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A message from the bishop

Family - The NO.1 School
 
School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days
’Reading and ’riting and ’rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hick’ry stick
You were my queen in calico
I was your bashful, barefoot beau
And you wrote on my slate, “I Love You, Joe”
When we were a couple o’ kids.
 
My dear friends,
 
“School Days”, also known as “When We Were a Couple of Kids”, is a popular American song written in 1907. It tells of a mature couple looking back sentimentally on their childhood together in primary school. The best known part of the song is its chorus, quoted above.
 
I thought of this song as the new academic year begins. Some things mentioned in the song are still part of the school experience today, but many things have changed since 1907. School days still include the “3
R’s.” ’Rithmetic is currently the strongest of the three; reading is holding its own; but cursive ’riting is falling off. The hickory stick has long since vanished; indeed, is banished. Calico dresses in school have faded and are gone, as is going barefoot. Certainly slate boards are nearly all replaced.
 
As the new school year begins, it is important to remember that the most important school that children and teens attend is the school of the home. They are  enrolled” in a family, which also rightly can be called a “domestic church.” Of course, there are other “schools” our students attend. Out of 168 hours in a week, students spend only about 35 hours in the formal school setting. That leaves 133 other hours in which students are influenced by other things — things which shape their lives. The hours at home with Mom and Dad and siblings are very important! Just think about other pursuits that vie for children and teens’ attention — music lessons, athletics, videogames, texting, TV, connecting with friends — and you have identified some of these other competing schools of influence.
 
How many of the hours of the week do our students devote to developing their faith and their spiritual gifts — through prayer, worship and religious instruction? These habits and patterns lead to a lifelong friendship with God and “storing up treasure in heaven.” No treasure we currently have or desire will
endure beyond our time on earth. Surely our relationship with God is more important than becoming good at kicking or throwing a ball, or playing the clarinet, or racking up the most points in a video game.
 
The most important learning for students this coming school year is to learn how to pray, or, if they are
already praying, how to pray better. Without prayer, there will eventually be emptiness, anxiety, boredom and a lack of meaning in a person’s life. This is because prayer defines our relationship with God, who is love. How we pray or whether we pray tells us how much God matters to us. Prayer is a heart-to heart conversation with God. But God’s voice can be drowned out by family problems, peer pressure, bad information and neglect. Although many people insist they do not have time to pray, the reason they don’t pray is that they don’t think of praying, or they don’t feel like praying, or they don’t see any immediate results when they do pray.
 
Prayer opens us to the authentic experience of love, God’s love. Like every other aspect of life, a person’s relationship with God needs to grow and mature. What every Catholic mother and father should desire is that their sons and daughters become saints — those who hear the word of God and put it into practice. Growing in faith and love of God is a lifelong adventure. It is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. Unfortunately, too many of our Catholic youth quit learning about their faith just when they develop the ability to do self-reflection, understand mystery and make their own decisions.
 
This is where the family, the No. 1 school, enters in. Students are now immersed in family life. Both family and society leave a lasting impression on the thoughts, preferences and attitudes of a child or teen. Families can promote an environment of prayer and encourage continuing catechism instruction so that when sons and daughters go to college, they will be less likely to stop practicing their Catholic faith. The family can help them to understand and be confident in their faith, so they can withstand the temptations, ridicule and attacks that Catholics often experience.
 
A natural time for families to pray together is grace before meals. Some families pray the rosary. Give your student a copy of the Morning Offering and encourage him or her to pray this prayer before leaving for school. See that they end the day with personal prayer before going to bed. Parents ask: Did you finish your homework? Did you do your chores? Did your practice the piano? How about adding: Did you say your prayers?
 
This summer the office of pastoral services launched a new initiative called Strong Catholic Families (SCF). SCF is a process that partners parishes and families in supporting parents in leading their children toward a vibrant faith. Visit the diocesan website for additional information dioceseofgrandrapids.org.
 
May these school days lead to students growing in age and grace and wisdom, as did Jesus in Nazareth, and experiencing the wonderful love that Christ offers them.
 
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak