Learning about L.I.F.E.




The L.I.F.E. Program is based on sound theological, catechetical, and educational principles which are drawn from a combination of sources. The sources include: documents from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB); papal encyclicals and other Vatican documents; and pedagogical principles based on the work of character education specialist, Dr. Thomas Lickona. A brief overview of some of the foundational documents is provided below.


USCCB Documents


Safe Environment Charter   USCCB 2003

In 2003 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to the sexual abuse crisis by issuing Promise to Protect, Pledge to Heal: The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Often called “The Charter” by diocesan and parish catechetical personnel, this document requires, among other things, that all children be given annual lessons designed to help them to be aware of, and to protect themselves from, sexual abuse.

The Charter states:

"...Dioceses will establish 'safe environment' programs...providing education and training for children, youth, parents, ministers, educators, and others about ways to make and maintain a safe environment for children." Article 12


The original Learning about L.I.F.E. book was created by Kathie Amidei and Sister Kieran Sawyer as one of the ways the Catholic community could fulfill the Charter's mandate. The program provides material for trained facilitators to use with parents and children to provide the "education and training for children and youth" that is required by the Charter mandate. The online L.I.F.E. Plus program continues to fulfill the Charter mandate.


National Directory for Catechesis   USCCB 2005

In 2005 the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops published the National Directory for Catechesis. This document calls for catechesis that

"includes instruction on the gift of human sexuality, its inherent goodness, and the proper place of that gift within the context of a faithful, fruitful, and lifelong marriage."

The Directory lists 19 components that are to be incorporated into catechesis on sexuality. Those which specifically apply to the L.I.F.E. Program are listed here. 

Catechesis which:

  • Recognizes that the family is the most suitable environment for gradual education in human sexuality
  • Recognizes that parents have the basic right, duty, and primary responsibility to provide education in human sexuality for their children
  • Recognizes the duties of pastors and parish catechetical leaders to support and encourage parents to carry out their role as educators of their children in human sexuality
  • Helps parents to teach their children that the positive values inherent in human sexuality derive from the dignity of each human person created in God's image
  • Promotes marital fidelity and teaches that sexual intercourse is a moral and human good reserved for married couples
  • Includes instruction on the immorality of ... all forms of sexual abuse
  • Ensures that ... information regarding sexuality is provided in the broadest context of education for loveNCD pp 177-178


Catechetical Formation for Chaste Living   USCCB 2008

In 2008 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published the document Catechetical Formation for Chaste Living. The Chaste Living document is about forming children in their development toward “authentic love”. Its focus is on helping young people to understand and build relationships, and on guiding them in the gradual growth toward generous and self-giving love. The Chaste Living document makes a distinction between sexuality education (concrete, specific education in human sexuality) and catechetical formation (the cultivation of the virtues that enable a person to live a chaste life). While the former is the responsibility of the parents alone, the document indicates that the latter is a responsibility shared by catechists and teachers.


The L.I.F.E. Program is in keeping with the following principles and concepts of this important document.  Catechetical formation that:

  • Is directed toward "authentic love" as the goal.
  • Promotes positive loving relationships in family, friendship, and marriage.
  • Emphasizes that sexuality is a gift to be shared only in marriage (“self-giving love”).
  • Defines chastity as the power of authentic love to channel and control sexuality.
  • Calls for the partnership of parents and catechists in the formation of children for chastity.
  • Requires the ongoing cultivation of virtues (character strengths).
  • Spans pre-school through grade twelve.
  • Is taught in age-appropriate stages.


Vatican and Papal Documents


Theology of the Body    Pope John Paul II  

Over the many years of his papacy, Pope John Paul II developed an integrated vision of the human body and soul. In many talks and writings he explained the divine meaning of human sexuality and showed how the body itself provides answers to fundamental human questions. The compilation of his writings on this topic has become known as the “Theology of the Body”.  The Chaste Living document draws heavily from the many documents that present the teachings of John Paul II on sexuality, human love, chastity, and marriage.  The L.I.F.E. Program is designed to relate these concepts in language and symbolism that can be easily understood by the parents and children who participate in the sessions.


Truth and Meaning in Human Sexuality   Pontifical Council for the Family 

This document, produced by the Pontifical Council for the Family in 1995, is based on the teachings of Pope John Paul II, who was Pope at that time. The following summarizing quote from this document could aptly serve as a statement of the goals of the L.I.F.E. Program.

“Education for authentic love, authentic only if it becomes kind, well-disposed love, involves accepting the person who is loved and considering his or her good as one's own. Education for authentic love implies education in right relationships. Children, adolescents, and young people should be taught how to enter into healthy relationships with God, with their parents, with their brothers and sisters, with their companions of the same or opposite sex, and with adults.” TM par 53


Deus Caritas Est   Encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI

The first encyclical letter promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 was called Deus Caritas Est, which means "God Is Love."  In the document the Holy Father uses the ancient Greek words Agape, Eros, and Philia to name three different kinds of love relationships, and refers to sex without love as a Vice that uses sex as a mere commodity that is exploited for personal gain. (DCE 3 and 4)  The basic framework of the L.I.F.E. sessions is a gradual understanding by the parents and their children of the difference between these same four kinds of human relationships,: Love, Infatuation, Friendship, and Exploitation.



Principles of Character Formation


Besides the theological and catechetical principles outlined above, the L.I.F.E. Program draws on sound principles of character education. Character education is the life-long process of teaching children how to be good – how to make good decisions, how to develop personal rules of conduct, how to live morally responsible lives, how to develop relationships that are characterized by authentic love. Helping children to develop as persons of character is a prime responsibility of parents, who are to be aided in this task by teachers, pastors, catechists, and youth leaders of any kind.


The focus on character education, or (to use the language of the Chaste Living document “the cultivation of virtue”) is a primary addition of the online L.I.F.E. Plus program to the original Learning about L.I.F.E. book. One of the principle aims of the L.I.F.E. Plus program is to help parents to work with their children in developing the virtue of chastity, as well as a constellation of supporting virtues the children will need in their efforts to live a loving and chaste lifestyle.


The character education components of the L.I.F.E. Program are based on the following six principles:

  • Character education is the process of teaching children how to be good human beings – persons who KNOW what is good, WANT to do what is good, and DO what is good.
  • Character education happens best in a caring community – family, classroom, school, village, country.
  • Character education is a gradual process, and must be based on the cognitive capacity and maturity level of the individual child.
  • Character is the result of the daily choices and decisions made by each individual.
  • Every individual shares responsibility for the ethical climate of the communities that they are a part of.
  • Faith plays an essential role in the development of character.


Dr. Thomas Lickona

The character education aspect of the L.I.F.E. Program is based on character education principles and processes developed by Dr. Thomas Lickona and his associates at the Center for the 4th and 5th R’s and Institute for Excellence and Ethics. These premier educators have spent years researching the role of parents and teachers in helping children to develop as persons of character, persons who live according to such basic human values as kindness, compassion, truthfulness, honesty, courage, and self-discipline. Their methods present the "how" of virtue formation.


Dr. Lickona has written extensively on the role of character education in helping children to live chastely. Click here for a short article entitled Ten Essential Virtues. Click here for the longer article, Educating for Character in the Sexual Domain.