As we work at learning and assimilating the Skills and Affirmations, we are always mindful of the underpinnings of the four areas of discovery—Self, Sexuality, Spirituality and Society— which are introduced during the Rite-13 years and examined more fully throughout the J2A years, the Pilgrimage and the YAC years. We go significantly deeper, learning a new vocabulary and growing through new experiences. During the J2A years, we encourage teens to become more involved in gathering skills to aid in their development so that by the time they become a YAC group, they are at ease with these concepts, and are fully invested in the decision-making process, question-asking & answering, etc.
The four areas of discovery (fondly known as the 4 S’s) are:
- Self — The primary goal of the Self lessons is to give the young people a vocabulary and a set of experiences which will enable them to understand and to articulate their emerging selves. Many of the lessons are didactic in nature, but all of them allow the young people a chance to express their opinions and insights. Leaders help the young people explore the concepts of identity, dependency, independence and purpose. The ground work is being laid for the first three of the “adult skills” which we hope to teach over the two years. Active listening, assertion and negotiation are taught both directly and by default throughout these lessons. The most important message leaders can give, however, can be summed up in five words: “I am listening to you.” These leaders lay the groundwork for all the other work that will come.
- Society — It is not enough for us to be comfortable with our selves alone; we must also be able to function in groups and in society. The classes explore the ways in which groups define themselves. We discuss the ways in which group norms are healthy and unhealthy. Who makes the rules? Why are the rules broken? We look at the challenges of living in modern culture, from poverty to racism, from working to buying food on a budget. We are building on self-concept, expanding to societal workings in which we might hear the Gospel teaching. We are called to be a people of love. But what does that mean? How can we fight injustice? How can we “make a difference?” How can we protect ourselves in the face of so much need and so many dangers? The final three skills, Research and Information management, Partnership, and Leadership are all touched on within this unit. It is difficult to make a difference if you have no notion of what you might contribute, what is needed and how to serve. We believe that in exploring the complexities of our modern culture, within the confines of the faith community, we help young people see some of the ways in which helping one “of the least of these who are members of my family” helps the many. The last section of this unit takes the young people on an Urban Adventure Scavenger Hunt. This is a real highlight for the young people as they get to travel and navigate their way around a major city without help, but under the watchful, yet loving eyes of their leaders. The goal of this section is not so much to remove risk as it is to establish a level of ability in the young person which allows them to recognize risk, assess the appropriate response and move on.
- Sexuality — In J2A, we spend time talking and listening. In no section of the curriculum is this more true than in the lesson plans on Sexuality. Having firmly grounded the young people in the understanding of their gender as a free gift from God, we move on to look at the ways in which sexuality affects all of our lives. We look at the attraction to the other, by reading the stories of creation and the Song of Songs. We even throw in a little Milton—Paradise Lost! But from there, we try to raise some of the questions that confront young people in this age group. Believe it or not, young people have lots of questions about morality and love. The task of discussing and defining our own sexuality – its blessing and its responsibility – is made easier by the work teens are doing around Self and Society. Our focus in this section is placed on understanding primary, committed, monogamous relationships. We discuss AIDS and all of the dangers and health risks which exist for our young people, but in the end, our goal is to learn about intimacy, commitment and fidelity. It is not possible to be truly intimate if you lack a strong sense of self. It is also not possible to be committed and faithful if you do not understand the role of rules and responsibilities in any grouping.
- Spirituality — This section is a nuts-and-bolts discussion of what it really means to be a person who lives in an intimate and on-going relationship with God. Certainly, we could argue that loving the self, working in society and being responsible in our own sexuality are all components of this relationship, but it is also essential to learn and practice the disciplines which comprise a faithful life. As the young people learn how to nurture their own relationships and group identity, they also realize that one of the most important elements of any true relationship is time. Without spending time in prayer, we cannot have a living relationship with the Maker of all things. Without reflection and meditation on God’s character and word, it will be difficult to incorporate God’s word into our daily lives. As the wise Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. So too, we say, the unexamined God is not worth living with. We are called into a living relationship with the Creator – a relationship built on loving exchanges, heart-felt dialogue and trust. In these lesson plans, every effort is made to examine the ways in which we actively approach God and the ways in which God actively engages us. The saying in the list of affirmations which undergird these years states that “I practice compassion, celebration and the mystery of living in Faith.” The J2A materials offer many suggestions on what we can expect to find in life, but in this section, we also want to emphasize the mysterious nature of life. It is the mysteries of God which call us back to our Center, our Creator – in the very same way that the mysterious life and energy of a life partner is able to continually engage and enchant us over time.