‘LoveEd’ off to strong start in archdiocese
They’d hoped for four or five – they got more than a dozen.
After presentations Nov. 2-5 in Omaha and Norfolk, at least 16 parishes in rural and urban areas of the archdiocese have signed up to offer a parent-child program on human sexuality titled "LoveEd", developed by Coleen Kelly Mast, an author and lecturer on family life issues and host of EWTN radio network’s call-in advice program "Mast Appeal."
Designed for parents with children ages 9 to 11 or 12 to 14, the material encourages mother-and-daughter, father-and-son conversations and includes workbooks and videos. Parents can use the materials at home and parishes can offer them in large group settings.
Mast’s Nov. 2 introductory session in Omaha for parents drew more than 100 adults and children, and more than 50 came to her Nov. 5 session in Norfolk. In two other sessions in Omaha, more than 30 people were trained as program facilitators, and more than 20 deacons and priests attended a meeting for clergy.
"Awesome. It exceeded our expectations," said Kathie McGee, chairperson of a committee set up to help provide a more unified voice in the archdiocese regarding formation in human sexuality. Before the sessions, McGee said the goal was four or five pastors prepared to try the program in their parishes.
Couples excited about the program include Jeff and Monica Korus of St. Mary Parish in West Point. They heard about
"LoveEd" before Mast came to the archdiocese, and prepared for the gathering in Norfolk and facilitator training in Omaha by fasting, with prayers for a successful weekend among their petitions.
Jeff Korus said they will use "LoveEd" at home with their 11- and 8-year-old daughters, and help lead the program in their parish.
In today’s sexually-charged world, it’s important to stress the beauty and love of marriage, and sex in its proper context, as an act of love within marriage, he said.
The Catholic Voice caught up with Mast after her presentations, to ask more about her programs and some of the challenges parents face. That discussion:
Q: How did you become interested in education about human sexuality from a Catholic perspective?
Two experiences led me to this. One was in graduate school, when I was getting a master’s in health education. I had this "aha moment" that the Catholic Church was right about all aspects of sexuality. It was amazing to me that our bodies were made for chastity and faithfulness and natural family planning. I learned that to go against the Catholic teachings creates a lot of physical, psychological, emotional and social problems and confusion. So I was at a public university studying health education, human sexuality education, when I realized, "Oh, the Catholic Church really knows what it’s doing."
The second was when I was a religion teacher in a Catholic high school and I gained great compassion for the teens who were suffering from the fallout of premarital sex. They had all these difficult decisions to make to pick up the pieces of their lives. I was the one assigned to tutor the girls who wanted to finish their religion credits while they were pregnant. I thought, "I’ve got to teach this better." This was a Catholic school, and these kids were really suffering when they didn’t follow the church’s teachings.
Q: How did you get the idea for "LoveEd"?
The other teaching programs that I’ve written, "Sex Respect" and "Love and Life," were for teenagers, high school kids — maybe even eighth grade — because that’s where the need was.
When the Vatican in 1995 released "The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality," I was invited to be a presenter during an in-depth study for a week in Rome with the Pontifical Council for the Family. They asked us to teach every single age group about how to protect the innocence of children. I had this big calling to do something about that. Then in 2008, when the U.S. bishops came out with their 2008 document, "Catechetical Formation in Chaste Living," my bishop asked me to write "LoveEd" because there was nothing available that followed all the recommended methods and was age-appropriate and worked through the parents instead of around them.
All the Catholic documents since Vatican II have called us to a proper sexual education in the context of love, so I call this "LoveEd." You can’t separate sexuality from morality or physicality or psychology or theology. We integrate those issues because we are a whole person, not just a body, not just a mind, not just a soul.
Q: Why is it so important to reach kids in middle school with this message?
Unfortunately, young children are exposed to many twisted secular messages long before high school today. So they need a basic framework of both science and morality in order to sort out the truth from the lies, so they can chat with their parents about it and say, "Well, this is what God’s plan was. I see he created us in a beautiful way, and all that ugly stuff or confusing stuff out there is not going to confuse me because I know these simple, basic truths."
