Catholics have the best approach to sex. I believe that. I try to teach that. If you’re in Catholic youth ministry, you’ve probably heard of Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I first came across this revolutionary teaching when I was seventeen. It completely changed my life and I’ve spent the years since trying to give that gift to others.
Maybe you had a similar experience with ToB. Maybe you know people who can say the same. What is it that makes ToB so effective in teaching chastity? You could spend thousands of dollars on college courses that could properly unpack that question, but I have one, simple, important answer that I think you should have a grasp of if you’re working with young people.
Positivity and negativity
I want to talk about positivity and negativity. You’re going to have to put on your philosophy hats for this one, but don’t worry. It’s not THAT kind of philosophy. This is pretty simple. When I say “positive” or “negative” I’m not referring to “niceness” vs “discouragement.” These words aren’t referring to emotions or emotional responses. Let’s look at the dictionary definitions for the two.
Positive: Consisting in or characterized by the presence or possession of features or qualities rather than their absence.
Negative: Consisting in or characterized by the absence rather than the presence of distinguishing features.
Why is this important? When trying to sell someone on chastity, like anything else, if you're focusing on the negatives you will probably never convince them. And if you do convince them, it’ll be out of fear which means you haven’t effectively given them the gospel. The gospel is not about fear. It is about love. Love himself, even. When your chastity message revolves around the STDs you could get or the pains of raising a child, that message isn’t moving the hearts of your teens. It’s actually putting up walls for them. Nobody wants to hear about diseases on their genitals.
This is why I fell in love with the Theology of the Body and why I work so hard to help spread its message. When I discovered ToB, it radically changed my life because, for the first time, I was shown not the evils of sex (sex is a good thing given to us by The Lord, remember…), but the absolute beauty of sex as G-d planned it. For the first time I was given something to fall in love with rather than something to fear. For the first time, I WANTED to be chaste. Chastity sounded like something I wanted for myself rather than something I was supposed to do “or else…”
In youth ministry it is so important that we remember this distinction in all aspects of what we do, but especially in teaching chastity. The gospel is not a negative story. It is about the gifts of life and love that G-d has for us. Our approach should always come from a positive perspective. That’s how we get our teens to fall in love with it.
Does that make sense? Does that change the way you think of teaching chastity? I hope it does. As always, feel free to ask a question or leave a thought in the comments section.