What is the Theology of the Body?
For those of you who are new to the Theology of the Body, it is a collection of reflections taken form Pope John Paul II’s Wednesday audiences from 1979-1984. These catecheses were focused on the meaning of the human body especially in regards to our sexuality. JPII suggested that a large portion of his reflections “seem to constitute an extensive commentary on the doctrine contained precisely in Humanae Vitae” (Man and Woman He Created Them, 133:2). Humanae Vitae is the controversial encyclical written by Paul VI in 1968 that is known for banning contraception and instead advocating for Natural Family Planning. However, JPII also noted that the Theology of the Body “goes far beyond the content of the reflections” presented in his catechesis (133:1). The Theology of the Body can impact one’s understanding of Scripture, all the Sacraments, ecclesiology, eschatology, morality, and in a special way chaste life.
Chastity Education Tips Based on the Theology of the Body
- Main message: God is a mystery. Who is God? Where are we going? These are the two essential questions that need to be addressed right from the start with the students. A proper understanding of God as a communion of persons is the starting point for a proper understanding of the Theology of the Body and therefore the need for chastity.
- Raise their self-esteem. One major reason teens engage in premarital sex is to satisfy self-esteem issues. I’ve heard a popular way of explaining this as girls use sex to feel love and guys use love to have sex. In both cases, teens are trying to satisfy a self-esteem issue. Ensure that teens recognize that they are loved and appreciated for who they are.
- It’s not the sex education they are used to. Most sex education programs today try to motivate teens to abstain out of fear of STDs and unwanted pregnancies. This can be motivating in the short term, but in the long term it does not motivate. This is methodology does not teach chastity, it scares students into abstinence or into using contraception.
- Focus on the positive. One way of phrasing this difference is negative purity (fear) vs. positive purity (love). This positive purity, which is not to be confused with a Puritan/Manichean view of sexuality, should be the focus of chastity education. In other words, sex is not a bad thing. Sex is a good thing in the context of self-giving, marital love.
- Use humor. It is uncomfortable to talk about sex. Use appropriate humor to break the ice on some issues. Try to get them out of their comfort zone to open up to the message.
- Pray. Every lesson should be in the context of prayer. Don’t forget to pray.
- Be there for the kids. TOB often brings up personal struggles and difficulties with family. Be a good listener but make sure to direct them to appropriately trained individuals for in many cases.
- Validate their opinions. Students are likely to have strong feelings about the issues raised by TOB: same-sex marriage, contraception, clerical celibacy, women ordination, divorce, and premarital sex. Don’t make yourself an enemy. Listen and affirm why someone’s position would make sense from a certain perspective. For example, support of same-sex marriage has the intention of validating the dignity and worth of all human persons, but this view misunderstands the meaning and purpose of marriage. Be sure to delve deep into the approach to these issues taken by TOB. Once you really examine the issues from the perspective of TOB, students will be able to recognize the reason for the Church’s teachings even if they continue to disagree.
What do the students think? I administered an anonymous, informal survey at the end of each session of a 4-week course I taught on the Theology of the Body to high school sophomores. The survey results indicated that 57% of the students considered the messages contained in the Theology of the Body to be better than sex education they had received previously. Over 70% of the students surveyed were positively influenced by the course and reading Christopher West’s book Theology of the Body for Beginners (41% of the students surveyed felt that their opinions about sexuality had changed while 31% of students said their opinions were only reaffirmed in a positive way). Furthermore, over half of the students who were surveyed said that after reading the book they would make better choices in the future.
• Michael Waldstein, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body
• Christopher West, Theology Of The Body For Beginners
• Christopher West, Good News About Sex and Marriage or the 2nd Edition
• Jason Evert, If You Really Loved Me: 100 Questions on Dating, Relationships, and Sexual Purity
• Paul VI, Humanae Vitae
• John Paul II, Love and Responsibility