The Meeting Point is a new online affective and sexual formation program for students, grades 9-12. Billed as an evolving project, the program is the brain-child of a group of married couples in Spain. To date, it has the enthusiastic backing of the Spanish bishops and the Pontifical Council of the Family.
Globally, The Meeting Point (hereafter TMP) saw the light of day in September of 2015 at the 8th World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Next stop was at World Youth Day in Krakw, Poland, July 2016. Its final proffering, presumably in a completely evolved state, will be at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland, August 2018.
Sex-ed programs for youth invariably send out shock waves caused by the tension and conflicts of progressive and traditional fault lines within the Church. Indeed, TMP has engendered sentiments quite high on the Richter scale: pornographic; nightmare Vatican sex-ed program; compromises the innocence of children; most dangerous threat to Catholic youth in 40 years. The Cardinal Newman Society has a more reserved, albeit negative, reaction signaled by its reviews title, Meeting Point Sex Ed Program Not Ready for Catholic Schools.
Interestingly, the LGBTQ community also gives a decided thumbs-down to TMP. Glen Bradleystaff writer for New Ways Ministrys Bondings Blog and author of Revealing the Potential Harm of the Vaticans Sex Education Programwrites:
… the Vaticans new sexual education program (The Meeting Point) inadequately educates youth on sexuality and gender because it does not include LGBTQ inclusive material and instead relies on strong heterosexist and cis-sexist biases….
The Vaticans negligent program excludes the reality of LGBTQ people in our world today and poses serious threats to all studentsLGBTQ and straight-cisgender alikeby potentially negatively impacting their academic performance, personal development, and health….
The first step toward justice is in our ability to seek, see, and reveal the truth to others. The Meeting Point is anything but truthful [regarding] sexual and gender realities, realities that include LGBTQ identities and relationships. In this disillusionment, we find neither truth nor love, yet it is our duty as faithful followers of Christ to now bring both [truth and love] to our children and our church.
Those caveats noted, this critique of TMP will highlight the good and the not-so-goodincluding the navefollowed by recommendations. To be transparent: the reviewers are enthusiastic supporters and purveyors of Gods plan for marriage and family, particularly as illuminated by Paul VI and John Paul II.
The metaphorical theme of TMP is that of putting up a tent while camping. The tent is the young person; the tent parts are human dimensions. The tent poles, for example, denote the young persons sexuality and affectivity. (More on the tent metaphor and its efficacy later.)
TMPs Six units cover grades 9 through 12:
FreshmenUnit 1: Being a Person
SophomoresUnit 2: YouSexuality and Affectivity
JuniorsUnit 3: I Bring My Freedom into Play
Unit 4: The Improper Use of My Freedom: Sin
SeniorsUnit 5: A Suitable Helper: Morality
Unit 6: My Desire for TRUE LOVE
Each unit has four sections:
1. Goals,objectives, and content points for educators.
2. Scriptural quotes and philosophical/anthropological information for educators.
3. Lesson plans for each unit, each lesson having two parts:
a. The why and how of the student activitiesfor educators.
b. Themed activitiesfor students.
4. Recommendations for video ads and cartoon or movie clips to illustrate the units major themes.
John Paul II
Interspersed throughout TMP are key elements of John Paul IIs thought: (1) human dignity as the starting point in ones life in Christ; (2) the human person as a body-soul composite (more precisely, an incarnate or embodied spirit); (3) the human person having two modes of beingmale and female; (4) the definition of love as the gift of self; (5) love being mans fundamental and innate vocation; (6) the meaning, importance, and language of the body; (7) the meaning of true freedom; (8) the meaning of contraception.
Educators familiar with John Paul IIs writings will recognize those elements as they pop up in the text. They provide a backdrop, albeit piecemeal, for the TMP. Examples:
(1) Part Three of the CatechismLife in Christbegins with the dignity of the human person. That is John Paul IIs doing: if one does not know how magnificently fashioned he or she is, one cannot understand the true magnitude of sin and its deleterious effects.
