Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Back to School Time

In our parish many, many people are heading back to school now. Whether as students, or teachers, or staff, or home schoolers, many of us live our lives around the academic calendar. For someone like me, the son of a professor, this is "normal". I've never known any other way. And this cycle continues for me with my kids in school and as the Dean of our Diocesan Seminary. This is what life is supposed to be as far as I understand, and although I still get a bit anxious every year at this time, I also find myself highly motivated from an academic point of view. Let me take a moment here to congratulate everyone on the beginning of the school year!

But there are many in the world who do not have access to education the way we do here in America. We are spoiled and most of us don't even know it. On one hand this is the public school paradigm, but this goes for those who home school as well. In countries with compulsory education it is somewhat unusual for it to be legal to school one's kids at home, and in Michigan it is a rather novel phenomenon that we have the opportunity to choose home school education for our kids if that is the best choice for our family. Just a few years ago this was not a legal option.

Speaking of home schooling, I do not like the sort of soft but growing divide in our parish between those who send their kids to public school and those who don't. This is something we really need to work on - on both sides of this discussion. Our problem here seems to be that we are quite excellent at critiquing the parenting decisions of others. This is a manifestation of pride and something we really have to address as a parish family. The only family that never makes bad decisions about parenting is my family. When you read that sentence of course you balk - that is simply ridiculous. But if we are honest - isn't that what we really think deep down inside ourselves? That everyone makes less than stellar parenting decisions - except for our own family?

Are the decisions that Liza and I make for our kids "correct" or "right"? Who is to say? Are the decisions that others make for their kids, whether that be regarding education, or bed times, or access to technology, or any other aspect of parenting "right"? For my family maybe the choices of others don't fit well - but the decisions they make might be just right for their family in the context of their personal reality.

There is an old saying: before you judge someone else walk a mile in their shoes - then you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes, so you should safe to judge them then! That is a joke. Sorry - not a very good one. But it conveys a message which we have heard many times as Christians - we are not to judge. Even a cursory reading of the Gospel makes that point very clear - judging is God's to do and not ours. Do others make the same decisions that we do? Of course not - and frankly speaking that is healthy in that only a cult would have everyone thinking and doing everything exactly the same way. But that doesn't mean that the decisions other parents make are wrong, and moreover, and more importantly for our salvation, that doesn't mean that the decisions we make as parents are RIGHT. We really all - each and every one of us - need to humble ourselves in this regard.

Rather than spending a lot of time debating the parenting choices of others I would like to suggest that we pray to the Lord for wisdom for ourselves as parents. And wisdom for the many other parents in our parish that we are tempted to judge. Every time you find yourself tempted to judge, try to push yourself to pray for the person you are judging. At first this is hard. In fact, virtually impossible. We go very easily down the wide path of judging others. But if we can be watchful - and this starts with asking the Lord to help us to be so - make a sincere effort, and critique ourselves at the end of every day regarding how we have dealt with, thought about, and judged others - then we will begin to acquire the beautiful habit of praying for others rather than judging others. Is this easy? Not at all! We have spent YEARS training ourselves to judge others quickly and harshly - almost as a spiritual reflex. It takes time and effort to pull out that spiritual weed that has tapped a very deep root into the garden of our soul. But if we are diligent gardeners - if we make a sincere effort and ask the Lord to bless that effort - then we can have hope that our effort will be fruitful in the end and that weed with its deep root will die. Success only comes before work in the dictionary. In life success only comes after work. So let us get to work! Let us pray for our parish parents, that through their sincere efforts and the Lord's blessing we may raise the next generation of saints. This is our charge - may the Lord grant it!

Fr. Gregory

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