The annual back-to-school trek has begun in earnest around the country this week. Schools that didn’t start a week ago are getting going this week. That means early mornings, stray papers in the kitchen, school buses on the road and, of course, homework.
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 learning something new is to model that learning about our faith is a life-long journey. We don’t graduate from growing in our faith, as though we’ve learned all we need to know at Confirmation. 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 RE class, but you don't do anything. I guess I can quit, too, when I get older." If we want our children and grandchildren to take their faith seriously, then we have to show them how to do it, and that it’s important in the midst of our busy lives.
Model Life-long Learning
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.
Some parishes also offer courses in the "Echoes of Faith" series, a program published and produced by RCL Benziger, a well-known Catholic textbook publisher. 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 at your local parish about it.
But if committing to another outside activity makes you feel overwhelmed, you can also consider learning on your own. The St. Paul Center, at www.stpaulcenter.com, offers several online courses for free and they are a great place to start.
However, 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 new book and commit to finishing it by Christmas. There are several books that I highly recommend on My Bookshelf, such as John Bergsma's Bible Basics for Catholics or Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing. Shorter autobiographies, like St. Therese of Lisieux’ The Story of A Soul, are also perfect Fall reading.
Whatever option you choose is not nearly as important as actually choosing something and sticking with it. Take a few minutes today to think about the season ahead. At Christmas time, what would you like to look back and have read or learned during those 3 or 4 months? Then, just pick something and get going, and model life-long learning to those around you.
St. Thomas Aquinas, patron saint of students of all ages, pray for us this school year!
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