By Sara Kraft
Special to The Catholic Key
ST. JOSEPH – “The purpose of life is not about how well we do on the ball field. It’s not about how well we do in the bedroom. It’s not about how well we do with the billfold,” explains Wes Simmons, Northwest Missouri Area Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “It’s about our ability to love and be loved. It’s the funeral topics that matter most, guys. People aren’t talking about that other stuff at the funeral. They are talking about relationships.”
Recently, St. Francis Xavier Parish hosted “Training Camp,” a “guys only” faith-based program designed to help boys and their dads negotiate the challenging years between boyhood and manhood. Seventh and eighth grade boys learned what it means to be a man as they discussed the nitty-gritty of their upcoming physical and emotional changes, what to look for in a wife, and Theology of the Body. The high point of the afternoon (for the boys at least) was a “recess” in the gym with dodge ball pitting the boys against their dads.
“There are a lot of unhealthy attitudes in our culture about sexuality,” explains Fr. Ron Will, C.PP.S., Pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish. “A lot of TV shows, movies, magazines and internet sites portray the opposite sex as an ‘object’ for me to use in order to give me pleasure. Eighty percent of teenagers today view pornography online every day. What does that do to developing an attitude of treating the opposite sex as an ‘object?’ It is easy to slip into that mindset. So we need opportunities to view the human person through a different set of lenses. The Christian message is that every person is ‘precious.’ Every person is to be valued and respected as a child of God.”
Training Camp was initially hosted at St. Francis Xavier Parish in 2007 under the name “Under Construction” and has continued to be hosted every two years. John Modlin, Program Coordinator, originally thought of the session when his wife Jeanne attended a similar mother and daughter experience through Natural Family Planning of Greater Kansas City. They decided to transplant Natural Family Planning of Greater Kansas City’s idea of hosting an experience for fathers and sons and for mothers and daughters to the St. Joseph area which are presented on alternating years.
“In exploring the meaning of our physical nature and how bodies answer life’s questions we learn the nature of ‘Holy’ love, what it means and how we can achieve it in our lives,” explained presenter David Schmitt, a father of three. “The basic premise underlying this teaching is that there is a reason our physical bodies are the way they are and that we can find God in our physicality.”
Just as in athletics, Training Camp is not the end of the process, but rather the beginning. The program is designed to help boys and their fathers as they enter one of the most important seasons of their life, the transition from boys into young men. John says, “Dads can take ownership for helping our sons become righteous men. By helping build up our fathers, we can provide an example for our boys.” These sessions are an introduction to the topics that can be so difficult for many fathers to bring up with their sons. “We hope this can break the ice for further discussion at home,” John adds. Being a father can be a hard job and the program also supports fathers in this task by providing a separate breakout session for fathers in which they can share their experiences and learn from one another in order to meet the challenges of raising boys in the current culture.
“In these times when the media and so many others send messages to our young men that it is ok to do whatever makes you feel good, it is so important to ‘train’ them about how to properly use their gifts to benefit others, not just themselves. They need to understand that their choices have life-long impact on themselves and others,” explained St. Francis Xavier School principal Darrin Pollard. “When I talk to other school administrators, we often discuss how our young people are not getting enough messages about how to use their gifts for others. There is a tendency for our youth to see their gifts, like the gift of their sexuality, as something they should enjoy without considering the consequences of the emotional impact upon others and the spiritual and moral impact upon their own conscience or soul.”