Since my arrival to the Life Teen office, I’ve answered many phone calls and had a good number of questions about Edge resources. There are many great questions and needs out there for those serving our middle school youth. I was pleasantly surprised when a youth minister asked me about resources for Theology of the Body for a middle school group. I pointed her in the direction of some resources and talked her through starting the discussion in her parish. As you can imagine, she was both excited and nervous about the journey.
Within the next few months, several other youth ministers were calling in for help with Theology of the Body resources for their middle school youth. It seems that many of us recognize the need to bring solid catechesis to middle school youth about a topic like human sexuality. However, where do you start? How do you get the conversation started? Are middle school youth too young?
First, let me start with a brief explanation of what Theology of the Body is. Pope John Paul II delivered 129 messages during his Wednesday audiences about the human body, human dignity and sexuality. These short talks were compiled into a work now called Theology of the Body. The talks discuss our human nature, our dignity as children of God, the purpose of our bodies and the purpose and beauty of our sexuality. From these talks, other resources have been written and produced including Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West and Theology of the Body for Teens: Discovering God’s Plan for Love and Life by Jason and Crystalina Evert and Brian Butler.
As a youth minister in Houston, I used the Theology of the Body for Teens resource from Ascension Press as a bi-weekly study group. Unlike other chastity programs in the past, Theology of the Body is a comprehensive approach to understanding not just sexuality, but also the entire human person, our need and capacity for love and how to effectively live a life of chastity and purity. The first few meetings were tough and the group had more questions than we had time. It became abundantly clear that if we didn’t do something during the middle school years, the youth and teens would learn about sex and sexuality from somewhere and most likely it would be an unreliable source. The good news is Ascension Press is publishing a Theology of the Body for middle school youth soon!
I was recently speaking with a youth minister from Duluth, Georgia about her experience with Theology of the Body (TOB) and middle school youth. At her parish, they do a class on this subject for eighth graders, taught by her pastor, Fr. Jack. Here are some of his reflections:
“This year we started a Theology of the Body class for our eighth-graders. We divide the class into three segments: 1) An inter-active lesson loosely based on TOB for Teens (Evert/Butler); 2) Group sessions divided according to the sexes with two group leaders of the same sex leading each group; 3) Eucharistic Adoration with meditation and journal writing. The eighth-graders are sent on a “mission,” which always includes meditation/journal writing/actions. These [middle school youth] begin to address interests they already have, but now from the perspective of a loving, wise God who has equipped His Church and her members. We address issues that interest them but that are not often addressed—freedom, truth, love, justice, etc. What we really strive to do is love each other well and pray earnestly and honestly, and look to see how wisdom is shaped from loving, prayerful dialogue. The content of the course is more of a springboard for life and its challenges than a preparation for a written test.
I believe that working with youth benefits our parish because of their frankness, freshness, and sense of adventure and drama. They are typically open to many things and to considering many things, so they are also open to God, and haven’t necessarily cornered God with concepts and images. They want to experience God, not so much define God, so they are very open to things like Eucharistic Adoration and Reconciliation and Mission. They are really leaders in this regard, for our children and for adults. For me, the teens bring so much energy and enthusiasm, many sincere questions and an appreciation for authenticity and frankness. Teens remind me so much of my responsibility to be a Father, to be pure of heart, and to maintain a zeal which grows from joy, companionship, and engagement. They particularly remind me to engage the culture, to keep alive a missionary spirit and a courageous hopefulness. The youth keep me young, with the benefit of me not having to repeat the mistakes of my youth while helping them to avoid these mistakes. They remind me of what I may have forgotten, and I offer them the lessons of experience, which they lack.”
Middle school youth are ready to hear the truth about love, chastity, sex, dating and more. They are already asking questions, we must be prepared to guide them to the truth. Theology of the Body is a solid resource that does more than just talk about sex. It helps youth to understand their great value and worth so that they are living it out.
As with any program or resource, you should refer to your diocesan policies regarding sexuality catechesis. Adults who help minister by giving presentations, witnesses or leading discussions should be trained and/or certified by your diocese. This is one of those topics where the truth of the Catholic Church must be taught. Through training, we too can recognize how we have been mis-formed and come to better understand these issues. When leading Theology of the Body, we must acknowledge that we are teaching from the deposit of the faith and not our own interpretation of it.
Have any thoughts about how to implement Theology of the Body? Share your ideas in the comment section below. Let’s begin a dialogue on how to reach more middle school youth with the truth of our Catholic faith.