St. John Paul II’s ‘Theology of the Body’ presents Gospel truth
Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - As students return to Catholic elementary and middle schools across the Diocese of Lincoln this month, their religion teachers are preparing to teach something new.
Late last spring, the diocese introduced an age-appropriate curriculum based on Pope Saint John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”
“Theology of the Body” is a series of 129 Wednesday audiences the saint delivered during his pontificate, between 1979 and 1984. The Scriptural reflections offer a vision of the human person that focuses on love as a gift of self.
At the time, the Holy Father’s words were in stark contrast to the societal trend of viewing the human body as an object of pleasure. In the decades that have passed, the difference between Pope Saint John Paul II’s wisdom and secular attitudes have become even more pronounced.
For that reason, Bishop James D. Conley instructed the diocesan Office of Religious Education to develop a Theology of the Body curriculum for youth that will offer support to Catholic parents as they strive to raise their children with appropriate attitudes about themselves and others.
“Helping our students to understand themselves as God made them, and understand his plan for their lives, will help to transform our entire culture,” the bishop wrote in his letter of introduction of this curriculum to principals and faculty.
The Religious Education office collaborated with parents, teachers and administrators to develop “modest and age appropriate” teaching materials for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. These materials will be incorporated into the existing religious education curriculum.
“Many teachers in our diocese have had to address gender confusion, exposure to pornography, same-sex attraction, so-called gay marriage, and the breakdown of the family, to name just a few challenges in the area of human sexuality,” reported Father Andrew Heaslip, diocesan director of religious education. “This is both very difficult and an important opportunity to proclaim ever more fully God’s plan of salvation, the dignity of the human person, the great good of marriage and family, and the special gift of being created either male or female.”
While some parents may think their early elementary students are too young for the concepts of Theology of the Body, statistics show that most kindergarten-age children are already at risk of being exposed to secular ideas about human sexuality. Four years ago, a study by Common Sense Media found that 40% of children under the age of 2 had already used a mobile device, a number that appears to keep growing.
Even more sobering is the content that has become available to these small children. Feature films created for youngsters are now introducing concepts like homosexuality through minor characters. Some researchers have identified that average age of exposure to pornography is 8 – which means some children are accidentally seeing these images far younger than that.
The Religious Education Office has taken pains to ensure that the diocesan curriculum protects the innocence and modesty of young people while giving them a Gospel-centered view of humans and human bodies.
For students in grades kindergarten through third, there are four themes that build onto each other through two to four weeks of study. First, students will focus on the mystery of creation and knowing that humans are created in God’s image. The second theme is about the beauty of marriage and parenthood. At that point, the students reflect on the redemption that Jesus brings us, especially as related to our bodies and our relationships, which segues into the fourth theme on Christian virtue.
The curriculum for fourth through sixth graders centers on Pope Saint John Paul II’s “triptych” of human reality. The first section explores “original man” as God created us. The second section is “historical man,” reflecting on sin, our fallen nature, and the Lord’s Redemption, emphasizing the difference between loving another person and using them, healing in family life, and fostering healthy relationships. The final section, “heavenly man” introduces children to the ideas of the eternal heavenly marriage between God and humanity, the importance of our bodily resurrection, and celibacy.
Seventh-graders will use the text, “Love and Life: A Christian Sexual Morality Guide for Teens” by Colleen Kelly Mast. Dr. Mast is a pro-life author, speaker and radio host who is considered a pioneer in chastity education.
Eighth grade students will read portions of the middle school edition of “Theology of the Body for Teens” by Brian Butler, Jason Evert, and Colin and Aimee MacIver. Butler and Evert are chastity speakers who specialize in speaking to teens. The MacIvers are high school theology teachers.
Parent guides for both these texts are available from Ignatius Press and Ascension Press respectively for parents who wish to follow up with their students at home.
Homeschooling families may also wish to invest in the teacher guides, which include comprehensive notes, helpful suggestions and suggested reading. Teacher training videos are also available on the diocesan website at lincolndiocese.org under the “Religious Education” tab.
“This curriculum is meant to bring the light of the Gospel, so powerfully proclaimed by John Paul II’s ‘Theology of the Body,’ to our students,” stated Bishop Conley.
For more information, parents should consult the principal or religion teacher at their children’s schools. A list of parent resources is also available from the Religious Education Office.