pope Francis declares elsewhere: “We, the women and men of the Church, we are in the middle of a love story: each of us is a link in this chain of love. And if we do not understand this, we have understood nothing of what the Church is” (April 24, 2013). In The Joy of Love, Francis makes it abundantly clear what kind of love story this is.
Not only does the Bible begin and end with marriage, right in the middle we have the unabashed celebration of spousal union in the Song of Songs. The erotic poetry of the Song points ultimately to divine love and demonstrates that Christ loves his Church as “a lover with all the passion of a true love,” wrote Pope Benedict XVI. Indeed, throughout the Old Testament, the prophets “described God’s passion for his people using boldly erotic images” (God is Love, 9, 10).
Christ’s first miracle is at a wedding. He calls himself “the Bridegroom.” And at the high point of the entire biblical analogy of spousal love, St. Paul describes the “one flesh” union of spouses as a “great mystery” that refers to Christ and the Church (see Eph 5:31–32). This “great mystery,” St. John Paul II tells us, is “the central theme of the whole of revelation, its central reality. It is what God wishes above all to transmit to mankind in his Word” (Theology of the Body, 93:2).
What does God wish “above all” to tell us in his Word? He loves us. He loves us as a father and brother and friend, to be sure. But he loves us in a particular way as a Spouse. In fact, as I often say in my books and lectures, we can summarize the entire Bible with these five words: “God wants to marry us.” When we proclaim Christ’s saving love to others, we are proclaiming the love of the eternal Bridegroom for his Bride and we are inviting them into this eternal communion with the divine.
Being a Christian, then, does not mean learning how to abide by a set of dry doctrines and repressive rules. It means learning how to direct the deepest longing of our hearts (eros) toward that which truly satisfies: the eternal marriage of Christ and the Church. These “heavenly nuptials” are what we yearn for, what we’re created for, and what we’re destined for. This is “the message capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every heart,” to use Pope Francis’s expression (Joy of the Gospel, 265). The rules exist for one and only one final reason: to help us aim our yearning in the right direction.
If Christianity is not framed as such—as God’s passionate desire for union with us and our quest for the true satisfaction of eros in union with him—it eventually becomes incomprehensible and even meaningless. More than that, it can even morph into something destructive to our true humanity.
What is the task, then, of the new evangelization? It’s nothing other than heeding Christ’s call to “go into the main streets and invite everyone to the wedding feast” (Mt 22:9). Extending that invitation to everyone, no matter how broken their lives and relationships may be, is what Pope Francis’s new document is all about. If we forget that, “we have understood nothing of what the Church is.”