This month, students across the
country will be gathering their
supplies, packing their schoolbags
and heading back to
school. My husband, Mark, and I are
painfully aware of this now that we
have three of our four kids in Catholic
But even though their official start
date may be this month, all three of my
school-age kids started gearing up for it
about a month earlier, thanks to summer
assignments from teachers at the
end of last school year. Our daughter
Riley is starting kindergarten, so Mark
and I have been working all summer
long to help her prepare for this big
step in her education.
In a lot of ways, I think my kids and
all the other students are lucky. They
have teachers who are guiding them
along the way in their education,
including—as is the case for my kids—their faith formation. Those of us who
have long since graduated are on our
own. And a lot of times, continuing to
expand our minds and educate ourselves
takes a backseat to the demands
of everyday life. I was painfully reminded
of that the other day when
my daughter Maddie asked me for help
with some of her math problems.
Ongoing Faith Formation
But it's not just math problems or historical
facts that trip me up. Many
times things I have learned over my
38 years of being a Catholic bring me
up short. For instance, on a recent
night when I was having trouble getting
to sleep I attempted to fall back on
the comfort I have always gotten from
reciting the Rosary and found myself
drawing a complete blank.
When my son, Alex, made his First
Reconciliation last fall, I was once again
amazed by the number of parents frantically
trying to remember how to make
their Confession. And, unfortunately,
these situations happen more often
than I'd like to admit. It's like the old
saying goes: If you don't use it, you'll
One good thing is that I do have my
kids who can serve as a constant
reminder to learn new things and
renew my faith. But, as I always tell
them, the responsibility to do their
schoolwork and learn ultimately lies
Keeping our minds and faith sharp
and continually growing is as important
to us grown-ups as it is to all those
students heading back to school right
now. In fact, study after study has
shown that keeping ourselves mentally
acute is vitally important for preserving our mental health as we grow older.
With that in mind, here are a few
ways to do just that:
Take the next step. Quite often, I find
myself searching books or the Internet
to find answers to my kids' questions
about a wide range of subjects—from
Alex's interest in dinosaurs to Maddie's
love of all things science. Many times
after I find the answer they're looking
for, I'll delve a little deeper to try to
expand my own knowledge.
Start talking. Gather some friends or
members of your parish to discuss various
topics, such as the changes in the
Mass, the issue of immigration or the
oil spill in the Gulf.
Five years ago, after I did a story on
New Orleans' recovery from Hurricane
Katrina, I was invited to speak to such
a group about my experience and what
I saw while I was in New Orleans. I was
accompanied by someone from Catholic
Charities who discussed that organization's
efforts in the region and how
local Catholics could help.
Continue your education. Do you
have a passion for cooking? A desire to
learn how to paint or do pottery?
Search out classes in your area or stop
by the library and pick up some books
or videos on a subject in which you're
interested. Or, if you will be traveling
somewhere you've never been, seek
out as much information as you can
before you even get there.
Share the wealth. We all have something
at which we're really good. So
why not share that talent with others?
If you can play an instrument, offer to
teach someone else. Or share your
knowledge about a certain subject that
you enjoy with another person. For
instance, my dad is a history buff and
he loves sharing what he has learned.
And recently, at a Cincinnati Reds
game, I taught Alex how to keep score.
Challenge/encourage your kids. Time
and time again, Mark and I have had
our kids say they didn't want to do
something and then later say they wish
they would have participated. Allow
your children to try different activities
in order to find their passions.
Talk to them about their activities.
Alex was ready to quit guitar lessons
not long ago because he said it was
boring. When we talked about it,
though, he admitted that he thought
he was only going to learn the notes
and chords, and didn't understand that
after he knew those, he would be able
to start learning songs of his choosing.
Now he loves entertaining family and
friends with all he's learned.
But if Mark and I hadn't dug a little
deeper and just let him quit, I think we
all would have regretted it.