30 Sep RSHE Education in Love
“In his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis speaks of the need for an authentic formation for the young in human sexuality. The Holy Father advocates an education for love, for mutual self-giving to overcome self-centredness in order to prepare young people for a “great and generous love.” I have been happy to commend A Fertile Heart resources in response to this appeal. I hope these resources will help to inspire many pupils to embrace the Christian vision of human love and sexuality as well as equipping educators to fulfil their task in partnership with parents.”
Rt. Rev Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury
The phrase “artisans of peace” comes from the 2018 Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exultate – the call to Holiness in Today’s World. It strikes me as a very useful descriptor for the task of educators today. A lot is going on in the world that can easily disturb the peace of children. Despite their natural resilience, the fragility of their spirit is never to be under estimated, so we must do all we can to serve their inner peace. In March the Centre for Social Justice launched a report entitled: “Unsafe. Driving Up Our Country’s Response to Child Abuse and Sexual Exploitation.” As one would expect with such a detailed, evidence-based analysis, it comes with many recommendations including several for education. Schools take safeguarding very seriously and rightly so and often excel in their efforts to keep children safe as well as being vigilant for the warning signs in a child’s behaviour or attitude. The authors of the Report say that schools have to tackle child sexual abuse [CSA] by “protecting the innocence of children.” None of us could disagree with that, especially in respect of a child who has fallen victim to abuse or been exposed to highly damaging material and influences online.
Children in our schools have an absolute right to have their innocence protected as well as restored where it has been tarnished and broken. Teachers have such a privileged role to play in this God given duty. In the unique context of the Catholic school, that sense of being an active custodian of childhood innocence ought to run very deep and be part of the lifeblood of the entire mission of the school. Preserving, protecting and restoring children’s innocence doesn’t mean avoiding the sensitive and challenging issues or topics about human sexuality and relationships, but we know it does mean that both sanity and sanctity has to permeate the classroom when it comes to teaching relationships and sex education. The Church wisely calls for the framework of formation in sexual morality that must be delicately given as part of a sound doctrinal catechesis. The Second Vatican Council states that children “as they grow older should receive a positive and prudent education in matters related to sex.” These words “positive” and “prudent” are the hallmarks of the quality and credibility that is assured in educational resources such as “A Fertile Heart; Receiving and Giving Created Love.” This is an all-through curriculum from Reception to Year 11 that offers schools, in full partnership with parents, a thoroughly holistic incremental scheme of work that allows teachers to truly accompany pupils on a journey of self- discovery about who they are, and discerning their unique place in the world. But much more than this, the Fertile Heart themes and approach takes great care to reinforce what children deserve to hear and have repeated to them often – their innate dignity as image-bearers of God.
There’s a lot focus in childhood development of resilience, grit, self- awareness, self-esteem and character or virtue education. This is good and to bewelcomed. Fertile Heart seeks to go in to the deeper meaning of these words and concepts. It does this by placing specific emphasis upon “personhood.” In truth, qualities such as determination, self-discipline and resilience are all about personhood, because we all have “capax Dei” a capacity for God.
In Catholic education we would be doing children a tremendous disservice if we did not help to instil in pupils the truth, that no matter how deep and strong your resilience levels, in the end, you are reliant on a higher power – call it grace if you will – or God’s love and mercy. Without the gradual and appreciative awareness of the metaphysical that must mature over time, we are in danger of burn out. No matter how strong we might believe ourselves to be, children deserve to know that their entire journey through life is actually part of salvation history, the economy of salvation as it were, which is ultimately a spiritual journey and forming young people in this reality is a supernatural task. One cannot complete a supernatural task solely on human resources. We need the Divine. We need the transcendent. We need dependence. That is why Fertile Heart approaches the subjects of relationships education and relationships and sex education through the theological lens of Christian anthropology and Scripture. What does this mean exactly? Well, if as teachers, we want each and every child in our care to truly grow and develop in their own unique personality, their unrepeatable identity as a child of God, made in His image, then we must show them who they are in Christ. He is the ‘pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ says St. Paul, which means, Jesus is also the pioneer and perfecter of our personhood so that we discover how we can see our own personality mirrored in each Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Trinity is that Communion of Persons, the perfect model of all relating and relationships; the perpetual cycle of generous, limitless reciprocity of love from Father to Son, from Son to Father in and through the Holy Spirit. This generous reciprocity of active love is the core message of the Fertile Heart programme.
We want children to know and appreciate that whenever they receive and return authentic love, kindness, gentleness, courtesy and respect [not just mere tolerance], they are in fact and in reality, expressing the Divine Personhood of the Blessed Trinity in their everyday situations and encounters with others. St. Paul also teaches us that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” so if children are to strive to live with a sense of being present to themselves and others in an honest appreciation of their physicality then conversely, they also need to know that their own moral agency, their free actions and choices can disfigure that spiritual reality of reflecting the Communion of Persons. This is why Fertile Heart is replete with messaging about hope, trust, and self-confidence because it is equally important for children to know that God wants them to freely respond to His grace and always to return to Him in prayer and genuine service of others when things go wrong. In July 2015, speaking to a large gathering of youth in Turin, Pope Francis said; “Love is very respectful of people. It does not use people. And, namely, love is chaste. And to you all, young people, in this hedonist world, in this world where there are only commercials, pleasure … I tell you: Be chaste! Be chaste!” He continued; “It is right to try for a genuine love, that knows to give life, that does not search to use the other for its own pleasure, a love that makes sacred the life of the other person: ‘I respect you, I do not want to use you.’ It is not easy, we all know the difficulty to overcome the easy and hedonistic concept of love, but I ask you,” he said. “Make the effort to live love chastely.”
A Fertile Heart; Receiving and Giving Creative Love genuinely seeks to help young people to begin and continue that lifelong journey of self-giving love and recognises that the duty on Catholic schools to meet new demands for the personal, moral, social and spiritual development of their pupils needs dynamic and creative resources to help them embrace that responsibility with fresh enthusiasm. Furthermore, teachers themselves need ongoing formation in the vision that Pope Francis articulates and that is why we believe the resources enable the teachers to grow in their own knowledge of God and self-awareness as they explore the content of the modules with the pupils together. If you have not yet discovered Fertile Heart and what it offers, then I encourage you to browse the website at www.fertileheart. org.uk. As we all hopefully emerge from lockdown restrictions and schools can look towards a more “normal” level of educational activity from September, then perhaps the “stock taking” months of Summer provide a good opportunity for all of us to re-evaluate where we really want to go with the provision of RSHE. Let’s boldly embrace it as a real opportunity to enrich the true apostolic dimension of Catholic education and to take our pupils on a formational journey of education in love that will expand their hearts, minds, souls and bodies to be the truly fertile recipients and responders of God’s love that they are all called to be.