Teen Vogue’s anti-theology of the body

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If your daughter has a subscription to Teen Vogue, I would strongly urge you to cancel it. Immediately.

The magazine recently featured a how-to article about a particular sexual act that I will leave unnamed. (Let’s just say that, aside from its myriad other risks, it would leave these girls particularly prone to hemorrhoids.)

I initially didn’t read the article, to avoid giving them clicks, and also not particularly wanting that information in my head. But writing about it, I thought I should know what it said. So I skimmed it.

And now I want to throw up.

Lest you wonder if this was merely a cautionary piece — well, it was not. It was, in fact, a full-fledged endorsement. The phrase “feels awesome” appeared at least three times. Throw in a few “delightfuls,” some “perfectly normal” and the reassurance that people have been doing this since the beginning of time, and you’ll start to get the idea.

These people are not interested in what is best for your daughters.

I brought it up on Facebook, and naturally my timeline is exploding with concerned mothers. Panicked mothers.

I don’t blame them.

What’s a parent supposed to do in a situation like this — in world like this? Do you really need to sit your kid down and have a long talk about each and every sexual variant that crosses their path? Do you have to research the risks, explain in great detail why it isn’t “awesome”?

Do we have to inflict all of this darkness onto our kids?

In a word, no.

In the 30 years I have been speaking on chastity, I have found that leading with warnings — about diseases, risks, pregnancy, even sin — is not particularly effective. It’s negative. It’s dark. And teens, whose neurological capacity to assess risk isn’t even fully developed, tend not to believe us anyway.

So what do we do instead?

We inspire them.

When I was a senior in college, I heard a series of talks on the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage, based in the Theology of the Body. I was completely blown away. It was beautiful. It was about real love — the deepest desire of my heart. It was about the God who loves me, and about the incredible plan He designed for our bodies and our relationships. It uplifted me. It inspired me. It made me want beauty and goodness and truth in my life.

And it helped me to see all of these other counterfeits for exactly what they were. Abuses. The misuse and distortion of something profoundly good.

I am a big fan of crowding out the ugly with the beautiful.

Once teens have a context — once they appreciate the beauty of God’s plan for sex and love — the other discussions get a lot easier. Sin? Easy to understand — taking his plan out of context does damage to ourselves and others, so of course God doesn’t want us to do it. Physical and emotional risks? Same thing.

Most importantly, if they fully understand that sex speaks the language of marriage, they will won’t be so inclined to “experiment.”

Obviously I can’t give you that entire teaching in the 600 words I have here. But I wrote a book that does that. It’s called Real Love, and you can find it on Amazon.

Even if your kids aren’t reading Teen Vogue, kids around them probably are. You need to be proactive.

Get lots of good information into their brains and their hearts. So that when they see the dark stuff, they will recognize it for what it is.

COMING UP: Radical living and my friend Shelly

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I saw my friend Shelly the other day, for the first time in 28 years.

Back in the day, she was Shelly Pennefather, basketball phenomenon. She led Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School’s women’s basketball team to three undefeated seasons, a 70-0 record. In her senior year, her family moved to Utica, New York, where she led the Notre Dame High School team to a 26-0 season, giving her a no loss record for her entire high school career. She remains Villanova University’s all-time scorer — men’s and women’s — with a career total of 2408 points.  She also holds the women’s rebound record, at 1171. She is a three-time Big East Player of the Year, the first All-American out of the Big East, the 1987 National Player of the Year, and a winner of the prestigious Wade Trophy. She’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Women’s Big Five Hall of Fame, and Villanova has retired her jersey. After college, she played professional women’s basketball in Japan. She was making more money than anybody I knew.

She doesn’t go by Shelly anymore. These days, she is Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She lives in the Poor Clares Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. She joined their community in 1991 and took her final vows in 1997. They are cloistered, which means that they don’t leave the monastery, except for medical emergencies. Her only contact with the outside world is through letters, and very limited visits with family and friends. She’s never used the internet, doesn’t know what Facebook is, and when she saw a visitor answer a cell phone, she asked “What is that?”

Why? Why on God’s earth would a basketball star of this magnitude just walk away from the game and the fame, or go from being one of the world’s highest paid women’s basketball players to taking a vow of perpetual poverty? Why would an attractive, funny, vivacious 25-year-old woman renounce marriage and family to lock herself up in a monastery? Why would a loving daughter and sister embrace a religious discipline wherein she could only see her family — through a screen —a few times a year, and hug them only once every 25 years? Why would anybody voluntarily live a life in which they could own nothing, sleep no more than four hours at a time (on a straw mat), eat no more than one full meal a day, and use telephones, TV, radio, internet and newspapers — well, never?

It all boils down to this: We’re all gonna die. And when we do, all of the money and the prestige and the accomplishments and the basketball awards are going to fall away. All that will be left is us and God. If we play our cards right, we will spend eternity beholding his face and praising him. And, as St. Augustine says, that is where our truest happiness lies — in this life as well as in the next: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Cloistered sisters like the Poor Clares make the radical choice to live that way now — to begin their eternal life here on earth. As religious sisters, they are brides of Christ, and they focus their lives entirely on their bridegroom, without the distractions of all the stuff that’s going to fall away after death anyway. They spend their lives primarily in prayer — praying for you and for me and for this entire mixed up world and in deepening their own relationship with Christ.

This, it goes without saying, is a radical way to live. It is not for everyone, or even for most people. It is a free choice on the part of the sisters. But they do not take the initiative. God himself is the initiator. He calls them to this life, and they freely respond. Sister Rose Marie herself told her coach that this was not the life she would have chosen for herself, but it was very clear to her that it was the life God was calling her to.

I finally got to see Sister Rose Marie last weekend, as she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her solemn vows. I had the privilege of witnessing the once-every-25-year-hugs she gave her family. I spoke to her briefly, from behind the screen. She was always a cheerful person. But I saw a joy and a radiance in her that day that I have rarely seen ever, in anyone. It was beautiful.

The great gift these sisters give to us, aside from their prayers, is that they remind us that this life, and all its pleasures and distractions, will not last forever. And their dedication and their joy give us a small glimpse into the joy that is in store for us, if we can only imitate in some small way their singular focus on their Bridegroom.

Pray for them. And pray for the grace to do what they do — to rise above the distractions of this world and look toward the life that never ends.