When you see the videos in "LoveEd," you’ll see that the foundation is positive, it’s beautiful, it’s awe-inspiring. We want them to be in awe of God when they see how he created us and see that puberty is a beautiful part of growing from a boy to a man or a girl into a woman and that God has this amazing plan. It’s nothing to be afraid of or embarrassed about. We need to grow in these certain virtues while our body’s growing so that we can be the loving person God wants us to be.
Q: From a Catholic perspective, what are some important things that parents can share with their pre-teens about human sexuality?
The message is that our bodies are a gift from God and our mission as a person is to show the world what God’s love looks like. So sexual love belongs only in marriage, where it renews the marriage vows, it’s faithful and open to life and it reflects God’s generosity and faithfulness. But love itself we learn in our families, where we practice virtues of obedience and generosity and sharing. We learn love in our friendships, where we learn teamwork and cooperation.
We talk about the "family circle of love" and the virtues you learn there; the "friendship circle of love" and what you learn there; and then the "romantic circle of love" and discerning your vocation, your mission. It says that your life is about being a gift of love, whether it’s in the religious vocation, whether it is to the priesthood, whether it’s to the single life in service to the world, or whether you’re called to the vocation of marriage in that kind of love.
Q: What are the most common challenges for parents as they teach their pre-teens about human sexuality?
First, getting their attention. Second, knowing the sacred language that lifts up the beauty of God’s plan, because many current parents heard about sex either on the street or from a friend and their parents didn’t present anything really beautiful. The third is what this program is all about: It’s developing a parent-child relationship of closeness and trust, because that helps them open up and feel safe to discuss and understand sexuality and chastity in a positive way rather than as just a set of rules.
Q: How can a program of workbooks and videos help do this?
They’re not the program; they’re the key that opens the door to this parent-child relationship. Essentially, the program involves five parish seminars. The parent-child programs present stories on video, with private discussions between parent and child. Then they have a prayer service together. That’s the sixth act. We watch these parents and children grow closer over the course of that evening because they talk about holy and special things.
The workbook guides the discussion during the session between the parent and child, and it makes it really comfortable for the parents and easy for the child to respond. And they have more chapters to take home to continue the discussion, so it just doesn’t become one event, like "Check, we got this done."
Q: What makes "LoveEd" different from other chastity-education programs?
Five things. First, it enhances the parent-child relationships through discussion rather than teaching them both separately. So they learn together, and many parents even learn a lot of things about love they didn’t know before.
The second thing is that it integrates the science of sexuality with St. John Paul II’s "theology of the body" in a beautiful way. It brings them the message that our bodies are not just containers for our soul — that we are a whole person, body, soul and spirit, and we express God’s love with our body in the proper stages of life.
Thirdly, the videos are storylines, professionally created to captivate the young minds and hearts of today’s media-savvy kids. We can’t just talk to them like it’s another lecture.
The fourth thing that’s different is that the parish sponsors the seminars. This empowers the parents together, and they have a positive peer pressure to say "no" to the things they’re supposed to say "no" to and discipline their kids properly. And it gives the kids a positive peer pressure.
And the fifth is the program’s whole approach of being positive, of loving, of discussing more of what to do while you’re practicing chastity to become a more loving person.
Q: It seems we’re in a challenging environment right now to accomplish all this. How have the internet and mass media complicated parents’ mission as they try to relate the truths of human sexuality?
I thought about that when I was at the second parish seminar at Norfolk, two hours from Omaha. I realized you cannot run away from sexual messages. No matter how far out you live, they’re coming at us from everywhere, right into our own homes, our neighborhood grocery stores, let alone the personal phones and the tablets.
"LoveEd" is what families need to navigate today’s sexual confusion with truth, with beauty and with confidence. We can’t ignore it, we can’t avoid talking about it, because our kids will be getting impressions through so many different avenues that we need to root them in the goodness, the truth, the sacredness, so that they can discern what’s right from wrong, what’s crazy, illogical, unscientific, so we can raise our Catholic kids to be great leaders.
The parents’ seminar is designed for parents of kids ages 2 to 14 so they can answer all those little teachable moments that come up in life when they see a commercial or an advertisement or a question even about their own self. So the parent seminar is designed to empower parents to answer all those questions of their little kids, to keep them innocent but not ignorant.