TMP takes up that cue: Lesson 1, Unit 1, is titled Who Am I? The lead-off scriptural quotethe first of many trenchant verses that introduce the lessonsis You have probed me, you know me (Ps 139:1). The fifth paragraph of the lessons background material focuses on human dignity:
Dignity derives from the Latin word dignitas, and from the adjective digno, which means valuable, with honor, worthy. Dignity is the characteristic of worthiness, and it indicates that someone is deserving of something…. In Christian theology, man is a creature of God and, therefore, possesses dignity….
The only thing missing is more detail: we possess an elevated dignity because God has fashioned us in his image and after his likeness. Furthermore, we are the only creatures on earth made for our own sakes (Gaudium et Spes, 24.3).
In the introduction to Unit 5, the first paragraph is about our intrinsic worth:
We are persons, and for this reason, we… are priceless. We are excluded from calculations, because we are the very measure of the calculation itself. We cannot be used as means to an end….
(2) Included in the program are quotes from John Paul IIs Redemptor Hominis (RH) and Familiaris Consortio (FC) about the importance and meaning of love:
Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it (RH, 10; TMP, 6.1).
God created man in his own image and likeness: calling him to existence through love, he called him at the same time for love (FC, 11; TMP, 6.1).
The next Familiaris Consortio paragraph completes a crescendo:
God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being (FC, 11).
Such language stirs the mind and heart and begs to be read aloud, in or out of the classroom.
(3) Lesson 3, Unit 1, is titled The Body as an Expression of My Person. The scriptural quote used, My whole body is full of light, comes from Luke 11:36: If then your whole body is full of light… it will be wholly bright…. The first introductory paragraph alludes to John Paul IIs point that, without a body, the human person does not know that he or she is meant to be a gift:
The body reveals to me the meaning of life., since it expresses my call to a relationship, to a meeting with the other. It expresses my person. Since it is sexually differentiated, my body manifests my vocation to love, to the mutual gift of self, and to fruitfulness along with it (TMP, Unit 1, Educator, p. 4).
(4) Another of John Paul IIs focal points is the freedom necessary in giving the gift of oneself. The more personal self-mastery, the more such freedom exists. It is difficult, if not impossible, to love if one is addicted, whatever the craving might be. In TMPs words:
Being our own masters is a requirement of giving: only the person who possesses him/herself can freely love. Whoever does not have self-control cannot take on a commitment in which they give of themselves. Being free means possessing sufficient mastery over oneself, over ones instincts and emotional dispositions…. Only he who is the master of his own being can, in a sovereign act of freedom, fully give himself to others… (TMP, Unit 3, Educator, p. 7).
Paul VI, in his watershed encyclical Humanae Vitae (HV), spells out the characteristics of conjugal love: fully human; total; faithful and exclusive; fruitful. The TMP authors comment on those characteristics in the introduction to Unit 6 and quote from HVregarding what total means. They attempt, in their translation, to make the passage more contemporary and inclusive, but the gist is there:
[Spouses, as such, must] generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partners own sake, content to able to enrich the other with the gift of himself (HV, 9).
There is more to Humanae Vitae than an explication of conjugal love, of course, but the fact that part of Paul VIs encyclical is on display is, nowadays, a rare occurrence and a positive portent.
Fr. Servais Pinckaers, OP
As mentioned, Part III of the Catholic CatechismLife in Christbegins with human dignity, one of the causal fingerprints of John Paul II. In the first chapter (The Dignity of the Human Person), there are articles on man as the image of God; the human vocation to beatitude; freedom; morality; conscience; the virtues; and finally sin.
