World’s Message Vs. the Little Voice

By Patricia Lefevere
National Catholic Reporter
September 19, 2003

Michael Giuliano developed the course he teaches on “Sexuality and Spirituality” after examining his oldest son’s eighth-grade religion book. The textbook was “pretty watered down in both biology and spirituality.” he said. When he voiced his dissatisfaction to Mount Carmel’s then-principal, Franciscan Sr. Michele Craig, she urged him to “help us find a better book or help us teach it better.”

For many students the classroom is the first place they’re getting information they will need in today’s dating environment. Giuliano wishes it were otherwise. One of his hopes is that students will discuss these subjects with parents. Before he begins the course each February he invites the parents of his students to meet with him. About 70-80 percent show up to review the curriculum. “Parents are uncomfortable with these issues,” he said, “and teachers are relieved that someone is doing it.”

Since devising the sexuality and spirituality curriculum, he has taught it with his three eldest sons in the class. In three years, he may present the course again when his youngest will be an eighth-grader. His daughter, who said she would not like such matters discussed by her father in front of her friends, transferred to a middle school in New York City last year -- though not solely for that reason.

Giuliano has only to look at his own life -- his two decades as a doctor, husband and father -- to see that “one’s spiritual life is embedded in one’s family life and one’s community.” He fondly recalled his 1973-77 undergraduate life at the State University of New York in Albany. Some students formed a “true Christian community, a refuge and place of mutual support.” On Friday nights they gathered for Mass in Chapel House and met with Fr. Paul Smith.

As they were about to graduate, Smith told them that the community they found in Albany did not exist before they arrived. To have a Christian community, “you have to make it and live it,” Smith had said. A quarter century later Giuliano has not forgotten Smith’s advice.

“How to stand alone against a world that is giving you one message and a little voice that is telling you something else” may be the toughest task of adolescence and even adulthood, Giuliano said. The call to faithfulness requires a personal relationship with God built on prayer, he tells students.

“If your faith is ever going to be more than words and following Mom and Dad, you need to do some things on your own,” he said. This includes making choices about drugs, friendships, dating and about praying and attending Mass -- or not.

Giuliano admitted it was difficult teaching the course with his sons in it. The only feedback he’s gotten came from a high school senior who called the course “the most sophisticated and truest presentation” on sex and spirituality that he’d heard.


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