Did you know the family is a school of love?
The Second Vatican Council declared this teaching, St. John Paul II deepened it and Pope Francis affirmed it. Our Catechism of the Catholic Church spells it out clearly: The family is “a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity” (No. 1666).
But after a long summer with kids crawling up the walls at home or a challenging season of family reunions or vacations, we might be doubting how well we care for those we’re called to love.
Take heart. A new school year is upon us — the perfect time to sharpen our pencils, roll up our sleeves and redouble our efforts to learn from this school of love.
No matter our vocation or stage of life, all of us are part of families — those we came from and those we choose to build. Family teaches, forms, tests and changes us.
But the family is not a school of success. For better or for worse, there are no grades, no awards and no graduation. We’re in it for the long haul. (How many of us have laughed or groaned that we’d never pick our family, but we’re stuck with them?)
Yet we can still move together toward love, inching forward in fits and starts, trying to grow in wisdom even when we fall back.
This school is no summer vacation, full of ease and escape. We have to work hard. We fail sometimes. We get in trouble.
But the beauty of this school of love is that we each get to specialize. We don’t have to be an expert in anyone else’s family problems or peccadillos. (What a relief!) We simply have to learn how to love the particular people God gives us to love — and keep relearning how to love them over time.
Want to grow in your school of love this year? Here are three ways:
— Pick your subject. Sometimes the people who seem hardest to love are precisely the ones God calls us to love. Rather than avoiding a particular relative you find repulsive, ask God for the strength and wisdom to meet them where they are — through conversation or prayer. You may never change their mind, opinion or behavior, but you can extend a glimmer of God’s mercy their way.
— Gather your supplies. This year, the average family is projected to spend over $500 on each school child. (Please don’t let my kids see this, since there’s no way we’re spending that much on them!) But what matters most in the school of love is free for all. Joy. Forgiveness. Patience. Encouragement. Peace. Pray for what you need most this year and keep your petition daily before your eyes.
— Ask questions. Jesus’ approach with difficult people or sticky situations was to ask questions. Rather than leaping to judgment or condemnation, choose curiosity first. Keep asking questions until you get to the heart of the matter. (Google “The 5 Whys” for a clever approach.)
In the school where I grew up, one sign caught my attention — and I notice every time I’ve seen it in countless Catholic schools since: “Let it be known to all who enter here that Jesus Christ is the reason for this school, the unseen but ever-present teacher of all its classes, the model of its faculty, and the inspiration for its students.”
Could the same be said of my family? That Jesus Christ is the reason for our being? That God is our teacher and model? That the Spirit is our inspiration?
No family is perfect. But we can keep trying with love.
Sharpen your pencils. It’s back-to-school time, and all of us have plenty to learn.
Laura Kelly Fanucci is a mother, writer and director of a project on vocation at the Collegeville Institute in Collegeville, Minnesota. She is the author of several books, including “Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting,” and blogs at www.motheringspirit.com.