Monday, August 6, 2007

Late-Night Catechism

It's almost 8 o'clock, and I really want to get these kids to bed. I've got a business to run, and work to do, and I need the time this evening.

"Mom!" Sarah calls from the open back door, "Rachel says there isn't any God. What can I say?"
The rest of the neighborhood is on our driveway making chalk creations.

"Come in here for a second, honey," I call.

She comes in the kitchen, and I search for something to say. Holy Spirit, help! I pray.

"Honey, you know you can tell Rachel that even if she doesn't believe in God, He still believes in her."

"But her parents told her, Mom! Her parents told her there is no God! How can they say that?" Sarah says, incredulous.

"I don't know, honey. I guess when parents don't believe in God, that's what they tell their children. Why don't you just go out there and be as nice to Rachel as you can," I say.

"Why?" she asks, just like a kid.

"Because I said so," I answer, just like a mom. Sometimes, I have to punt. I wasn't prepared for that question at that moment. But that is mothering on most days. It's a vocation of interruptions. I am thinking about mats and frames and glass, and suddenly, I have to wonder how parents can tell their children there is no God.

The streetlight goes on, signaling them to come in for the night.

"Pajamas!" I call as they troop in, "Teeth! Wash the chalk off! Wait-wash first! Then pajamas--then go to the bathroom! And then I'll read to you!" I try to be as efficient with my words as I want to be with my work tonight.

I am an artist's assistant. My husband is the artist. I take all of his photographs and mount, mat and frame them. I keep the records (entering every customer into a database that now holds close to two thousand names), tracking the zip codes so that I can mail our schedule of art fairs to them just prior to each show.

I also do the accounting, inventory, ordering and most phone calls.

And I homeschool.

Some days I wonder if it's really possible to do it all. Some days I think how easy it would be and how freeing to send them off to school. Then I could frame all day instead of waiting until night, when I'm tired and wish I were reading instead.

But then, I see my children watching me on the computer, and asking me how I get those numbers to add up, and I teach them how to balance a cash flow sheet. They know how much money in change we take to each show and they can tell me if we need a roll of quarters.

One daughter can help inventory our small pictures and give me the list of what needs to be printed before the next show.

And everyday, we're together, learning and growing, and most days, I am grateful for the job that keeps me home, close to my husband and children, and that has provided our family with a lifestyle that I wouldn't trade with anyone.

We travel during the school year, we work, eat and play together, and most days, I am glad I homeschool and work at home. I have always homeschooled, but not always for the good reasons I have now.

When my oldest was four, we decided to homeschool her because she was bright. They weren't going fast enough for her in preschool. So, I read all the Home Education back issues I could find in the library, and came up with my homeschooling philosophy.

I would home school for the sake for my child's inner freedom. I wouldn't test her; I would allow her to discover the world at her own pace and in her own way. This philosophy went along with my liberal thinking at the time. My child would be free of the constraints of the "system" and grow without schooling.

That worked for a couple of years. I was attracted to unschooling. It fed my lazy nature and my desire to do child-led learning. Then, two things happened by the grace of God.

First, I was introduced to the Mary Fabyan Windeatt books, the children's stories of the saints. Prior to this, I didn't know anything about the saints. The first book I read was St. Martin De Porres and it was as if everything in me changed.

I can still recall the wonderment I felt at that period of my life. I had been a "Good Enough" Catholic. I had known that something was missing, but still thought I was doing better than most. After all, I still went to mass each and every Sunday. But try as I might, I couldn't seem to make any spiritual progress. When I went to confession, I confessed the same old sins over and over. I was stuck, and but I didn't know why.

Then I read about St. Martin, and I realized that good enough wasn't good enough. I was called to be a saint! And this book, this story answered some spiritual questions I had

. Suddenly, I knew that I couldn't just go along, not caring that much about my faith. I had to do more.

And this corresponded exactly with the second thing that happened. A friend invited me to her Bible Church's Women's Bible Study. I attended for about six months. At first, I thought I was being so ecumenical and open that I could attend this bible study.

After a while, I would tell them what the Catholic Church said about certain bible verses, and try to show them that there were deeper layers of meaning. They were spending hours each week just barely scratching the surface of the bible. The words were taken literally, or skimmed over. At first they seemed to listen to me, but they did not like it when I mentioned my particular religion.