The person responsible for reinserting the Sermon on the Mount and the virtues into the moral domain is the late Dominican priest and moral theologian, Servais Pinckaers. Author of the tour de force work, The Sources of Christian Ethics, Fr. Pinckaers directly influenced the content and setup of the Catechisms human dignity chapter, most notably the prominence of the beatitudes and virtues. He is quoted in The Meeting Point: Without the truth, there is neither happiness nor lasting love. At the same time, educating [persons] in the truth without love dries them up and ends up driving them to despair (TMP, Unit 6, Educator, p. 6).
The point here is that learning the virtues, both cardinal (prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance) and theological (faith, hope, love), is critical in the development of the human person. Introducing children to the virtues when they shift from grade school to middle school is not too early. And education in virtue should deepen and broaden through high school. (More on this in the recommendations section.)
In TMP, second-semester juniors meet the virtues. Their final lesson is called The Improper Use of Freedom: Sin. Continuing the metaphor, the virtues tighten the ropes that batten down the tent. In other words, the virtues give the young person the strength to withstand disordered actions.
A wondrous quote from St. Pauls letter to the Philippians starts the chapter: Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil 4:8). Then begins a series of activities which seek to connect the juniors affective dimension and self-awareness with the virtues. For example, students watch a clip from the movie, Batman Begins, alluding to the enormous amount of time Bruce Wayne spends preparing himself, mentally and physically, to fight evil.
The intellectual explication of the virtues, both cardinal and theological, is in the section for educators (cf. Unit 4, Lesson 4, pp. 9-14). The authors main source is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a good beginning, but not nearly enough. Josef Piepers classic worksThe Four Cardinal Virtues and Faith, Hope, and Lovewould broaden and deepen the educators grasp of the virtues and their essential place in moral education.
Film clips and commercials
Each unit ends with a section listing film clips and commercials that can enhance and flush out the lessons content. Most of the recognized movies are good-to-excellent. Caveat: teachers will have to invest much time and money going through much film footage to isolate the recommended clips.
There are fault lines in TMPs crust, if you will. The following illustrations, in the reviewers’ opinion, are the most notable and far-reaching.
The dumbing-down syndrome
One of the most unfortunate, even egregious, occurrences over the past half-century is the dumbing-down of the Catholic laity. Overall, Catholic clergy and lay educators do not expect Catholics in the pews to read and understand Church documents, even those that directly affect their lives. Indeed, certain documents, if studied in parish settings, can be divisive. Humane Vitae and Familiaris Consortio immediately come to mind, since they clearly present the truth, with love, of Gods plan for marriage and family. For some Catholics, the truth therein is exciting; for others, it is uncomfortable-to-discombobulating, perhaps even unchristian.
There is a visual corollary: the means of purveying the content are often dumb-downed as well. In the adult world, for example, John Paul IIs theology of the body is often explained through colorful diagrams and paraphrased words or phrases without recourse to the original text. Yet, a lay person, regardless of academic background, can understand the TOBs major points given some clear analogies and encouragement.
In the high school world, many subjectsmathematics, science, honors English, vocational metal- or wood-working, etc.are exacting, and the texts and manuals display that exactitude. In other words, the materials look professional. If they were not, the students would not take the subject matter as seriously as they do.
One would be hard-pressed to find the same professional stance in Catholic religion classes, including any segment on sex and sexuality. The prevalent thinking is that young people cannot handle theological or philosophical passages from primary sources. (The interesting exception is Scripture.) They are invited to discover their inner truth by way of activities that unmask their emotions, not necessarily engage their intellect.
Unfortunately, TMP succumbs to that temptation. The program does not shy away from truth, but the truth as presented to the intellect is for the educator, not for the student. As shown, John Paul IIs quotable thoughts on love stay in the sections for educators. Yet, what young person could not resonate with, and forever ponder, the man cannot live without love passage from Redemptor Hominis? Or the passage in Familiaris Consortiostating that love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being?
Why protect young people from such extraordinary language and content? Why not have them read such passages aloud and invite some input?
