Christopher West, renowned speaker and author, found himself in a bit of a controversy in 2009 after an interview on ABC News about his understanding of Bl. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” After a six month sabbatical, West returned to the public stage with a new format and tone. The result is FILL THESE HEARTS: God Sex and the Universal Longing. This new production is promoted as “an evening of beauty and reflection on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.” I jumped on the opportunity to attend the October 29th presentation of FILL THESE HEARTS in Overland Park, Kansas. The night was co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and filled the theater at a local community college.
As a parish priest that regularly works with youth, engaged couples, and married folks, I often use West’s works on the “Theology of the Body” to foster a better appreciate of the nuptial meaning of the body and the deep longing for union with God that is part of the universal human experience. I’m still running off the fumes from the workshop West gives to seminarians at the Institute for Priestly Formation. I make sure each engaged couple I work with has two copies of the Good News about Sex and Marriage. The first of many books I have shared with our own Joe Heschmeyer was West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners. I’m definitely a fan of his work. However, I’m even more of a fan of his humility. West is not afraid of looking at his own work with a critical eye. He has updated and revised a number of his books. After receiving criticism following the ABC News interview, West made a public statement in which he admitted some shortcomings to his approach. While maintaining that the interview misrepresented his approach and message in many ways, he stated, “I want to thank those of you who offered thoughtful critiques of my work and helpful suggestions on how to improve it. I have taken them to heart. Indeed, I have always weighed my critics’ observations carefully and prayerfully. They have helped me refine my approach a great deal over the years and I remain very grateful for that.”
In FILL THESE HEARTS, Christopher West presents the most current refinement of his approach. As is the case with any authentic reform rooted in real humility, the new approach is worth the purification process that preceded it. West and his team have gone all out to make the new presentation an experience that engages that ache each person has for nuptial union. Centered in a deep appreciation of beauty, the program features an adept use of music, visual art, dance, and film. Mike Mangione and The Union provide the live soundtrack for the evening that challenges the audience to go beyond being entertained and risk meditating. West blends the thoughts of Bl. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop Fulton Sheen, and St. Teresa of Avila with his own experience and love of the “Theology of the Body.” The result is an intense opportunity to take seriously the desire for union that is glimpsed on earth and fulfilled in Heaven. I was especially taken by how West presents Jesus and Mary as the New Adam and New Eve. I would sacrifice another evening just to experience that one meditation again. Considering the additional reflections on the Eucharist, the challenge of sharing the “Theology of the Body,” celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, and the beauty of marriage, FILL THESE HEARTS is a comprehensive but accessible experience. He even takes on the connection between Bl. John Paul II and Hugh Hefner that drew so much ire after his controversial interview. I’m glad he did. I’m also glad his humility is for real. FILL THESE HEARTS is the fruit of that humility and it is very good fruit. It’s definitely worth attending. If it’s not scheduled to come to a nearby location, it’s even worth finding out what it would take to become part of the tour. To ensure that the experience isn’t wasted, each person in attendance also receives a high quality 30 page program that contains the complete outline and “notes” for the entire evening, song lyrics and art. Overall, FILL THESE HEARTS accomplishes Christopher West’s goals of adopting a new tone and sharing the brilliance of the “Theology of the Body” in a compelling way.