Thursday, April 11, 2013
Fill These Hearts (A Westian's Review)
My first post on sex caused quite a stir. Unwittingly, I had walked into the middle of a pitched battle between those who admire the popular theologian Christopher West (i.e., "Westians") and those who believe that his approach plays into the Main Stream Media's cult of the orgasm. So, it is with some trepidation that I venture my review of Christopher West's most recent book, Fill These Hearts. It is with even more trepidation that I announce that I liked it.
A recurring theme of Fill These Hearts is that we must learn to aim our desire according to God's design so that we can arrive at our destiny. Our destiny is to be totally united in bliss with Our Lord and Savior forever in heaven. "These heavenly nuptials are what we long for (desire); they're what we're created for (design); and they're what we're headed for (destiny)," states West.
A deservedly popular blogger voiced the complaint that Fill These Hearts "does not discuss chastity until page 127!" -- her implication being that chastity is, or should be, the main point of West's book. I respectfully disagree with that implication. I don't think that chastity is or should be the main point of West's book, because I don't think that sex is the main point of his book. True, he uses the ecstatic, nuptial, and even erotic language of the mystics whom he favors. But let's look beyond the sizzle to see what he's really saying. How do we achieve our desire based on God's design for our destiny? Primarily through prayer, the liturgy, and the Eucharist.
Here's what he says about prayer:
"True contemplative prayer ... is where we 'let our masks fall.' It's where we get real with God. It's where we [metaphorically] get naked, allowing our hearts to be fully exposed." Praying, we can say to Our Lord: "I desire you; increase my desire." (pp. 70, 80)
"Christ is the one who 'left father and mother' to give up his body for his Bride, so that the Church might become 'one body, one spirit' with him, as the priest says in the Church's liturgy. And that's where it all happens for us -- in the liturgy, in the Church's most exalted prayer. ...In her liturgy, the Church, speaking for all of creation, gives her 'yes' to God's marriage proposal." (pp. 93-94)
About the Eucharist:
"In the Eucharist, Christ offers his body graciously to us, and we offer ours graciously to him. And so, as Joseph Ratzinger wrote, in receiving Holy Communion 'there is a person-to-person exchange, a coming of one into the other. The living Lord gives himself to me, enters into me, and invites me to surrender myself to him.'" (p. 95)
And, only then, about chastity:
"Chastity is the virtue that overcomes the selfish pull of lust within us and orients the wildness of eros toward the truth of infinite love. ... This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church boldly proclaims: 'Chastity is a promise of immortality.'" (p. 127)
Our destiny is immortality. Our destiny is heaven. Seen in this light, chastity is clearly not the end-point. It's the stepping stone. Without prayer, the liturgy, and the Eucharist, you may not be able to achieve chastity. You may not even see a reason to try. With prayer, the liturgy, the Eucharist, and the self-control inherent in chastity, you may be launched on a path to unending happiness.
I recommend this book whole-heartedly to anyone who seeks a peace that passes all understanding and a love that lasts forever. In the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II, "it is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; ... it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise."
I guess my whole-hearted recommendation of Christopher West's book makes me a Westian. And I guess I'm okay with that.