TMP, for students, is activity-driven. Some activities are well thought out and appropriate for the assigned grade level. Example: In Lesson 3, Unit 6, the students get to comment on two dating scenarios that depict a controlling attitude and a bad-boy attraction, respectively. The questions for students target the underlying problems. From the first scenario: Do you think that Will is emotionally blackmailing Gabby? If so, how? How do you think Gabby should deal with her concerns?
No human sexuality program can spend too much time identifying narcissism, misogyny, and moth-to-flame attractions and their underlying causes. The more discussion on how to spot and cope with such relational aberrations the better.
Students meet a superb activity in Lesson 4, Unit 5, where they are asked whether the arrival of a child is a problem in three hard cases involving tuberculosis and deafness; an interracial rape; and an older, pregnant woman with heart problems who already has a son. The students find out that those cases are real and that each mother chose life. The lives in question? Beethoven, singer and actor Ethel Waters, and John Paul II.
Alas, many of the activities are nave, even childish. The first and third activities for 9thgraders are cases in point. In the first, students see the picture of a baby girl who is looking through a window. The activity: Observe the photograph of this little girl. What does it remind you of? Just below is a cartoon character that looks like a smiling alarm clock holding a pencil. The clock is thinking, It seems like shes looking through the window and shes surprised… by something…but…
Then more questions and some sagacity (albeit odd and out of place): Is she looking at herself? Can she see her face reflected in the glass? Seeing is different from looking, and hearing is different from listening. Many times we go through life walking on our tiptoes.
The third activity is to try and take a picture of oneself like the one of the little girl and glue it to the frame on the activity page. This will be your beginning says the script. While such activities may attract 2nd or 3rd graders, it is a stretch to imagine 9th graders being gainfully absorbed.
Jumping to the senior year: in lesson two, students make their own love thermometers, using self-discovery phrases that help determine, along the way, whether they have experienced true love.
Throughout the program, several of the activities employ charades. Again, it is hard to picture high school students taking the affective and sexual content seriously when the means of conveyance are hand and arm gestures and facial expressions. Teachers-in-charge would need to be quick-witted, full of life, and universally admired to pull off lesson plans replete with the proposed skits acted out by individuals or groups.
Catholic reviewers have castigated TMP for its lascivious content (see this critique, for example). They are referring, primarily, to the visual ads in Lesson 1 of the junior year. The photos in question are, indeed, erotic, and the commercial sell panders to young, sophisticated metro-types.
One ad shows a young man and woman in bed presumably after being intimate. The woman is turned on her side facing the manthe viewer sees her bare left side and back. The man is on his back, playing Nintendo on a Dooders gizmo. The caption: The second-best thing to do in the dark.
With such ads, TMP authors hope to show Catholic youth that the secular world has divided the person, especially the male, into two parts: the groin and whatever else remains. Do the ads get the secular, dualistic message across? Yes, without a doubt. Are they appropriate for teens? No. Easily predictable is that many, if not most, junior males will envy the man in the Dooders ad who, in effect, has two play-stations in tandem. The other questionable ads are simply more kindling.
Repairing/enhancing the paths traveled
There is much that is good-to-very good in TMP. Highlighted are some of the keeper aspects. Also noted are some negatives that, with more pondering and editing, could become positives. (Sexually inappropriate ads/photos should be jettisoned and replaced by less hazardous material that carries the same, fractured message. Difficult to find, perhaps, but not impossible.)
On the title page of The Meeting Point, the authors emphasize that the program is a work in progress, and they encourage input. Below are inputs, sincerely offered, hopefully helpful.
Some of the background material for educators is well-written; some is abstruse. Compare the two parts of the following, complete paragraph:
The virtues are necessary so that we can act in a unified way. They allow us to govern our life with wise decisions, performing excellent actions. In this way, we are able to grow as persons.
Our operative principles are re-articulated so as to allow us to build and actualize an accomplished life through those actions that allow us to relate to the people that we love. In this context, it pertains to the virtue of chastity to integrate our effective dynamisms.
