Since the memorial day for the Holy Guardian Angels is on October 2, this ornament is the perfect fall complement. I like to put her out as a reminder to have an attitude of Thanksgiving, to reflect on the gifts of the last 12 months, especially as the year is beginning to draw to a close. Her colors of gold and cream, combined with her prayerful, subdued attitude, inspire reflection and contemplation.
Guardian Angels are rather the unsung heroes of the angelic sphere, aren’t they? The Bible mentions by name the mighty archangels. There's Michael, with his fiery sword, whose name (and being) translates to “Who is like God?” Then there’s the enormously helpful Raphael who protects Tobit’s son, not to mention guiding him to a wife and healing her by sending a nasty demon away. Even Gabriel, so closely linked to the Christmas nativity, comes to announce truly earth-shattering news - that the virgin will bear a son.
It's mid-September, and that means we've made it through the first few weeks of school. By now, the kids should be more-or-less settled into their routine for the year, those early mornings are not hitting us quite so hard, and the kids are not dragging home quite as exhausted as they were at first. Right? Well, at least that's the idea.
But now that the kids are back to studying, what about us? Shouldn't we also be revving up our brains again and flexing some of our mental muscle? We definitely know that those who routinely exercise and stretch their brains to learn new things will retain a much better quality of life as they age. Besides, there are so many interesting things to learn about!
Another reason to seriously consider taking the Pledge for Parents is to model that learning about our faith is a life-long journey. One parent told me she started going to Bible study because her child looked at her one day and said "You're making me go to class, but you don't do anything. I guess I can quit, too, when I get older." If we want our children to take their faith seriously, then we have to show them how to do it.
So, I would like to propose a "Back to School, Back to Study" Pledge for Parents. Like all my faith formation suggestions, adding something new is NOT intended to overwhelm or cause guilt. It's really more about finding a bit of time, or reorganizing a little space, to fit in something new that adds great value. It's finding an inch, not a mile. In other words, this pledge has to be pretty simple. It really involves just 2 things: 1. finding a study that interests you and fits into your schedule and 2. sticking with it.
So, where should you look to find a good Catholic study? Most parishes have good Bible studies that start around this time of year, and they use solid resources that you can trust. (My favorite Bible series is from Stephen Binz, published by Twenty-Third Publications. It's called the "Threshold Bible Study" series, and it covers many fascinating topics.) Many parishes use the "Little Rock Scripture Study" series, or the "6 Weeks with the Bible" series from Loyola Press. Both of these are also good.
Many parishes also offer courses in the Echoes of Faith series, a program published and produced by RCL Benziger. This program can be done in group settings or individually, and has recently been updated. The current version is called "Echoes of Faith, Emmaus," signifying that it follows the Biblical story of Jesus walking with his disciples on the road to Emmaus. It's very well done, and is often used for catechist certification. This is a good option if you are just starting to learn about Catholicism. Ask your Director of Religious Education about it.
But if committing to another outside activity makes you feel overwhelmed, you can also consider learning on your own. That's my plan for this semester. I've had Scott Hahn's book A Father Who Keeps his Promises on my bookshelf for quite a while, but I've never gotten around to reading it. This month, I'm going to go over to The St. Paul Center at www.stpaulcenter.com, and sign up for their online course "Covenant Love: Introducing the Biblical Worldview." I've done some of the courses at the St. Paul Center before, and not only are they well worth the time, they're also FREE! Of course, as a graduate of Steubenville, I am fond of this center. :)
Another option is to go to www.pillarsofcatholicism.com, which is an outreach of John Paul the Great Catholic University. They also offer free online classes taught by their faculty and are well done.
But if you're not sure you can make it through a full course - even a free, self paced one- you can always pick up a decent book and commit to finish it by Christmas. That really is doable for everyone. I recommend starting with John Bergsma's Bible Basics for Catholics. It's an easy read and very enjoyable. (Dr. Bergsma is also one of my favorite professors from Steubenville, and has a great sense of humor!)
If you're feeling more drawn to learning about spirituality, any of the books by Fr. Ron Rolheiser are a good place to start, especially The Holy Longing or Against An Infinite Horizon. I'll put some links to these books up on my Bookshelf page.
So think about, pray about, then Take the Pledge! Make it official:
1. PRINT out the form in the post above.
2. FILL it in
3. POST it somewhere you will see it, and your family will see it.
4. Then just DO it!
Let's all get Back to School, and Back to Study!
This ornament is from a few years back, but because the school year is starting up again it popped into my mind. At church, I have hundreds of children and parents to organize into classes and sessions. There are so many details to attend to that it is very easy to feel overwhelmed and annoyed. I hear lots of "Whaaaaaat?" from my coworkers as they open emails and respond to the latest crisis.
On days like these, I have to remind myself of the true reason for Religious Education - "to train up a child in the way he or she ought to go, and when they are old they will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) Bible speak for "the way to go" translates to "the path of discipleship," referring to a decision to follow the Lord in a life-long journey, up hill and down vale, in storm and sun. Dr. Seuss' story "The Sneetches" reminds us of this. The role of the catechist is not the same as the karate teacher. Faith formation is not just another after school activity. We hope to pass on the teachings of Christ, 'the teachings that are one with him, " as St. Catherine of Siena reminded us. If a child can be guided onto the path of discipleship, then it won't make any difference if one group is wearing stars and another is not. Both groups will be able to see the image of God in themselves and in those who are not themselves.
As they open their books again this month all over the country, let's pray that all children and adults "grow in wisdom and grace, in favor with God and with people" (Luke 2:52) this year.
A few years ago I stumbled across an article written by a Mommy blogger, who asked the simple question "Why does my kid love this book so much?"
"I mean," she continued, "C'mon. The colors are garish, there's no story and all it does is name everything in this really weird room. And I have to read it 5 TIMES EVERY NIGHT!!!"
I've always loved this book, and I remembered her comments when Hallmark came out with this ornament in 2017. There's Sweet Bunnykins, all tucked up in bed - a bed the same garish red and green as the book, mind you - and. . .he's reading Goodnight Moon!
A Day at the Beach
By Debra Nielsen
I have just returned home from the beach, so I really understand the meaning of those words "The beach is calling..."
One night while at the beach, my sister and I took a moonlight stroll along the sand. We wandered for a while, taking in the endless expanse of sea and stars, looking at the paths of silver light the moon cast over the water, as the dogs roamed and her young son explored. My sister stopped and stood with her toes in the surf.