I sat nervously at a plastic table in a plastic chair, alone. Three smiley girls took the chairs across from me and introduced themselves. It was a step up from sitting alone, but I was nowhere near comfortable. This makeshift event was supposed to help freshmen at the university get to know each other. Girls lined up along the edges of a table filled with crafting supplies. I had no interest in making crafts; I longed for friendship. But I couldn’t say that to strangers. Luckily, Maria did.
“Isn’t it amazing how God can take something simple and make it incredibly beautiful?” she began. Her shirt revealed that she was Catholic, but she didn’t look college-aged. What was this woman doing on a college campus at an event for freshmen talking about God? She talked about virtuous friendship and its alternative. I was a captive audience but remained quiet.
Maria talked about the coffee she had ordered that morning, a bible study she was starting and her boyfriend back in Texas. She was, by my estimation, a typical girl. So, what was she doing here? I hadn’t the slightest idea.
I joined her bible study out of both desire and desperation and found out she was assigned to my college by an organization called FOCUS that sent missionaries out across the country. Missionaries? I thought. In America?
A few short months went by, and Maria became someone I would always know. We sat down with our planners on Mondays and mapped out our week and ate dinner together when we were both free. Her boyfriend proposed to her and we spent hours planning wedding details. I once took her car in for an oil change when she double booked herself. She was like a big sister/best friend/mentor combo. But she kept asking me this weird question.
“Have you prayed yet today, Addie?”
“Umm.. I mean I prayed before I ate this morning. Is that what you mean?”
She laughed. And then she did something that changed the course of my life. Maria taught me to pray. She took me to a chapel 30 minutes before Mass started and we sat in silence. She met me at adoration at 2:00 a.m. and we tried to stay awake. She showed me how to go through scripture and how to call on the Holy Spirit. Despite all my years of attending Mass every Sunday and taking religion tests in Catholic school, I had reached age eighteen before anyone had explicitly told me, and more importantly showed me, that Christians are expected to have a daily habit of prayer. This re-directed and re-prioritized everything about my life.
Are Catholics Called to Homeschool?
Sometimes the Christian life is presented as a dichotomy of “right” and “wrong” paths. St Augustine challenges this notion by declaring that we are given the freedom to “[l]ove and do what you will.”
An established life of prayer combined with a deep and true love of God is actually the best answer to the proposed question: Are Catholics called to homeschool? Here is why:
There are ideals in the Christian life. This is different from sin. Saint Augustine did not mean that as long as you love God, you can do whatever you feel like. He meant that if your heart is focused in love, all things in life will follow from that. We cannot always choose the ideal. But there is a difference between choosing something that isn’t ideal out of selfishness, pride or ignorance and choosing a lesser ideal because your life circumstances demand it. Let’s use some examples to illustrate this concept.
It is ideal to breastfeed. It’s better for postpartum depression, nutrition, bonding and long-term immune system effects. However, sometimes a lesser ideal option has to be chosen. Maybe the mother was recently widowed and has a physically demanding job. Maybe the mother’s body isn’t able to produce enough to feed her baby, especially if she has multiples. Giving the baby formula is a good thing, but it isn’t the most ideal.
It is ideal to donate to charity when they ask you at the check out counter, to get 8 hours of sleep, find a job that you are passionate about, have close friends that live close by, put money away in savings each month, drink plenty of water… and the list goes on.
But there are job transfers, young children, elderly parents and flat tires.
Our circumstances make it hard to choose the most ideal option at every turn.
So when we say it is ideal to homeschool, this is based on our Catholic teaching from the Catechism that “Parents are to be the primary educators of their children.” And we see this instruction repeated in Ephesians 6:4, as well as many other places in scripture.
So are big Catholic homeschool families doing it “right” and small Catholic public school families doing it “wrong?”
Absolutely not. It is the parent’s responsibility to prayerfully discern what their family is financially, mentally and physically capable of. We need to give parents the benefit of the doubt that prayer, conversation and prudence were taken into the decision-making process. This brings us back to Maria.
A daily habit of prayer is not a “good tool” to use for direction in family life matters. It is an essential building block that is foundational and indispensable. Without it, we are hopeless wanderers with a strong desire for goodness and no guidance on how to achieve it.
So yes, Catholics are called to discern homeschooling just as we are expected to discern religious life. There are great goods in this world that point us towards heaven, and when we have an established prayer life and a great and true love of God in our hearts. He will not lead us, or those entrusted to our care, astray. We are free to “Love and do what we will.”
To see some of Addie’s favorite homeschool resources, visit Gilligan Books.