Two mothers from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis want to make sure that young people know what real love is. That set them on a course four years ago to develop a Catholic school program.
Purely You is designed for children in their pre-adolescent and adolescent years (as early as fourth grade) to understand who they are, what it means to be made in God’s image, and how their bodies and relationships are made for chaste love, modeled after God’s free, total, faithful and life-giving love for us. The material, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality and other Church sources, includes six lessons on physical, emotional, moral and spiritual growth, with respect to dignity and innocence. The comprehensive program is written for schools, but it establishes a cooperative and coordinated approach between the school and home.
“We know there are other theology-of-the-body programs, and they are good; but they tend to be for kids who already know about puberty. With the help of Church documents, we’ve pulled it to a level that kids even younger can understand, and equally important, their parents. A lot of parents don’t know what theology of the body is or what it means to be made in God’s image,” says Suzanne Lewis, 44, mom of six children and a member of Epiphany Church in Coon Rapids, Minn.
Lewis and her sister, Gretchen Thibault, 43, a member of St. Charles Borromeo Church in St. Anthony, Minn., and a mother to eight children, began their quest to develop a better maturation program than what they were seeing in the classrooms, which were programs largely produced by secular sources and lacking any context with regard to the teachings of the Church.
“What struck me was that the Catholic Church has so much to offer. We’re the ones that get it (love) in its entirety and fullness. How come there’s nothing out there that reflects what the Church thinks to really help kids and parents?” said Thibault.
St. John the Baptist Parish and School in New Brighton, Minn., was one of the first schools in the Twin Cities to implement the program, which has an imprimatur from Archbishop John Nienstedt and is on the archdiocese’s list of recommended resources. Serving as the censor librorum in the process, Father James Reidy, said, “The program is an excellent resource for schools and parents and deserves wide distribution.”
Principal Sue Clausen said the program is one of the first she has seen that also helps educate parents.
“I am excited about this program for our students and our parents because I feel strongly that it helps parents do their job, and it takes into account that the parent needs some educating and some help in order to do it well,” she said. “As I looked through this material, there is no comparison to the depth and breadth of how they cover the child’s development in loving God and learning how to treat their body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. I’m really excited for the parents to see them and then use them with their children.”
The program includes six 10-minute DVD lessons, discussion questions, quizzes and worksheets for the classroom, and a sheet sent home to the parents with objectives and home activities. A “Parent Guide” is also included to give parents a deeper explanation of Church teaching on the importance of their role as primary educators on human sexuality and a “Conversation Guide” to assist them in speaking to their sons and daughters about the more delicate subjects of maturation, love and life. A home-school version of the “Classroom Manual” was developed as well.
“We give (parents) a lot of helpful hints on talking with their child, trying to give them confidence that they know their child better than anyone, and they can do it,” said Lewis. “The ‘Parent Guide’ even gives wording for how you could explain how babies are made, from a 3-year-old level or a child who needs a full-blown explanation, and it’s always done through the lens of God’s plan, the meaning of our bodies, love, life and self-gift.”
In San Diego, Jason Evert, a chastity speaker with Catholic Answers, and author of the book How to Find Your Soul Mate Without Losing Your Soul, is on the front lines of the contraceptive culture. He has spoken to more than 1 million teens and young adults about the virtue of chastity. The challenge of reaching people who have not been formed in Catholic teaching on the beauty of human sexuality is like doing “triage,” he said.
“The majority are cohabitating and contracepting. The number of adult Catholics who are sterilized is staggering. They’ve been raised in a very contraceptive culture that views children as a tax deduction and burden, not the supreme gift of marriage,” said Evert. “I try to emphasize that the Church’s teaching on chastity is good news; it’s about expressing God’s love for your body, not about following a bunch of rules so you don’t go to hell.”
His new DVD, Green Sex, Good for the Body, Good for the Soul, is a crash course in both the theology and biology of human sexuality. It lays out compelling facts about the dangers of contraception that are well established in medical journals, hidden by pharmaceutical companies, and deliberately ignored by the American Medical Association. More than 150 physiological changes occur in a woman’s body with the birth-control pill, he notes on the DVD, including an increased risk of breast cancer, which the World Health Organization acknowledges. Evert questions society’s embrace of the ecological “green” movement, while ignoring the toxic impact of contraception on our bodies, our marriages and our souls.
The DVD is intended for persons involved in marriage preparation, young-adult groups, high-school teachers, and engaged or married couples. Catholic Answers is also making available an audio portion of the CD that can be downloaded and copied for free.
“The Church’s teachings on sex is really liberating for us, especially for women. Chastity is an expression of love, not an unhealthy oppression of sexual desire,” he said.
The key to combating the contraceptive, anti-life mentality is to start the conversations early on with your children, said Thibault. “This ability that a parent has to communicate with their child on more delicate issues is one way to help avoid the struggles in the area of chastity and hopefully avoid unnecessary heartache.”
Barb Ernster writes from Fridley, Minnesota.