Over 400 of the 1000 attendees turned in an evaluation. 92% of them found the conference exceeded or met expectations, using words like, Excellent - Great!, Loved it, Awesome, very pleased, Outstanding, Well done, Marvelous, Wonderful, Mind Blowing, and Brilliant to describe their opinion of the it. Of what they enjoyed the most 67% cited Christopher West, his humour, songs, movie quotes, 26% said the talks which they found to be refreshing, and non-judgmental. They liked the depth of JP II's teaching, especially on contraception and celibacy. Others liked the Mass, Critical Mass, networking with like-minded Catholics and the resources. Many wished their family or friends had attended and wanted another ToB Conference.
Learning about Christianity and sexuality
Friday, 23 October 2009
Written by Carolyn Girard, The Catholic Register,
Christopher West wades among the audience as he delivers his introduction to Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in Toronto Oct. 17. (Photo by Carolyn Girard)TORONTO - Christopher West introduced a thousand adults, young and old, to Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body at a weekend conference in Toronto Oct. 16-17.
West, a spokesman for the Theology of the Body Research Institute, a non-profit educational organization based in Philadelphia, delivered a dynamic introduction over the two days on a series of 129 short talks the late pope gave between September of 1979 and November of 1984 on human embodiment and erotic love.
“As we allow our sexuality to become untwisted, we come more and more to see sexuality as a way of living an authentic Christian life because Christianity is about the union of Christ and the church, and that’s the deepest meaning of our sexuality,” West told The Catholic Register.
To get his points across, West used humour and drew on examples from popular movies and songs to “crack open” the theological complexities for the average person. The pope’s theology is complex, but solid gold, he said, once you chip away at it and begin to understand.
“We have to get in touch with that desire. That burning desire of the saints is made with the same stuff but it’s directed vertically at God,” he said.
Salvatore Corrado, 35, said his first introduction to West’s writings was several years ago when a priest gave him a book to read as penance. Since then he has dabbled in more of West’s works and enjoyed hearing him in person.
“I think a lot more people would not claim that the church is out of touch with the world if they knew about these teachings,” Corrado said.
“You should call Christopher West a sexual revolutionary of the Catholic Church — he brings the Theology of the Body down to Earth.”
Before the main conference, West offered a condensed, four-hour version for 110 priests and seminarians and bishops at Blessed Trinity Church, urging them to unite the intellect and the heart to tackle the challenging topic of sexuality from the pulpit. West regularly addresses celibate crowds, as one of the institute’s ongoing programs is clergy education.
“We call you many titles... but men don’t follow titles, they follow courage — unite us, unite the church,” West said, borrowing a phrase from the movie Braveheart.
He cited his own experience as a 16-year-old in Confession being told by a priest that a certain sexual sin was “OK” when it actually wasn’t. Luckily, West said, he began to seek out the real church teachings and now feels the need to encourage priests not to water down the hard truth “for the sake of being pastoral.”
“Coming to understand this truth was the most liberating moment of my life,” he said. “Don’t put a condom on this truth and don’t put a hammer on it to beat people up either.”
When looking at sexual acts, people must ask themselves “does it mirror God’s free, total, faithful, fruitful love or does it miss the mark?” he said.
He encouraged them to see their celibacy not as a repression of eros but as a charismatic sign of the ultimate destiny of every human being. The hunger of the heart for love can only be satisfied by God and must be directed at God, through prayer.
“We have to live the truth of our sexuality in order to be authentic witnesses to it and so we cannot reduce our sexuality to sexual activity,” West said. “John Paul II would be one example of many celibate men who have lived the full truth of their sexuality, of their masculine identity and this is why I’ve learned more about sexuality from this celibate man than from anybody else on the planet, because he’s a true father.”
Slovak Bishop John Pazak said West, whom he’d heard of but never actually heard, did not disappoint.
“I was impressed by his insight into the vocation of a priest,” Pazak said. “The solid theology of the incarnation is what we have to preach. Most of the priests here, through their seminary experience, have this (knowledge) but (West) articulates maybe what we’re shy about and I think what he’ll give the priests and seminarians is the courage to proclaim this part of the Gospel.”