It is that time of year, when most of us are going back to school. The start of the school year affects most people in one way or another. Whether you are a teacher, a parent, a student, or any working person, back-to-school days are bittersweet– exciting, yet mournful; happy, yet solemn.
I am a teacher and a mom. Back to school for me, means many things:
1) My vacation is over. I use the summer vacation to recharge. No matter what your opinion is of a teacher’s schedule, deserved or undeserved. One hundred eighty days of high energy individuals not only inspire, but they also drain the energy from those who are entrusted to their care and education. It takes a lot to love so many children, and it is truly a gift from God to be able to do so day in and day out. So, yes, I do need a vacation—a long one.
2) I have to be without my kids. I know some parents are relieved when their kids go back to school, but for me, there is a little pleasure in letting go, even if only from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. The summers, for me, are filled with sleeping in, trips to the zoo, afternoons at the pool, and daily Mass. I get to have lunch with my kids every day. It is sad for me to be without them.
3) My kids are getting older. The years with my children have flown by. I have one more year until my oldest, a senior in high school, goes off to college. Each back-to-school time brings my family closer and closer to life-changing moments. This year holds a high school graduation and First Communion for us. Exciting rites of passage like these begin with the start of a new school year.
4) I get to meet a brand new batch of students with whom I will fall in love. As I entrust my kids to other teachers, I am able to pay it forward. I can express my love for my own children and give it to the children of others, if at least just from 8:00 am until 3:00 pm.
5) The most important thing that all this means is that I understand my vocation best at this time of year, even more profoundly than at any other time. I realize that God placed me here to care for others. My job is to help them all grow in one way or another—intellectually, physically, socially, and, most of all, spiritually.
My own children are a part of me. I am given by God a great responsibility as a mother to help them become what God has intended. I lead them in the ways of the Church; I nourish them with food and spiritual nourishment. I love them and educate them. Back-to-school for us as a family is a natural progression of life. It signifies the process that God has put in place, the passing of time and the movement closer and closer to Himself. My children are a true extension of myself and the older they get, the closer they are to God’s purpose for them.
As for my students, I am fortunate enough to teach at a Catholic school where I am always able explore the spiritual side of myself and my students. Back-to-school as a teacher enables me to move further and further outside of myself. It means I get to influence, and be affected by, a hundred different souls every year—some of these years better than others, but all of them a part of God’s plan for me.
Back-to-school is bittersweet, but oh so very necessary in what I call life. God gives me an opportunity to extend myself further and further through my own children and to those whom I “mother” at school. The excitement of a new school year is my opportunity to develop grace and bring myself closer to my purpose.
This post is part of our Little Sistas series, in which we showcase writing by talented young ladies who love the Faith.
“The Catholic Church is irrelevant to today’s youth.” This is the falsehood promulgated by society in the hope that it will become a reality. This is achieved by focusing completely on the negatives of youth: the wild parties, drug abuse, and casual sex that occupy only a fraction of youth today, as many teens, such as me, would prefer to view the drama of the stereotypical teenage lifestyle from the comfort of their living room couches. Those television shows, such as Gossip Girl and The Secret Life of the American Teenager, portray a sect of teenagers that has given in to the “church of society” in which morality is irrelevant in the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure; the “weird” Christian girl loses her virginity and abandons her beliefs and the parents who once preached about faith and morality to their children are often times the most immoral of all. These messages illustrate a society which has lost faith in the moral capacity of its youth and persecutes those that hope to rise above the stereotypes. However, hidden beneath the falsities and drama of the media is a youth that is bursting with passion for the faith, a youth which defies the stereotypes society has thrust upon them and fully realizes the true relevance of the Catholic Church today.
As a Catholic youth, I have come to fully realize the relevance of the Catholic Church in my life, for walking into my church greatly parallels walking into the home of a friend, not in appearance or smell, but in feeling, for in entering the house of God I feel completely welcome and at peace. My senses are overtaken by the splendor with which I am met because there is truly beauty in everything. The choir, their voices in perfect harmony, as unique as every ingredient in a perfect meal, the incense, a scent so powerful it cleanses me of all my worries, and most of all, the tabernacle, adorned with jewels of every color meant to reflect the treasure it holds inside, the Eucharist, the body of Christ, the food which nourishes not my body, but my soul. Entering a church reminds me that I am part of something much greater than myself, the celebration that is exclusive to the Catholic Church. I am in awe of the history of the Catholic Church and the strength of faith which its members embody. The reverence of the Mass and the love and care with which cathedrals and basilicas have been built remind me of the greatness of God and his presence in my life. The strength of the Church provides me with strength in my faith. Being Catholic is the most important part of my entire being, for it has been engrained in me since my conception and I have embraced it throughout my life.
In attending a Catholic high school, I have the privilege to be surrounded by those who have completely embraced the faith in their lives. They are not solely Catholic because it’s what their parents believe or what they’ve been taught since they were in grade school (though there definitely are teenage Catholics who fit that description), they are Catholic because they deeply and genuinely love the faith. This love is truly beautiful, for the passion of youth, usually stereotyped by parties and promiscuity, translates into the celebration of the Mass, because for us, the Mass is exactly that, a celebration. They celebrate the impact the Catholic Church has had on their lives because they are better, more joyful people because of it, and they hope to continue the celebration in their daily lives. These youth are inspired to make an impact on the lives of others, for the Church gives them the strength and confidence to become leaders in the community, to spread the love of God throughout the world– or simply in their high school community, and to service others to the best of their abilities– whether that be acting as a part of campus ministry or volunteering at a homeless shelter. Regardless of the important impact of the faith on youth around the world, there continues to be teenagers and adults alike that will argue that the Church’s teachings on chastity, homosexuality, and numerous other issues are outdated and inapplicable to society today; however, those who truly know the Church and its teachings realize that they are meant to foster love and goodness in our lives, so that we may be joyful and at peace. We as youth recognize the profound effects the faith can have on the life of an individual if one is both open and disciplined. We take solace in the community of the Church and celebrate the joy which we have received from the faith because the Church is timeless. It realizes the worth of every human being, including its youth. This fact is what draws the youth of today, for the Church recognizes that we have something to offer the world and that we can make an impact. It encourages us to be the greatest versions of ourselves and supports us when we have lost our way. The Church has always been and always will be relevant to youth, for the youth is always relevant to the Church.
::Erin Rose Howard is a high school senior and honors student who has attended Catholic schools for almost fourteen years. She enjoys reading and is passionate about writing. She is active in student council, was a member of her parish’s youth group, and her school’s SOUL club (Students Organized to Uphold Life). She says her life is guided by the four Fs: food, friends, family, and most of all FAITH.::