What is the most common complaint of someone listening to Christopher West impart John Paul II’s theology of the body? “If only I had known this years ago!” Through his dynamic and clear presentation of John Paul’s compelling teachings on human love and sexuality, Christopher West has been the instrument for changing countless lives.
Yet even West has limits: He speaks only to adults, college age and up.
Given the depths of John Paul II’s teachings, that is quite understandable. Perhaps unavoidable. But what about all those teenagers out there who are beginning to discover their own sexuality and make decisions which will stamp their future? What if someone were to emerge who not only identified with them, but was also audacious enough to bring the theology of the body directly to them?
Someone has. His name is David Hajduk.
In late 2006, the Daughters of St. Paul released his new book on the theology of the body for young people, God’s Plan for You: Life, Love, Marriage and Sex. The book was born from a family life class for ninth graders in New Jersey, where Hajduk began sharing John Paul’s insights into the true nature of human love.
Hajduk delivered his classes with the unabashed enthusiasm of a teen. How did the ninth graders respond? The truth of the Pope’s teachings struck a chord with that noble idealism and natural optimism they had that is typical of youth.
As Hajduk himself puts it, “Young people know the truth deep within their hearts — there is an echo of God’s plan for life, love, marriage and sex within them. When they hear something that synchronizes with that truth, it resounds in them like a gong! They can taste it, touch it. They know it’s the real deal.”
Three years after that family life class, Hajduk had the occasion to teach some of those same students when they were high school seniors. Here is how he describes the experience: “Many times I would hear the ‘language’ of the theology of the body surface in class discussions. It was both exhilarating and a hopeful sign of the lasting impact John Paul II’s teachings had made on those young lives.”
The fruits of his classes made Hajduk want to reach even more young people with the Pope’s transforming message. So he began to multiply his efforts by giving talks to diverse groups of both young and older teens — and wrote a book.
God’s Plan for You (DavidHajduk.com) begins each chapter with a story. Star Wars scenes and Reese’s peanut butter cup commercials develop into key aspects of the theology of the body. Things start off with the perennial questions adolescents are beginning to address: “What is the purpose of life? What is true happiness all about? How can I leave my mark on this world and change things for the better?”
The direct and fast-paced unfolding of the theology of the body provides answers to these queries of the human spirit in nugget-sized chapters that can be grasped hold of, then wondered at. “Lessons in Loneliness” ponders why God allowed Adam to go through the experience of “original solitude.” Why did he at first create Adam “alone,” even in the midst of all creation?
“Through the divine pedagogy — God’s strategy — it became extremely clear to him that he would only find happiness and fulfill the purpose of his existence by giving himself away to someone ‘just like him.’ This was Adam’s deepest desire, and just when he thought all was lost, God met that desire … and then some” (p. 46).
“Satan the Spin Doctor” destroys the harmony of God’s original plan for man and woman, leading our first parents to sin. What are some of the consequences of that sin, in concrete terms, for teens today? “Girls confuse love for sex; guys confuse sex for love. All too often, however, this confusion becomes a source of selfish manipulation: Guys use love for sex; girls use sex for love. And neither gets what they are looking for” (p. 93).
Still, as young people naturally sense, human life is not an irreversible tragedy. Christ has won the victory by his death and resurrection. He redeemed not only our souls, but also our bodies, making it possible to conquer once again authentic self-giving love between man and woman. We are presented with both the gift and the task of living out in fullness the “spousal meaning of the body.”
So the exuberant response of young people to John Paul the Great’s message is not just the product of youthful naïveté. It rests upon the most solid of foundations.
Hajduk reflects on this fundamental optimism of youth: “They have hope for the future, and a firm conviction that they can build a better world. John Paul II spoke of this often with them at the World Youth Days. As a result, no matter the brokenness they see around them or possibly even in their own homes, they believe that ‘true love’ is possible, that a successful marriage and a happy family is a dream that can come true.”
Hajduk’s new book and his ministry to young people are steps toward building that better world. They are helping the dream to come true in many young lives.
But one book and one person are not nearly enough. A whole community is needed. Hajduk leaves us with a challenge: “If we offer young people a community that supports and encourages them, they do and will respond. They are hungry for this stuff. In a way, it’s the answer to all their questions and hopes!”
Legionary Father Walter Schu is the
author of The Splendor of Love
(New Hope Press, 2003).