St. John Paul II is my homeboy 4 life. When I have trouble connecting the present moments to eternity, when I wonder how the life after this one could be better/richer/fuller, sometimes it’s the thought of meeting him and falling into his arms for a giant bear hug that reorients me correctly towards heaven.
I’m so grateful, then, to have his intercession from above and his seminal work here on earth, the Theology of the Body (TOB – a series of teachings St. John Paul II gave on human life, love and sexuality – 129 in total – over a 5 year span at the beginning of his pontificate), as a roadmap for this exhausted mother with children who are growing, seeking, asking questions and expecting increasingly complex answers. Even at 4 and 5. Even at 2. (Not so much at 10 months though, but Luke, you know mommy loves you too.)
I don’t have a perfected “method” for beginning to communicate the timeless truths contained in the masterpiece of TOB to people without an advanced theology degree, let alone the ability to write their own names, but happily, that doesn’t seem to matter. Kids are great BS detectors. It’s an innate survival mechanism or something. And they’re equally great truth-receivers. So if you tell them something that is true, they tend to accept it more readily than we world-weary skeptics who wear big boy pants and pay bills do.
The biggest hurdles I have encountered in communicating matters of faith and morals to my children have been my own ego, laziness, and the inertia of daily life.
For example, “Am I doing this right? Is this a great catechetical technique? Can they tell I’m making this up as I go along?” all actually much, much less important than my doing the thing in the first place: having the conversation, answering the hard question honestly, giving a ready and imperfect answer in the moment rather than kicking the can to a more comfortable moment down the road in some nebulous future where I sip placidly on chamomile while discussing Plato’s Republic round the breakfast table.
It’s easy, too, to just lumber along in an unending series of days, lessons, errands, and chores, forgetting that our kids are learning from us as we go along, and that for most parents, the primary transmission of the Faith to the children we’re trying to keep alive will not take place in a lecture setting.
Far from it. There is public nudity and screaming and lots of broken bits of water balloon strewn about the yard while I bark reminders of dignity, modesty, and respecting the neighbors’ point of view. Enhanced (or not) this summer in particular by a critical absence of 5 feet of fence between our yards.
We’ve always tried to speak very honestly about bodies, about the differences between bodies and the dignity we afford to one another and to ourselves, from an early age. They know the proper terms for male and female genitalia. Which I am more or less glad for, but mostly less when checking out at the grocery store. At bath time we remind all butts on deck to treat their siblings with the utmost respect, because God created each of them – body and soul – for a magnificent mission that only they can fulfill. And that they have been created as a gift to the world by a God who loves them, and that their body is part of that gift.
Also, lots and lots of reminders to please put on some underwear.
The basic truths from TOB I’m hoping to communicate them, in whatever way I can hope to achieve while they’re all still south of the age of reason, are these:
Your body is good,
You are your body, just as much as you are your soul, (and you’re in control of that body. So pick up those Legos.)
God has a specific plan for your life, and your body contains the blueprints for it,
God created us, men and women, in His own image, in order to tell us specific things about Himself (in other words: gender is important, intentional, and immutable.)
Anything beyond that gets through to them? I’m counting it as gravy, at least until middle school.
Any great resources out there I’m missing for starting to lay the foundation for Theology of the Body with little ones?