By David Cooley.
It’s that time of the year again that’s filled with both excitement and anxiety for students, teachers, and parents alike. For most of us the summer is already out of reach, but a new school year brings with it an opportunity for a fresh start and new adventures.
Still, August and everything that comes after can be a little overwhelming. There is always so much to do and lots of pressure to get the school year off to a good start. With all the paperwork, school rules, bus routes, uniforms, practices, homework, etc., it’s important that we find balance each day. And there is only one way to ensure balance. Prayer, our ongoing conversation with God, must be our anchor in our day-to-day life if we are going to have any sense of peace.
The best way we can help our young people navigate through this life is to teach them the art of daily prayer — the importance of finding a place to be quiet and shut out all the noise — and to challenge them to find things to be grateful for every day. Prayer and gratitude, these are treasures of a Catholic school.
I don’t have to tell you that childhood today is very different than when we were growing up. But remember, it was a lot different for us than it was for our grandparents. Yet, it seems that many young people in our time are struggling with finding joy. Perhaps without all this technology it was easier to find the simple joys of life. The antidote to this problem is prayer and gratitude.
Children always have and will always need the same things. They need love and family, they need structure and recreation, they need friendship and a sense of understanding who they are in the eyes of God. They need to be humble, but also recognize they have a great purpose in life.
If we are to teach our children to be grateful, then we need to be grateful ourselves. Our gratitude and positive attitudes must be visible to young eyes. Teachers are, after all, witnesses. It is very fitting that in the Diocese of Covington, Bishop Iffert’s episcopal motto is “In all things give thanks,” (Thes 5:18). It is not easy, but it is life changing.
I want to begin this year by expressing how grateful I am for Catholic schools.
First and foremost, Catholic schools provide opportunities every day for students and faculty to encounter Christ. Our schools are at their best when they are providing the opportunity to receive Jesus in the sacrament of His Most Holy Body and Blood — what a gift!
Catholic schools are a place where we find an extended family, people who understand that we are all on this journey together to get to heaven. As the culture becomes more and more secular, Catholic schools are safe havens and beacons of light in the growing darkness. There aren’t many places left where we can trust our young people aren’t being bombarded with all kinds of unhealthy messages.
Catholic schools help our young people prioritize what is really important in life. By orienting their lives toward Christ and to serving others, things begin to make more sense. Sports, art, academics, video games, etc., all have a place, but a good school teaches children that God comes first. If a child learns early to put God first in everything they do everything else will fall into place.
Catholic schools teach children that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore every individual is unique and has an undeniable dignity as a child of God. This is important because it helps them understand more profoundly why things like bullying is wrong, why we need to respect our bodies and the bodies of others. It isn’t just, “This is wrong because the teacher said so;” it’s a lot deeper than that. Seeing the world this way, helps people learn to love themselves and others.
I could go on and on about why I am grateful for Catholic schools. I am so thankful for the many years I spent in Catholic schools myself and that I am now able to send my own children to Catholic schools.
I think if I had to sum it all up I would say that Catholic schools are a blessing because they minister to the whole person — mind, body and soul. There is a lot to unpack in that statement, and there are a lot of happy accidents in the results when you minister to children this way. Graduating from our schools we see good citizens, we see artists, we see doctors, we see famers, we see firefighters, teachers, the list can go on and on. But most importantly, graduating from our schools we see disciples of Christ, who are going to go out and make this world a better place.
Catholic schools teach us to be grateful to God for our life, for His love, and for His mercy, and they teach us to treat other people accordingly.
David Cooley is co-director of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Covington.