National Catholic Register

Commentary

Guiding Teens to the Heights

A powerful new resource in theology of the body

BY FATHER WALTER SCHU, LC

November 26-December 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 11/22/06 at 11:00 AM

 

How much did John Paul II believe in young people? So much that he presented them with a stupendous task: “to become ‘morning watchmen’ at the dawn of the new millennium” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 9).

Do you have that same faith in those sometimes confused and self-conscious teenagers who tomorrow will shape our future? Is it your longed-for dream to help them reach the heights of love and self-giving, to enable them to discover the secret of their own existence like John Paul the Great was able to do?

Ascension Press has created a new resource that could just help make it possible.

Theology of the Body for Teens: God’s Plan for Love and Life does not merely seek to bring John Paul’s teachings to young people in a way they can grasp and love and make their own. The authors, Brian Butler and Jason and Crystalina Evert, strive to help teens become close personal friends of Christ.

The introduction to the teacher’s manual was written on Pentecost Sunday. Could it be that this work is part of the Holy Spirit’s plan to bring about among young people the New Evangelization which John Paul II ceaselessly called for, constantly prayed for and tirelessly spent his life to achieve?

Teens are not always an easy group to reach, so Theology of the Body for Teens is much more than a simple popularization of John Paul II’s dense and profound teachings.

With cell phones, iPods, MTV and Internet chat rooms all vying for young people’s instant attention, in a class or discussion group everything is won or lost in the opening minutes.

That’s why each of the 12 lessons begins with a “story starter.” After the opening prayer — carefully woven to reflect the theme — Chapter 4 “Hope and Redemption” starts off: “In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room.” Who would not want to continue reading to find out more?

“Bridging the Gap” provides the link between the opening story and the lesson itself, entitled “To the Core.” Comprehension and discussion questions in “The Gap” raise issues that affect the participants’ own lives, opening them up to the teachings offered in “To the Core.” Each chapter builds organically on the previous one, beginning with an exploration of who we are and why we are here, rising swiftly to a crescendo in Chapters 8 and 9 on marriage, celibacy and religious life.

How does John Paul II’s central teaching, that the essence of love is self-giving, apply to marriage itself? Since every young person longs to be a hero, the authors are not afraid to present the conditions for living true love with bold and challenging directness. “Marriage is the best place on earth to learn how to sacrifice for the sake of the other while often denying your desires for the greater good of the marriage,” they write. “At the core of this training is learning to die to your self. It is precisely in this offering — in the death of your own desires — that true love comes to life.”

Another resource provided in each chapter consists of succinct “Did you know?” facts. These surveys and statistics appeal to direct experience in order to show that the truths of the theology of the body are not just a theoretical path to happiness, but one that actually works in real life. Here is an example: “In a two-year study of more than 13,000 middle and high school-age girls, only 4% of those who abstained from drugs, drinking and sex were depressed. However, 44% of girls with multiple sexual partners experienced depression during the study.”

Teens are challenged to put popular cultural icons to the test in the “You decide” boxes. In leading up to one of these, Thelogy of the Body for Teens first unfolds Karol Wojtyla’s argument in Love and Responsibility that the opposite of love isn’t really hate. It is, in fact, utilitarianism — using the other person, merely treating him or her as an instrument for selfish, sensual gratification. Then comes the contrast:

“You Decide”: “Now I know, I’m being used. That’s okay, man, ‘cause I like the abuse. I know she’s playing with me. That’s okay, ‘cause I got no self-esteem.” — The Offspring “Self Esteem.”

Pope John Paul II: “Deep within yourself, listen to your conscience that calls you to be pure. … A home is not warmed by the fire of pleasure that burns quickly like a pile of withered grass. Passing encounters are only a caricature of love; they injure hearts and mock God’s plan.”

Song and movie clip suggestions for each chapter bring the teachings home into the cultural world of young people. John Paul II has asserted that the essence of Adam and Eve’s original sin of disobedience was a lack of trust in God. They began to question the gift of God’s love for them, manifested in all of creation and inscribed upon their very being, created man and woman in order to give themselves to one another in love.

First the Pope’s reasoning is explained: “Satan wanted them to believe that God was holding out on them, and he really didn’t want them to be happy. In other words, Adam and Eve thought if God had things his way, they would live miserable lives following his silly laws. This was the essence of the sin of Adam and Eve, that they didn’t trust God.”

A three-minute suggested movie clip from The Lord of the Rings dramatizes this struggle of our first parents with an impact no young person would miss: Two Towers: Show 1:38:37-1:41:04. (Note: The time code shown here is from the extended version.)

Smeagol and Gollum (one character with schizophrenic tendencies) argue about whether the master, Frodo, really cares about him, will take care of him and is trustworthy. This is a perfect comparison for the ‘questioning of the gift’ that John Paul II discusses when Adam and Eve did not trust God.”

“Digging deeper” sections, closing journal activities, “work it out” homework assignments of varying degrees of depth and difficulty, and a glossary of key terms add to the richness of each lesson. Constantly interspersed are direct quotes from John Paul II, such as the following: “The person who does not decide to love forever will find it very difficult to really love for even one day.”

Theology of the Body for Teens is intended for discussion groups, CCD classes and even high school religion courses. As the title indicates, its audience should definitely be teens, not pre-teens, since it deals directly with sexual issues, though always in an appropriate way.

When John Paul II spoke to young people at World Youth Day 2000, he challenged them with the words of St. Catherine of Siena: “If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!”

This new resource offers what is needed for enkindling that flame in many young lives and hearts.

The introduction to the teacher’s manual concludes with an invocation that all who embark upon the daunting task of working with young people would do well to echo:

John Paul the Great, pray for us!

Legionary Father Walter Schu is the author of The Splendor of Love

(2003, New Hope).