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Since 1965, August has been recognized as “Back to School” month. This year, many public and private schools are still trying to determine what that looks like amidst the COVID-19 confusion. But we want to encourage all families to prepare to go back to the “school of love.”

The good news is you don’t have to leave your house or join a Zoom call to attend this school! It is right in your own home. Because the home is where children first hear the gospel proclaimed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the family as the domestic church, “a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity” (1666).

In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II says that this “‘school of deeper humanity’ happens where there is care and love for the little ones, the sick, the aged; where there is mutual service every day; when there is a sharing of goods, of joys and of sorrows” (21).

He also says that the parents’ love is the animating principle of this school. This love guides all educational activity, and enriches it with the “values of kindness, constancy, goodness, service, disinterestedness and self-sacrifice that are the most precious fruit of love” (Familiaris Consortio, 36).

Further he explains that:

In a society shaken and split by tensions and conflicts caused by the violent clash of various kinds of individualism and selfishness, children must be enriched not only with a sense of true justice, which alone leads to respect for the personal dignity of each individual, but also and more powerfully by a sense of true love, understood as sincere solicitude and disinterested service with regard to others, especially the poorest and those in most need. Familiaris Consortio, 37

In his Letter to Families, St. John Paul II underscores the vital role of the family:

The family is placed at the centre of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love. To the family is entrusted the task of striving, first and foremost, to unleash the forces of good, the source of which is found in Christ the Redeemer of man. Every family unit needs to make these forces their own so that…the family will be “strong with the strength of God”. Letter to Families 23.

While this seems like an impossible task, St. John Paul II assures that God gives parents the grace they need:

For Christian parents the sacrament of marriage, consecrates them for the strictly Christian education of their children, calls upon them to share in the very authority and love of God the Father and Christ the Shepherd, and in the motherly love of the Church, and enriches them with wisdom, counsel, fortitude and all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to help the children in their growth as human beings and as Christians. (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 38, emphasis added)

On a more practical level, Dr. R. Jared Staudt, founder of Building Catholic Culture has identified four pillars that support a school of love. Following are the pillars and some key practices for each.

Pillar 1: Pray

Pillar 2: Form the Mind and Heart

  • Read good books out loud together. John Senior’s list is a good place to begin. Begin with Mother Goose and Grimm and move onto C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
  • Sing songs, play music, dance, and talk together.
  • Limit technology usage in and out of the home and focus on family interaction and developing the imagination without the distraction of artificiality.
  • Embrace character formation in parenting by creating loving and firm discipline to form virtue. See Leonard Sax’s The Collapse of Parenting.

Pillar 3: Establish Family Practices

  • Make Sunday a day of family leisure taking more time for prayer and family activities.
  • Experience the outdoors, with regular walks, hikes, camping, and outdoor games.
  • Teach hard work, giving kids responsibility and doing work as a family around the house, gardening, cooking, and creating a home economy.
  • Schedule family time for meals, prayer, discussion, work, and games.

Pillar 4: Build Family Community

  • Practice family hospitality, inviting other families over to practice the other pillars.
  • Gather families together at your parish for prayer, meals, and fun.
  • Teach your kids to engage in mission, sharing their faith and serving others.[1]

We close with these words from the conclusion of the Letter to Families:

May the Holy Family, icon and model of every human family, help each individual to walk in the spirit of Nazareth. May it help each family unit to grow in understanding of its particular mission in society and the Church by hearing the Word of God, by prayer and by a fraternal sharing of life. May Mary, Mother of “Fairest Love”, and Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer, accompany us all with their constant protection.

With these sentiments I bless every family in the name of the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (23)

[1] Building Catholic Culture, Family Culture, internet: https://buildingcatholicculture.com/family-culture/ (accessed August 1, 2020).