This article was originally posted on Seton Magazine. While this post is written from my own perspective as a homeschooling family, most of the suggestions can be used regardless of where your children go to school.
September is nearly upon us and for most families that means a return to the regular school-year routines. As parents, we expend considerable energy, effort, time and money in preparing for the upcoming school year – ensuring that our children receive the best education, the most well-rounded set of extra-curricular activities and do it all in style (who can resist that dizzying array of colorful backpacks). It is not as often that we prepare ourselves spiritually for the upcoming school year, and yet, as the old axiom wisely states: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Here are five ways you can prepare yourselves and your family spiritually to enter the new academic season with the Lord at the center of your academic life.
1. Bless your books and your home.Invite your parish priest or deacon over to bless your books and your home, particularly the area you will be using for homeschooling. This provides not only the grace of the blessing itself, but it gives your children an opportunity to interact with their priest or deacon outside the parish setting and allows your priest or deacon to get a glimpse into the “hows” and “whys” of homeschooling.
Parish priests are busy people, so if your local priest is unavailable, consider inviting a retired priest over. They often have more time available to spend sharing their years of accumulated wisdom with families.2. Wipe the slate clean with a good Confession.
Like the brand new books and haircuts that accompany the start of a new year, it is equally important to have our souls scrubbed and shining as we begin any new endeavor. Summer vacation and its unpredictable schedule can often lead to regular confession times being missed or delayed. Beginning the school year provides a great opportunity to get back to a regular confession schedule. Pope Francis describes the spiritual and temporal benefits experienced by the person who has just made a good confession saying: “he leaves (feeling) free, grand, beautiful, forgiven, candid, happy. This is the beauty of confession.”[i]
3. Go to opening day Mass as a family.The first day of school is always one met with great anticipation and excitement. Make it a truly special day by attending morning Mass together as a family or along with other homeschooling families. By attending Holy Mass, we consecrate our entire day and all the activities within it to the Lord and we receive innumerable graces from the Eucharist, graces we can draw upon when the days get long and tough.
St. JoseMarie Escriva says: “Keep struggling, so that the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar really becomes the center and root of your interior life, and so your whole day will turn into an act of worship — an extension of the Mass you have attended and a preparation for the next. Your whole day will then be an act of worship that overflows in aspirations, visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the offering up of your professional work and your family life…”[ii]
4. Pick a patron saint for the year.Every homeschool needs a patron saint whose example and intercession can be both a model and a source of strength for the entire family. Pick a new patron saint to dedicate the upcoming school year too. As part of your curricula, the entire family can learn about that saint through books and movies. Encourage your children to identify and imitate the saint’s virtues. Most of all, place your homeschool into your patron saint’s special care and pray for his or her intercession daily.
5. Enlist the help of the “simple saints.”In a General Audience address on holiness, Pope Benedict referred to the example of what he called “the simple saints, that is, the good people I see in my life who will never be canonized. They are ordinary people, so to speak, without visible heroism but in their everyday goodness I see the truth of faith.”[iii] We all have “simple saints” in our lives, and they are often longing for opportunities to be of spiritual assistance to others. The start of the school year is a great time to enlist their help – ask the “simple saints” you know to pray for your family and in particular for your homeschool.
Throughout the course of the year, reach out to them when situations arise which require extra prayer. Keep them updated on how your family is doing, and thank them for their efforts by praying for them and inviting them into your home to share a meal. As the Body of Christ we rely on each other’s prayers and this is a great opportunity to share our lives with those in our wider Catholic community.
Armed with prayer, the sacraments and help from the Communion of Saints your family will ready to begin a new year open to all the possibilities for growth and glory that the Lord has planned.
[i] Pope Francis, General Audience Address, February 19, 2014
[ii] St. Josemarie Escriva, The Forge, #69
[iii] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, April 13, 2011
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