When I first learned about Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in University, and began to understand it better in my first few years of seminary, it really changed my life. I remember thinking: “Where was this when I was growing up?”
I can only imagine that many of you had similar thoughts.
About 7 years ago, in the area where I lived, a new sex education curriculum was being proposed for our schools. It was met with objections from concerned parents, and public controversy followed. Today, what was then only proposed, is now more or less in place. While it is certainly beyond the scope of these articles to rehash or point fingers on how that happened, one of the main objections to the new sex education curriculum was that it introduced too many things too early on.
Certainly, parents have a right and responsibility to protect their children from age inappropriate exposure to all sorts of things—not only from distorted attitudes towards, and depictions of human sexuality. But the deeper issue for me was not the “when” or “how”, but the “what” and “why.”
In my experience, our children’s communities—families and parishes—are sadly not well equipped to explain the “what” and “why” in a compelling way. And so our children turn to their “other” community for answers—society at large, with its all encompassing media, and the attitudes, depictions, and lifestyles that it promotes.
I remember looking into the curriculum myself (based on what was available to the public) to see what the big deal was. It appeared, at least to me, that the focus was on protection and consent. If these two elements were communicated to students in relation to “sexual activity,” it was considered an educational success. The curriculum seemed to shy away, however, from making any statements about meaning, preferring to redirect people to their own communities for that.
But in my experience, our children’s communities—families and parishes—are sadly not well equipped to explain the “what” and “why” in a compelling way. And so our children turn to their “other” community for answers—society at large, with its all encompassing media, and the attitudes, depictions, and lifestyles that it promotes.
For me, the Theology of the Body provided for me the most satisfactory answer to the question “why” as pertains to the meaning of human sexuality. But how can we communicate that in an age appropriate manner, and what on earth does that have to do with the gift of a vocation?
I think there are three points that are at the heart of the Theology of the Body and the Church’s teaching on human sexuality which are appropriate for all ages, and which parents can easily weave into the normal life, attitudes, and conversations around the home (as many of you are probably already doing).
1. The Most Important Thing in Life is Love
As your children discover more about the world and are faced with decisions, they will have to learn to prioritize things. Teach them: “People are more important than things.” A child who grows up knowing that the most important things in life are not having all the newest toys, the latest fashions, money, popularity, etc., but to love and be loved, then they are resting on a solid foundation. Especially if God is Who they learn to love the most starting from a young age. God is a communion of love. Jesus died to show us how much He loves us—it’s pretty hard to argue with that.
2. Healthy Relationships
As your children meet other people beyond the members of your family, they will have to learn how to relate to them. They will learn this from your example. They will learn from you to be careful with certain people, to not take advantage of others, or let themselves be taken advantage of. They will learn that people should not be treated as means to an end, but always as ends in themselves. They will learn from you the boundaries of what is healthy and not healthy in a relationship. Learning that healthy relationships are ones where actions are proportionate to the relationship again sets up a solid foundation for your children because human sexuality, in its fullest sense, is our capacity for relationships.
3. Chastity: The Freedom to Give the Gift of Yourself in Love
Your children are God’s gift to you, to themselves, and to others. Parents must continually communicate this to their kids, and to help them see that themselves as a gift. I am sure we have all met people who don’t really believe that about themselves, or perhaps we struggle to believe that about ourselves sometimes. As your children learn how to give of themselves to others (e.g. sharing toys, food, and time with family and friends), and receive affirmation for that, they will grow to appreciate their ability to be a gift to others. But they will also learn that certain decisions need to be made in order to protect and cultivate their gifts so that they can give and receive in the best way possible. This is foundational for understanding what chastity is (both physical and emotional), and why it helps rather than hinders love.
I hope you see now how these three things have everything to do with cultivating your children’s vocations, regardless of what those vocations may be. A vocational state in life is simply the way in which we give the gift of ourselves to others.
Let us pray for one another,
Father Raph CR
Fr. Raphael is a member of the Congregation of the Resurrection, and was ordained to the Priesthood on June 15th, 2019. He has been assigned to vocations ministry for his community, and his contributions to the Me & My House Catholic Parenting blog will be on the subject of Catholic Parenting and Vocations. In his spare time, Fr. Raph enjoys listening to music, cooking, visiting friends, and thought-provoking conversations.