While the first part is clear and concise, the second causes more than a little head-scratching. An editor with a background in theology, philosophy, and literature could make the written material flow. Does Spain have a C.S. Lewis or James V. Schall, S.J. in its midst? Such a person would be an enormous asset.
Translating and referencing
Adding an abbreviations index for cited documents and their corresponding Spanish/English titles is imperative. CCE is the abbreviation for Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae (Catechism of the Catholic Church). Most readers might come up with that connection, but other abbreviationsFSH, SH, FSVMT, VAH, DCE, CAH XIVwould be difficult, if not impossible, to track down. Such a list should immediately follow the title page.
As mentioned, high school text books, including illustrations and diagrams, bespeak the seriousness of the content. The fonts used are grown-up, if you will.
By contrast, the overall look of the student activity sections in TMP is that of a storybook. The font used is rounded and often in bold, adding to the sense that the texts design favors readers with short attention spans.
Revisiting the tent metaphor
As mentioned, the tent is the young person in the process of maturing. But, in the very first unitThe Tent. Me: Being a Personthe photo shows a teen-aged girl and guy hunched down in a corridor ready to race each other. Even though the girl is holding what could be a tent rope, the title and photo are incongruous.
Unit 6 is titled Tent Door and Zipper. My Desire for True Love and features a photo of two young people dancing at a formal ball. But the disconnect between title and photo is not the main drawback. Rather, it is the bound-to-happen, juvenile-mind connection between the zipper of the tents door and the zipper on a pair of jeans. Verily, the authors should consider tent door flaps and fasteners or simply tent opening.
Feeding the intellect
Emotions, says St. Thomas Aquinas, trigger the intellect. The intellect interprets an emotion, harnesses the emotions affective energy, and decides on the best course of action, including not taking any action.
To respond well to any such triggers, the intellect needs a close relationship with truth. Indeed, the more one sees reality the way reality really is, the more one is capable of prudencethe form, the mother if you will, of justice, fortitude, and temperance.
In short, the intellectual dimension of the human person needs its own development which, in turn, will assist the persons affective dimension. One does not grasp truth by getting in touch with ones feelings.
Each TMP lesson, then, should have a feeding the intellect component that comes before the activities that focus primarily on how the teen feels about this or that situation. Having a student read a passage or two from documents/works like Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio, Amoris Laetitia, The Four Cardinal Virtues, or Faith, Hope, and Love would engender pertinent questions and a short discussion per lesson or unit.
Example: a student reads the following paragraph:
… sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death. The total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving, in which the whole person, including the temporal dimension, is present: if the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally (FC, 11).
Questions for students: What does the part in bold mean? Where does the total self-giving idea come from? The rest of the sentence brings up the notion of reservation: Is contracepting a reservation? If so, why?
Even if the teacher ends up giving many of the answers, the students would be getting grist for their intellectual mills, not to mention a firmer foundation for the next intellectual challenge. The point: no high school teacher should shy away from digging out and proffering the truth, especially when culled from primary sources.
TMPs emphasis on the affective side of the young person mirrors Pope Franciss emphasis on the affective development of the adult Christian. The content of the Faith, therefore, is not automatically to the fore. As spelled out above in feeding the intellect, the strength and longevity of TMP would be greatly enhanced by treating truth and love as two sides of the same coin.
That said, the reader can find paragraphs within TMPs pages (mostly in the educator sections) that do peal the eternal truth about marriage and family. Those paragraphs, and more, need to filter down to students.
TMPs authors quote Fr. Servais Pinckaers for a reason. Like John Paul II, Fr. Pinckaers knew well the importance of truth, and truths effect upon love: Without the truth, there is neither happiness nor lasting love…. So, a proposed new title: The Meeting Point: Forming and Melding Your Intellectual, Affective, and Sexual Dimensions.
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