November 29, 2022

Every summer I have the same conversation with my sister. Like me, she is a teacher and the exchange usually comes while floating on an air mattress, enjoying the July sunshine. Sooner or later one of us asks “have you done much for school?”

Try as we might, it is difficult to push thoughts of school away once the calendar flips to July. After the leisurely weeks of June, my heart gets a little restless, though I always hate to see summer end.

I try to make the most of the last weeks of summer by doing things that feed my spirit and mentally prepare me for back to school. Going on retreat is my personal favorite because receiving the sacraments and spending extra time in prayer deepens my desire to lead a holy life.

Spending time with family, having good conversations with close friends, reading a good book, and having one last day on the water will check all my personal boxes, making my summer complete and my spirit ready.

When my four kids were all in school, August was a challenging month. The chaos of shopping, sports banquets and games, coupled with preparing for my own school year was stressful.

The looming expense of new school clothes, lunch money, athletic gear, school supplies and school pictures sometimes made it tough to embrace the last golden days of summer freedom. However, it always felt good to return to the rhythm of the school year.

My personal transition is easier now that my children are grown, freeing me to consider more carefully my work as a teacher and catechist. It is exciting and a bit scary to consider how God might call me to serve differently this year.

What will I do to make my lessons more engaging? Will I be able to make meaningful connections with students in religious education?

The answer, of course, is that God will provide. St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds me that God’s grace is sufficient, “for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). I need to trust Him and answer the call joyfully without complacency.

A new school year presents great opportunities to meet people and explore one’s talents and shortcomings. So many organizations clamor for time and resources. I hope this year, instead saying “I’m not doing THAT again” and reclaiming my time, I will choose new ways to contribute. Maybe it will be a committee I have avoided due to the time commitment or personality conflicts.

To paraphrase the daily decalogue of St. Pope John XXIII (which I love and have posted in my bathroom where a captive audience cannot help but see), only for this year, I will do something I don’t much like doing, and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure no one notices. I trust that God will never place a desire in my heart to do something that won’t somehow bear fruit.

One key part of my back to school gear up isn’t flattering but it is simple: I show up.

From the minute I return to campus, God showers me with an abundance of graces that make me excited for back to school. Student athletes pop in to say hi after their summer practices as I get my room ready.

I see parents in the office as I catch up with coworkers, exchanging the highlights of summer break. At Sunday Mass former religious ed students smile in recognition at me when I distribute Holy Communion.

These friendly faces peel away my reluctance to leave the lazy days of summer and remind me that God has blessed me with work that I love, as a teacher, a parent and a volunteer. Sharing the joy of the Gospel is amazing work to which each of us is called.

In my classroom is a table and chair that sits mostly empty since 2009, the year that Mrs. Regina Evans retired from St. Mary. She worked first in the cafeteria, then later as an aid in the religion room. Regina just loved to be at school, having quit her own schooling in the 6th grade to help her family through the Great Depression. How easy it is to forget that education is a privilege.

Before her retirement, she was honored with an honorary diploma, having volunteered an amazing 25 years in witness to her Catholic faith and love of learning. She was laid to rest during finals week last May at age 99.

So make some last summer memories. Then show up to the open houses, even if you know the drill. Attend the SFO or PTA meetings, sign up for the committee that nobody else wants and prayerfully consider helping your parish religious education program.

Our Lord calls us into the deep, and only He knows what blessings await.