Prepare yourself to be profoundly moved. It’s nearly impossible to read Christopher West’s new book, Heaven’s Song without a radical regeneration of your view of marriage, and it’s relationship with the Church. It’s no accident that George Weigel called Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body a “ticking theological time bomb that, when it goes off, will ignite the New Springtime of Evangelization”. This is the book with the secret to renewing the Church by revealing the secrets of the most beautiful love poem in the world, the “Song of Songs” which tell us what Our Lord intended for marriage to be; a foretaste of ‘heaven’s song’.
Heaven’s Song is based upon recently-discovered writings on the Theology of the Body, the lectures given by the late Pope John Paul II in his Wednesday audiences. These lectures were considered ‘too sensitive’ for delivery in such a public forum, out of respect for young ears. This book is for those of us who want to understand why Christ used marital imagery in describing His relationship to the Church, and why His first public miracle was the turning of water into wine at the Wedding of Cana. Marriage is a central theme of Catholic theology, and once this is properly understood by theologians and laymen alike, a new wave of evangelization will be initiated. This most-timely explanation of the “Good News” has the irresistible attraction of the tender invitation of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well, to leave her life of sexual sin and drink of living water. This is the language which will be able to reach the sin-saturated, disillusioned youth who have been searching for love and are about to give up on finding it.
West asserts that society is obsessed with sex, not because they are on the wrong track but precisely because they are onto something; the marital embrace can be a taste of unearthly bliss. But they are going about it all wrong, and they need the timeless wisdom of the Catholic Church, which, now, more powerfully than ever, through the Theology of the Body can set a twisted society straight. According to West, society’s sexual obsession with sex is like a man who has the key to a door wherein lies a treasure, however he remains fascinated with the key, and never uses it to turn the lock to discover the treasure. This treasure is available in its richest form to Catholics as they unite their marriages through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, with the cross of Christ. This gift of the fullness of marriage is Christ’s gift to His Bride the Church, and this new explanation of this concept may well be the greatest legacy of Pope John Paul II.
The beautiful imagery from the “Song of Songs” long used in meditation by mystics like St Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Louis de Monfort, were interpreted by Pope John Paul, and West unites these insights in comprehensible and often poetic language. Some passages of Heaven’s Song just beg to be read aloud, and prayerfully shared between spouses as a meditation. You can almost hear the heavenly music playing within the poetic language. I read parts of the book in front of the Blessed Sacrament, while preparing for Holy Mass and it re-awakened my appreciation for Christ’s self-donation in the Blessed Sacrament, as well as the gift of my marriage.
Nearly all marriages fall far short of the Lord’s plan for marriage to be the mutual sincere gift of spouses to one another, a reflection of Christ’s complete gift of Himself on the cross. The emotions I felt as I read Heaven’s Song were partly remorse at how far we fall short of this ideal, and partly joy at the splendor which a married couple can achieve, through the grace of the sacrament, to bring marital love closer to perfect, self-sacrificing love of Our Lord. Heaven’s Song brought my own nuptial Mass to mind where we read the prayer of the wedding night of Tobit and Sarah, a central piece of this book. The importance of seeing the sacrifice necessary to obtain the joys of marital bliss, offered to God in prayer, united with the Holy Sacrifice, is explained in a powerfully-convincing fashion.
Christopher West has been presenting Theology of the Body in seminars and on TV for some time now, and has “heard it all”. Each chapter begins and ends with a story of a couple whose marriage is in trouble, and he uses TOB to diagnose where they went wrong. The origins of many marital problems can be resolved by a careful reading and discussion of this book. This makes this book a natural for marriage preparation courses, and marriage renewal retreats. I hope it is also taught in universities and seminaries so that future leaders in the Church can reach the next generation of Catholics with the revolutionary message of this book: “I remember thinking, as I read [Theology of the Body] for the first time, that somehow I had chanced upon the long-lost treasure that every person longed for, the path to the banquet of love that truly satisfies the hungers of the human heart.”