Body and soul
A popular misunderstanding holds that “Theology of the Body” programs in Catholic schools represents little more than sex education with a religious gloss.
Father Thomas Wray, director of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, is happy to dispel that notion. “Theology of the Body is a view of the person as a human being,” he said. “It’s about God’s purpose for us. It asks the basic questions: Who am I? Why am I here? How should I live? Why are we bodied, why do we have bodies? Why am I male, or why am I female?
“It’s way more than sex ed. It’s a narrative of God’s story.”
For that reason, the concept is being developed into age-appropriate presentations for even the earliest classroom grades. Adapting “Theology of the Body” education for the youngest students in the Cincinnati archdiocese is a pilot project at present. It’s also a pioneer project.
“We think it’s eventually going to be picked up nationally,” Father Wray said. “There are lots of folks who are watching what we’re doing.”
What they’ve done so far, at the direction of Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, is to develop content and instructional methods to integrate Theology of the Body into curriculum for younger children, an initiative made possible by donations to One Faith, One Hope Love. While the bulk of the campaign’s dedication to Catholic education is earmarked for tuition assistance, the project is among the ways contributors are helping to foster quality and vitality in our schools.
“We’re delivering these materials courtesy of the campaign,” Father Wray said. “It’s essential that we thank the campaign’s benefactors and donors.”
Father Wray’s office has worked with Ruah Woods over the past year to create a map, the revised “Graded Course of Study: Pre-Kindergarten through 4th Grade Catechetical Programs,” which adds Theology of the Body to the other components: knowledge of the faith; knowledge of sacraments, moral formation; praying with Christ; living in the community of the church, and living as a Christian in society.
“We’re weaving in this new note in the symphony,” Father Wray said. “The archbishop sees it as part of his mission to create a culture of vocations. We live amid a metallic, corrosive structure of the culture, and this is a tangible tool for opposing it.”
To date, about 60 parishes and more than 55 schools have signed up to pilot the materials in one or more grades.
Amy McEntee, assistant director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, said orientation sessions for the revised Graded Course of Study drew 132 catechetical leaders. About 185 elementary school teachers have attended in-services regarding the revised GCS.
The Theology of the Body concept originated in 129 Wednesday audiences by Pope St. John Paul II between 1979 and 1984, in which the Holy Father presented a unified vision of personhood as spirit and body. Archbishop Schnurr has directed that the theology be part of religion studies for all schools in the archdiocese.
”It’s a learning process for us,” Father Wray said. “This theology is only 40 years old. George Weigel called it a ‘game-changing theology.’”
Ruah Woods, based in Cincinnati, is an independent, nonprofit Theology of the Body education and counseling center.
“We’re so blessed to have Ruah Woods here,” Father Wray said. “It’s like having a national think tank in your backyard.”
After the pilot project begins this fall, Ruah Woods staff will evaluate it for refinements and revisions ahead of introduction to all schools beginning in fall 2017.
Father Wray sees the theology as starkly opposed to the reigning messages of the surrounding culture.
“The acoustics in the room are to where you say ‘I’m Christian, I’m Catholic,’ you’re bigoted, you’re anti-science,” he said. “We’re just proposing a vision of the human person. The culture says you’re a commodity; people are there to be used. We tell them ‘You have dignity.’ It’s teaching children what the Catholic Church means when it talks about the principle by which we live in faith.”
The program initially developed teaching materials for high school, but the need for an earlier start became evident.
“So many high school students are already claimed by the culture,” Father Wray said. “We want to begin projecting this material younger. John Paul II said that when you de-Christianize society, you dehumanize society.
“Parents say ‘where was this when I was young, in the 70s or 80s?’ The culture was much more sympathetic to us then. When you said you were Christian, it didn’t make you stand out. Today, secularism and relativism is much more aggressive.”
That’s among the main reasons why the introduction will start earlier.
Using age-calibrated materials, the program will help teach young students what the dominant culture doesn’t.
”Kindergartners aren’t going to understand Trinitarianism,” Father Wray said. “They’ll understand that they’re made by love and live for love. They get that they’re a gift and they should treat each other as gifts. There is no other curriculum that teaches that the way Theology of the Body does.
”It tells them that they’re not just matter and material and molecules.”
To see a video of testimonials about Theology of the Body, go here. To learn how your donations to One Faith, One Hope, One Love will help Catholic Education, head here.
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