I was told not to mention my church, and to just attend and get what I could out of it. I was a bit hurt, and after that, I began to notice the subtle anti-Catholic things I was hearing. Then I found out that a lot of these women were ex-Catholics, and then I wondered why. I wondered where the truth was. I wondered if their interpretation of the bible could be the right one.

Then one day at the bible study, it all came to a head. The leader of the bible study was explaining a certain passage in St. Paul in a way I'd never heard before. I went home confused and puzzled. I looked up that passage and I could see that there wasn't a "plain" or an obvious meaning.

Maybe it did mean what she said, but somehow, I didn't think so. It seemed like a "protestant" interpretation, and I wondered if there was a "Catholic" interpretation, and why they would be different.

And for the first time in my life, I wondered how, when the bible wasn't clear, you could come to know the true meaning?

And I really credit God with giving me the understanding at that point that there was "a" truth. I somehow knew through His grace, that there couldn't be two conflicting ways of interpreting the bible.

I connected to the Internet, and looked up Catholic Bible Study and Ecumenical Bible Study. I got one hit, a site called Catholic Convert. I started reading, and found out here was a guy (Steve Ray) who actually converted to the Catholic Church! A revelation to me. The Catholics I knew were all cradle Catholics or ex-Catholics. I had never heard of anyone converting to the church, I actually didn't know it still happened!

Steve and I e-mailed. He had an article on his web site about ecumenical bible study (which is why the search engine had found his site) and he went into all the reasons that Catholics should attend only Catholic Bible studies. I understood, and started on a fantastic journey into the world of people understanding the Catholic faith a lot better than I did-the world of Catholic converts. Over the next few years, Catholic converts would teach me my faith.

After learning all I could about the church, and where the bible is from, and who had the authority to say what books were in the bible, and how there is a way to know the right interpretation of the bible, I knew at this point that if I wasn't already Catholic, I would have had to join the Catholic Church.

I can't call myself a convert, like Scott Hahn or Steve Ray. I can't call myself a revert, like Jeff Cavins. I had always been Catholic, had always practiced my faith. Still, I had a conversion from a cafeteria-style, good enough Catholic, to a "trying to be perfect" (Matt. 5:48) Catholic. So, my decision to homeschool my children also went through a conversion, and now, I homeschool to pass on the faith, to raise saints and to get my family into heaven.

So, back to my day. How do I homeschool while running a business? Like everyone else, I use the opportunities that come my way as teaching moments. We use all Catholic materials because I think that's important. There are some days where we use a lot of the curriculum materials, and on other days, when we're preparing for an art show, we teach in a less formal way. Somehow, it all works out, and there is always time for everything, even when it didn't look like it at first.

Since my conversion, I strive to overcome my lazy nature, rather than giving in to it. I work hard at giving as much of myself as I can. I try to see the sacrifices I make as helping me get to heaven, so that I won't resent the time away from "what I want to do."

Homeschooling isn't always easy. It's a sacrifice we make for our children and families. The time we give now is important, if we use that time wisely. We all have opportunities every day, and if you're like me, at the end of the day, we examine our conscience and find that we left many opportunities behind.

So, we strive to wake up tomorrow, and try a little harder, try to sacrifice a little more, try to become more and more like Jesus, like the saints. One day, a national magazine writer interviewed Mother Teresa. This writer said to Mother Teresa, "Oh, it must be so easy to do what you do, since you're a living saint and all."

Mother Teresa just smiled, turned to the writer and said, "I struggle every day."

I struggle every day, too. It's a little easier knowing the saints struggled as well. I try to be the best parent, I stop reading to answer questions, do a little impromptu catechism instruction, give an unplanned bath to the child who fell in the mud, and a thousand other vocational interruptions.

And, I struggle to be the best Catholic I can be. I try to live the Catholic life in a way that shines forth through me, my children, our family and our way of life. I try to stay calm and peaceful in the midst of the struggle of the day.

"Mommy?" I hear someone calling from the bedroom long after bedtime.

I go to my daughter's room.

"Yes, love?" I whisper.

"Can I just talk to God tonight, instead of saying the Our Father and stuff?" she wonders, sleepily.

"Yes, love," I say with an inner smile, "you can just talk to God. He will love that. Goodnight, sweetie," I say.

"'Night, Mom," she answers.

And the catechism lesson is over for another day.

Nancy Brown writes from Antioch, IL.

Her husband's beautiful photographs can be seen at Steve Ray's web site can be found at:
Nancy blogs at Flying Stars

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