Next week, my father will turn 60, and in honor of that happy occasion (as well as the plethora of other October birthdays we have in our family), many of us are gathering in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for a vacation.
Among those who will join us at some point during the week-long break will be my father’s brother, a retired teacher. Like many teachers from public school, he is not particularly fond of homeschoolers. Actually, I think a more fair way to put it is this: like many public school teachers who have had little to no contact with them, he is not particularly fond of homeschoolers.
A while back, my father made a comment about a homeschooled child who did something – won a spelling bee or geography bee or whatever. My uncle replied with comments about how socially backwards homeschoolers are. I won’t get too detailed, especially since it was rather rude.
My father, doing his best to remain calm, answered, “Really? What do you think of Chris and Nathan’s girls?”
“Oh, they are great! How are they, anyway?” blah blah blah.
“Great. Christine homeschools them, you know. So are you saying that my grand-daughters are…” You can insert the rude comments here. 🙂
Talk about FAST backtracking!
Now, my wonderful and adoring husband, Nathan the Soccer Dad, has an aunt and uncle who worked (his uncle still does so) in the public school system. While he’s never said so to me, I know he’s not particularly fond of homeschoolers. Something about less money for the school system. (He isn’t real keen on parochial schools, either, in case you wondered.) Personally, I almost wish he’d bring that point up with me, because I’d ask him what he needs the money for if my kids aren’t in the school. But he never does. However, I know that he also kind of looks at our family as different. That’s okay, really. We are different, though our girls are so surrounded by friends who homeschool that they don’t know it. But Soccer Dad and I both went to public school, and we know how different we are.
For me, this poses an interesting problem. Because I know that some of my family isn’t totally on board with homeschooling (I think another of my relatives, an aunt, might also be skeptical), I have this great temptation to prove something to them. I want to show off. I want them to understand that my children are learning plenty, that they are smart, happy, healthy, and incredibly well-socialized.
But I must resist the temptation to have them show off their knowledge too much. Sure, I think it is a good thing for them to show relatives some of what they have been doing – we’ll be bringing along some of their finished work to show off to Grandma and Pa Pa next week. But there is a difference between having them recite their Latin prayers because my parents are exicted about them learning so much and having them recite their Latin prayers to have a so-there moment with my credulous relatives. It’s good for them to – on their own – explain what they are doing in school and show their work to someone. It’s bad for me to encourage them to do so in front of – and specifically for – my family who is not sure this homeschooling thing can work.
I think that part of my problem lies in being defensive about it at times. But if I just let them be – if I just let them naturally be themselves and have that schooling just kind of come out on its own in these situations – it will make a far greater impact than if I have them recite all the Latin vocabulary they know or sit and read their books out loud so everyone can see how smart they are. If I can allow them to be themselves, no one will doubt that they are just as – if not more – well-rounded as any of their public schooled cousins are. The proof will be in the pudding.
My mother-in-law told me that I shouldn’t worry about how anyone reacts or if they think negatively about our homeschooling. She told me that they’ll just see how the girls are doing, they’ll witness the fruits of my labor, and eventually, they might even change their minds. At the very least, they’ll at least see that I haven’t ruined my children or deprived them by not sending them to public schools.
My mother-in-law is a wise woman.
Really, this translates well into how we share the Faith with others. We certainly should evangelize, but at the same time, shoving the Church down someone’s throat will only serve to push him away. As Saint Francis is supposed to have said, “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary, use words
.” We must not just profess our faith with our tongues, but also live it out. Faith without works is dead
. One of the reasons my husband renewed his faith – came back to Christianity – was because of the actions of the people around him. At the time, we were friends with lots of Evangelical Christians, and by the way they lived their lives, he had a wonderful witness. While it took many years for him to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, I never forget that it was the living of the Gospel by Christians that started him back on that journey.
At the same time, we must always be ready to defend the Faith
. We must educate ourselves on the Church and Her teachings. We must not stop with the end of Sunday school and say, “Our catechisis is finished now.” It is never
finished! Just as I must always be ready to give reason for our homeschooling or to explain why our girls are not locked away at home without any friends, I must also be ready to give explanations for the Church.
We know that we are called to obedience, and this is completely true. We must obey the Church because Christ founded Her to guide us, just as the Holy Spirit guides the Church. Sometimes, we don’t understand a teaching and obey out of raw obedience. This is fine, but suppose someone asks you why you don’t use birth control. Can you explain it at all? Have you made any attempts to learn why the Church teaches what She does on this? Suppose someone asks you about salvation and if you are “saved.” Do you have any answer at all, or will you stare at him like a deer in headlights? Can you explain anything about how Catholics are born again? (Hint for the uninformed: Through the waters of Baptism
No one can know everything about the Church – She’s 2000 years old! – but we can all know something about Her. We need to make sure that we continue to learn all we can about the Faith. Even if our parish has little in adult catechisis, nothing prevents us from taking up that challenge on our own! Even if you have little to no money, if you are reading this, you are on the internet, and you can get information for free. Catholic Answers, the Bible Christian Society, the Church in History site … these are just a few of the many orthodox resources out there for Catholics to learn about the Faith. You can go to Aquinas and More and start small: order a Baltimore Catechism for yourself. It’s cheap – under $5 – and it’s written for children, so even if you have trouble getting through theological works, you can read this. And those Baltimore Catechisms you get today are not just lists of questions and answers; they have terrific explanations. Try Seton’s religious education series for some good, solid teachings, too. I have learned so much just by using this series to teach religious education to my children!