St. John Paul II greets throngs of Poles waiting for a glimpse of their native son at the monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa during his 1979 trip to Poland. Each year in the Pembroke diocese, Grade 9 students are introduced to “YOU,” a course created by Ascension Press. It is based on St. Pope John Paul II’s teachings on sexuality, called Theology of the Body. CNS photo/Chris Niedenthal

Speaking Out: YOU program puts love in a new light

By  Mary French, Youth Speak News
  • October 30, 2019

Teens in the Ontario’s Diocese of Pembroke are learning about love and sexuality in a radically different way than might be expected in today’s culture.

As people designed for love, the Catechism teaches that our sexuality involves so much more than just our bodies; it includes our entire life, identity and vocation. In the midst of a world that sees sexuality in a more shallow sense, Pope Francis is calling all young people to be fearless missionaries, and living chaste and loving lives is an important place to start.

Each year in the Pembroke diocese, Grade 9 students are introduced to “YOU,” a course created by Ascension Press. It is based on St. Pope John Paul II’s teachings on sexuality, called Theology of the Body. Each person’s man and womanhood, it says, is connected to their individual dignity. The sessions cover practical issues like how to live a chaste life, but also dive into deep questions such as the Church’s position on homosexuality, contraception and pornography.

In a world where everything is personalized for us, our culture seems to scream, “It’s all about me!” In the midst of this, YOU says something radically different: that we are each gifts, designed so that we can give ourselves to others. 

Yvette Bourque, director of the Family Life and the Youth Ministry Office at the Pembroke diocese, and her team of five lay people and priests find great importance in volunteering their time to educate young people on this precious teaching.

Today, we have great freedom — freedom to organize ourselves, to buy nice things or to listen to whatever music we wish. However, when we only focus on pleasing ourselves instead of becoming better people and helping others, we are misusing our freedom, says Pope Francis. This self-focus, mixed with the distractions of a fast-paced lifestyle, not only stops us from giving ourselves as a gift to others, but also makes true love impossible.

Bourque explains that this selfishness is something we are all born with, and something we must grow out of in order to reach a level of maturity. Yet she finds, sadly, that this is a foreign concept to many students. It begs the question: How can such an important message be missed in many young people’s upbringing?

When one of the students heard the YOU program explain how romance should honour each person’s dignity and sexuality, it transformed her view of relationships. She was so excited she took a copy of the lecture to share with her mother. 

These lessons, Bourque finds, are not often taught in the home and even couples she’s met in marriage preparation courses have been disheartened that they didn’t learn such a beautiful teaching earlier. For some students, YOU’s message is a difficult one to absorb, but for many others it has impacted their life immensely.

Love is not only hindered when we live selfishly, but also when we stop living chastely. Pope Francis warns young people in Christus Vivit not to fall victim to an unhealthy focus on the body. This, he says, blinds us from seeing each others’ real value as unique human beings. As young people, perhaps one of our most powerful witnesses to love is to simply honour each other.

Bourque’s work is a stepping stone to empower the Pembroke diocese’s youth to spread and live this great message. She hopes to implement a follow-up course to YOU in Grade 12. Integrating more work by Christopher West and other leading speakers who promote true, chaste love would offer students a more complete and well-rounded education on what living one’s sexuality in its designed form looks like. 

There is a danger in forgetting what real love is. Being love Himself, once we see our sexuality as an image of God, we can understand our identity as God’s creation with a deeper understanding.

(French, 21, is a third-year liberal arts student at Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ont.)

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