SummaryNervous about the new school year? Mary Donellan has encouragement and wisdom from Saint Benedict, Francis de Sales, and Augustine just for homeschoolers.
You’d think we would have this down by now . . . but more often than not, the beginning of each year still makes us gulp—or at least pause—a bit.
Whether we’re the student or teacher, beginnings can be mighty daunting.
Maybe we’ve written out our plans of action, and while trying to feel empowered and optimistic, we remember previous years when life rudely derailed us from our plans and we spent months catching up.
Or, we feel at a loss as how to plan effectively at all, mired down by life’s struggles, and we wonder how much more disorganized things will be just a month from now?
By now, we can admit we know ourselves well: our strengths and limitations, the areas where our capabilities seem like an iron cable, and where our patience feels like a toothpick.
And not just in home studies, but most every other area of our lives—which all come back to affect our homeschooling, and vice versa.
We know that no matter how diligently and prudently we plan and gear ourselves up for an awesome, knock-down school year—the upcoming months will still be, to an extent, completely beyond our control.
Even now we can envisage the unplanned trip, the two-week virus, the power outage, the frustrated fifth-grader and the tear-stained fractions notebook.
A litany of potential derailments parades in front of our eyes, and we wonder if there’s anything we possibly can do to barricade this upcoming year in bright yellow caution tape, shrink-wrap it, and keep it absolutely perfect as we long for it to be.
I was recently inspired to do a little bit of research and unearth what the saints have said about beginnings—to find words that could especially apply to the initiation of a new school year.
The saintly lines I discovered struck me with the warmth of their comfort, encouragement, challenge, and zeal. Each is different, each makes a new point, each sheds a different color of light—but all are vibrant with truth.
As we prepare to begin the new school year, let’s gather around the feet of our intercessors the saints, and in particular, these three that I found, who exemplified through the holy labors of their lives what it means to learn, to thrive, and to begin.
Let’s listen to what they have to say!
1. Saint Benedict
“Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection.”
St. Benedict, “the father of western monasticism,” was all too familiar with the difficulty of beginnings.
While he abandoned his secular education as a youth, appalled at the increasing moral depravity of 5th-century Rome, and sought out the life of a hermit, he still courageously followed Divine inspiration in his later years and not only spiritually fathered groups of monks and wrote his famous Rule, but transformed his monasteries into schools of a different kind—schools of Christian life.
The challenges of beginning our new school year, while real, are put in perspective when we reflect on the scope of beginning that St. Benedict faced.
And yet, his words apply just as much to our school year as to his monastic endeavors.
We know that our home education, whether we administer it as the parent or engage in it as the student, is a good work. By homeschooling, we’re endeavoring to grow in knowledge of God through purposefully studying His truths, and striving to blossom in holiness by centering our lives in our domestic church.
What would Our Lord not bless about our school year—if we make a most pressing appeal to Him that He would bring it to perfection?
St. Benedict wisely reminds us that, no matter how hard we try, we simply can’t bring about complete perfection through our own efforts of planning, organization, and curriculum choice.
Without the grace of God, we might as well be using limp spaghetti noodles to try to paint a masterpiece.
But if we begin our school year by making an urgent appeal to Christ that he would bless our efforts, renew this appeal each day, and surrender the results to Him, what have we to fear?
2. Saint Francis de Sales
“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them—every day begin the task anew.”
Throughout his life, St. Francis de Sales—bishop, educator, renowned Catholic Reformation figure and Doctor of the Church—perhaps felt more deeply than anyone the pressing need for new, daily beginnings, and the overwhelming possibilities for failure or at least difficulty that bordered the path God led him on during this turbulent period in history.
And yet this holy figurehead of the Counter-Reformation seemed to continually overflow with words of consolation and encouragement for the ordinary, struggling Catholic person. The voice he imparted to us through his writings is unfailingly one of gentle encouragement, sympathy, and firm reassurance.
Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself, writes the man who strove for years to convert the people of the province of Chablais back to the Faith. Every day begin the task anew.
To us as we face a new homeschool year, well aware of our own weaknesses and the challenges of life, his mild words might seem almost too kind! Have patience? Patience with ourselves?
Yet if we remember that St. Francis was in a far greater position to be discouraged and impatient with his own failings, we might realize he meant his words for us as much as he did for anyone.
As we embark on our new school year, we have to realize that—no matter what chaos happened yesterday, or in what form of disorganized aftermath we find ourselves today—every new group of twenty-four hours is given to us as a fresh opportunity to better ourselves and our efforts.
We don’t have to be—and shouldn’t be—bogged down by what has happened, or what we need to fix and make better.
God always wants to help us advance from where we are to a place of improvement, even if the improvement is found within our hearts and not necessarily on the academic page.
This school year, inspired by St. Francis de Sales, we should remember to be encouraged and motivated at the beginning of each new day, because it has been given to us by God to improve on yesterday—and with His help, avoiding impatience and discouragement, we can set about remedying our imperfections!
3. Saint Augustine
“You aspire to great things? Begin with little ones.”
St. Augustine filled up decades of his life with sins, rebellion, unwelcome self-realizations, and tiny baby steps towards God before he at last became recognizable as the beloved saint we know today.
His holiness was a slowly-broken cocoon if ever there was one, and the wisdom in this quote doubtlessly emerges from his personal experience!
As homeschoolers, we do aspire to great things.
We want to equip our children, or cooperate with our parents, to become saintly, well-educated men and woman who witness to the importance of the Faith, of our families, and of the domestic church, so that we can go on to enkindle future generations with the same convictions and values.
We believe in the freedom to do what is right, and in the profound worth of excellent education and close-knit, devout families.
Yet it’s intoxicatingly easy to be inspired and uplifted by our idealistic aspirations one minute . . . and to be overwhelmed with the messy, imperfect, frustrated, toddler-tantrum realities of now in the next. And, oh, it’s only day two of the school year!
But St. Augustine’s simple advice reminds us that taking a breath of calm in the kitchen, then assisting with the next fraction problem, giving a snack to the grumpy child or sibling, and putting on a cheerful song to liven the dismal mood, are the steps we can and must take to one day achieve our greater ideals.
They are irreplaceable links in the chain of the truth and worth of homeschooling.
This school year, let’s resolve to begin every day with little things, with baby steps, with humble actions; let’s have patience with ourselves and not let discouragement win; and let’s always and everywhere commend our efforts to Our Lord, and ask Him to bring them to perfection.
Let’s allow this to be our best school year yet by surrendering more than we thought was possible, and asking St. Benedict, St. Francis de Sales, St. Augustine, and all our holy patrons to guide us through the daily grind . . . where no caution tape or shrink-wrapping will be necessary.