April 1, 2014, Philadelphia, PA (CNS) -- Christopher West, best-selling author of Good News About Sex & Marriage, Theology of the Body Explained, and Theology of the Body for Beginners, announced a new initiative today of his Theology of the Body Institute (TOB). The initiative entitled, "Theology of the Body Massage," or TOB Massage, is a multi-faceted program that includes a new book, Massage: A Theological Primer, massage therapist training certification services, and plans to start a line of TOB Massage Parlors. West, Douglas Williams, a master masseur and Catholic Deacon, and Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, TOB's chaplain and theological advisor, spoke today at a press conference here in Philadelphia to discuss the initiative. West described the project as a one close to his heart. "If the the theology of the body is a 'theological timebomb,' theology of the body massage is its fuse. This stuff has an ability to integrate our deepest teachings with the body in a tangible way," West said. Deacon Williams added that as a deacon and a massage therapist, he has seen the spiritual benefits of a well-limbered body. "We've really given into the dualistic assumptions of modern culture. We are embodied souls, not souls controlling bodies. Massage can become the method through which we regain contact with this unity." Msgr. Albacete, a founding professor of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, called the project the natural culmination of his teaching efforts. "I have long said that the body isn't a metaphor. Christopher, who was my student, has put into quite practical terms the implications of my teaching. Christ comes to us through everything, he comes to us through other people, but frankly he comes in a very special way through massage!" Albacete explained.
Massage: A Theological Primer, which runs 250 pages, delves into the theological underpinnings of good massage. It applies John Paul II's Theology of the Body Wednesday audience lectures to the specific questions of massage. It is divided into 10 chapters including: "Healing the Rift Between Theology and Touch," "The Anthropological Underpinnings of Good Massage," "Massaged Without Shame," and "The Nuptial Meaning of Touch." West said that the providence brought the book into being: "I returned from a long lecture tour two years ago, and I had quite literally thrown out my back. I was scheduled to go back on tour in a week and didn't no what to do. I had met Deacon Doug at our parish and knew he was a certified massage therapist. After one session with his magic hands -- maybe we should call them mystical hands! -- I was back to new. This became the provocation for our collaboration and this book." Williams demurred, "I was just doing my job!" Be that as it may, West said it inspired him to research and apply the theology of the body in this new area. "As I researched what was out there on massage, I realized no one in the Catholic world was touching this. Pun intended," said West. He added, "There was a lot from Asia, but it wasn't Christian and it obviously failed to penetrate to the depths. This was uncharted territory."
Simultaneous to the book's publication, TOB Massage is opening its first massage parlor in West Chester, Pennsylvania, at 113 E. Market St, near the corner of Walnut. The John Paul II Massage Parlor, Inc. or JPMP for short will offer full service spa services, but will also be a teaching massage institute. West said, "It is a little like a teaching and research hospital. I guess you can call it a hospital for the embodied soul." TOB has plans to start three more such parlors in Denver, Boston, and Saginaw within the year despite the down economy. "We believe we have a good business plan. There is a hunger for this sort of human touch. And, obviously, we cater to a different clientele from the normal massage parlor," said Williams. Within 5 years, TOB hopes to have 25-40 parlors throughout the nation.
The parlor will also serve as a teaching institute. The hope is that massage therapists from around the nation will attend to become certified in Theology of the Body Massage. Graduates of the 6-month program will receive a TOB Certificate and will be listed on the TOB Institute website. Deacon Williams will be the primary instructor. West, Albacete, and the occasional guest lecturer will help to give students the proper theoretical underpinnings. He described the program as "intense," but said that such an approach was needed given the state of today's massage education. "Most of these students don't know the difference between substratum and stratum when it comes to philosophical and theological anthropology. Physically, they can hardly tell the difference between one's neck and one's back and why that matters theologically. We really have to start from scratch given the modernism fed to them at normal massage institutes." Plans to include a chiropractic aspect to TOB Massage are also being considered.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, and the Chairman of the TOB Institute's Board, could not attend, but released a statement praising the effort and giving it his episcopal blessing. Rigali's statement noted: "The Church has often stated that the law of prayer is the law of belief (lex orandi, lex credendi). Christopher's endeavors show a corollary. The law of touch, is the law of belief (lex caleri, lex credendi). Ever since a sport's injury as a child, I have know the power of massage therapy. My hope and prayer is that this effort by Christopher will help to unlock the same power in the Body of Christ."
Not all in the Church, however, are enthused by the new effort. Father Richard McBrien, a theologian at Notre Dame, said, "This is exactly what the Church doesn't need right now. More and more Catholics are leaving the Church because of the sexual teachings and this just tries to reinforce them." Sister Joan Chittister said that the theology of the body seemed to perpetuate a patriarchal view of the Church: "No where does this vision deal with the history of sexism in the Church. In fact, it exacerbates it." David Schindler, Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, in Washington D.C., was more tentative in his criticism. While praising West's intent, he said that he "worries that this doesn't go deep enough. I often think Christopher takes the nuptial analogy too far. There is a difference between God and us and I think this effort might confuse that. Still I wish him well."
Albacete thinks West's critics miss the mark. "I ask them to give this a try. Come up to West Chester. Get a massage and let them tell me that this is a problem. One touch from these master massage therapists and their objections will melt away."
More information about TOB Massage can be found at http://www.christopherwest.
FYI, the above is a joke in case you feel obliged to email me about it.