Remember heaven as kids go back to school

Across the archdiocese, parents have begun sending their children off to school. This is a time of excitement and challenge, a time when parents can see the fruit of all the hours they’ve spent forming their children, and it’s also a time to recall our ultimate goal.

There are many saints whom parents, pastors and teachers can look to for inspiration in forming children. But one of the most important is St. Monica, whose feast the Church celebrates on Aug. 27, one day before the celebration of her eldest son, Augustine.

Although he is now recognized as St. Augustine, he was not always so holy. In fact, at one point before his conversion, he strayed so far from the faith that his mother followed Augustine to Rome on a boat so she could beg him to turn to Christ.

I pray that few of you are being tested by children like Monica was. But we can all draw a lesson about eternity from St. Monica.

St. Monica was not worried about her oldest son because he was getting bad grades in school—in fact, Augustine was a “straight-A” student. Instead, she spent hours in tears—and in prayer—because she kept eternity in mind.  From the perspective of eternity, St. Monica knew that her son was in danger.

Our ultimate destiny, and our final judgment by Jesus, is not something we much hear about anymore, except in our parishes. The problem is that our culture emphasizes the “here and now” and forgets about souls. It forgets about the eternal implications of how we live our earthly lives.

What Benedict XVI said to a gathering of Italian priests as he began his pontificate in 2005 continues to ring true today.

The West, he said, is “a world that is tired of its own culture, a world that has arrived at a time in which there’s no more evidence of the need for God, much less Christ, and in which it seems that man alone can make himself.”

Pope Francis has also warned about the need to live with eternity in mind.

When he explained to a March 2013 gathering of diplomats why he chose his name, he highlighted the fact that Francis of Assisi cared for the poor, and added: “But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the ‘tyranny of relativism,’ which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.”

This cultural context is important to understand for all those who play a role in rearing the next generation. Our culture will not help us—so we are left to face the challenge of imparting a Christian worldview to our children—one that remembers the last things.

The Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children, which means they must confront this challenge first, instead of relying only on teachers or others to form children so that they reach heaven.

Parents are very busy and many things compete for their attention. But Catholic parents must be aware of the environment their children are going into, and they must prepare them for it spiritually.

St. Monica certainly did not have an easy time caring for her son’s soul. She was married at a young age to Patritius, a government official in the North African city of Tagaste, who was a pagan and didn’t understand his wife’s faith in Christ.

In spite of her troubled marriage and her strong-willed eldest, she dedicated herself to prayer for her son and challenged him to return to the faith. At one point, a saintly bishop she told about Augustine remarked, “the child of those tears shall never perish.”

Our culture will tell children that they don’t need God—that he doesn’t exist.  Parents, teachers and pastors must form them to know the truth: that we are made for eternal union and happiness with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Let us pray together for the intercession of Saints Monica and Augustine as this school year begins.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash