When I first knocked on the door of the Carmelite Cloister in Buffalo, New York, I had little idea of the unspeakably beautiful lessons God would have in store for me within its clandestine walls.
And, of course, I had absolutely no clue that I would be able to use those lessons in the daily grind of my life as a homeschooling mother years later.
But Almighty God is truly providential, and He tends to each detail along our trek to Heaven in ways we could never fathom.
In my early 20’s after I became Catholic, I spent a short time in the Carmel, a couple of years living with the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa, and a year as a Postulant/Novice with the Contemplative Sisters of St. John.
Each religious family has its charisms which they so generously offer to Mother Church, and I am so grateful I was able to take advantage of what they had to offer.
I do believe that Heaven meets Earth in religious life in a mind-blowing, soul-lifting way, and the exchange is inexplicable.
However, I will do my best to explain some of the things I learned, and how I use them in my daily life as a homeschooling mother.
In the Carmel, I learned that humility is something to be sought after. One time, I dropped a whole tray of dishes on the floor, food and all. When I did so, out of my mouth came, to
my surprise, “Benedictus Deus in Donis Suis!” Which is Latin for, “Blessed Be God and His Gifts!”
One of my fellow Sisters reminded me that what I happened to say was the best thing I could have said. Even in our mistakes, we should praise God for the humility they bring us.
As I homeschool, I try to remember this experience and teach my children not to be discouraged by their mistakes, but to embrace them as a learning experience and move on with more strength than ever.
2. Prayer, the Soul’s Lifeline
As a religious Sister, I realized each and every day that prayer is a true lifeline for the soul, and that it can be carried out in so many beautiful ways.
As I homeschool, I have learned to get keenly creative with my prayer life, while remaining heartfelt and reverent. A religious art project can be just what my heart needed to draw close to Our Lady on one day, while bringing the whole gang to a Holy Hour is just what we need on a different day.
In the convent each little action was to be a prayer. In family life, in can be so too, just in a whole different way.
In the Carmel we were asked to make the Sign of the Cross before we took a drink of water; I like to encourage my kids to make the Sign of the Cross before they do little things like take a drink, start a test, or get dressed—if they remember, that is… after all, they are not monks!
3. Blessing the Rooms
Before the Carmelites retire, they bless the four corners of their rooms with the prayer, “Ecce Crucem Domini, Fujite Partes Adversae, Vicit Leo de Tribu Juda, Radix David, Alleluia!” Which is Latin for “Behold the Cross of the Lord, Begone ye evil spirits, for the Lion of the Tribe of Juda, the Root of David, has conquered, Alleluia!”
My children listen for me each night as I bless the four corners of their room with this prayer.
4. Little Sacrifices
With Mother Teresa’s Sisters (the Missionaries of Charity or MC’s), I learned to “be faithful in little things, for there your strength lies,” as Mother once said.
Each little sacrifice we make to be faithful is something so precious in the eyes of Our Lord, especially the ones that are hidden or particularly difficult.
When our children are working at their schoolwork with specific attention and labor, we should remind them that this attitude is the secret to pleasing Jesus and becoming stronger.
5. Divine Providence
The MC’s also taught me the ineffable value of Divine Providence. Time and time again, they would simply pray for what they needed, instead of scurrying around and worrying about where to turn next. Sometimes, all it seemed to take was for a Sister to “think” about something they needed—like milk—and a volunteer would show up with it the same day!
Many homeschooling families are on a tight budget, and often not living on two full-time incomes. Trust in Divine Providence is a sure way to know we will get all we need to fulfill our children’s needs.
I also realize I must turn to Divine Providence to know what sort of materials or extra lessons my children need to have to develop their particular talents and fulfill their vocation in life.
Looking back, I treasure what I learned in the religious life because it drew me deeper into the Church.
As St. Therese said, “In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be love.” Whether we are behind cloistered walls, serving as a lay missionary in Africa, being a cashier at the grocery store, or serving our children as homeschooling parents, we all have the beauteous opportunity to be this “love” that St. Therese speaks of.
Each little act of ours can be diligently offered to the Creator, who gives us the strength to carry on, sun up to sun down, and then some.
Nun photo © Oleksandr Babich / Dollar Photo Club