The Back-to-School ads have been running since the 4th of July, and now September is here and back-to-school is real. Families all across Western New York are settling into a regular routine of waking early, packing lunches, catching the bus and doing homework. Families also start to get busy with many extra-curricular activities. Sports practices, scouts, or other clubs makes September feel even more hectic. Throw into the mix the suggestion that this can also be "back-to-church" time, and it could be enough to send a parent over the edge with the thought of too many commitments.
Data tell us that most Catholic families do not go to church on a regular basis. Most. But your family need not be part of this majority. Low church participation can be the result of many things, but the reason we can more readily control is the will. How strong is one's will to know God and grow in faith? We often look for the magical answers such as: how can I lose weight? How can I be a better friend/spouse? How can I grow closer to God? The answer to these and similar questions is pretty obvious: To lose weight, eat less and exercise more. To be a better friend, call them, show up, be nicer. And, to grow closer to God, pray. A great place to pray is church. Maybe not always the most entertaining of places, but it is the place where God and our community gather each week (and every day) to remember who we are as a part of a universal faith.
Therefore, as fall begins, this is the perfect time to work going to church, as a family, into your weekly routine. Maybe summer was a busy time and Sunday Mass fell from everyone's attention. This need not be the case now.
How can a family make going a church a habit. Step one: go to Mass. Step two: go to Mass next week. Step three: go to Mass the week after that. That's right, just start going. The old saying "the family that prays together, stays together" is true, especially if you stop at a doughnut shop afterward.
What else can a family do to bring God into their hectic autumn routine?
Begin every meal with a prayer - whether you are in the car, at a restaurant, or at home, say a prayer. Grace can be 30 seconds or three minutes, but certainly no one will starve by a brief pause of gratitude. Keep it simple to start: "God bless this food, those who prepared, and this family. Amen!" It can grow from there.
Did you know St. Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes? Before or after a sports practice teach your children to say, "St. Sebastian pray for us" or "St. Sebastian keep us safe." Keep simple! (Go to www.Catholic.org to look up sport-specific patron saints and other patron saints for interests like cooking or chess.
Download the app Laudate or RC Calendar which provide Bible readings of the day, saints of the day, various prayers and other information. Then, when waiting to pick up your children, you can go to these apps and enrich your day
Another app for the entire family: Word on Fire Digital. Check out the free trial and for a small fee, your family will have access to some of the most well produced videos about the Catholic Church, both our history and beliefs, hosted by the popular Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles.
Lead a decade of the rosary on the way to and from school each day. Want to learn how to say the rosary? YouTube has many how-to videos on the subject.
Been away from the religious education program for a while? No worries. Email or call the office or speak to the staff at the parish and they will gladly welcome you back. Registration fees or "missed grade levels" should never be a roadblock to participation in faith formation programs.
What about a volunteer experience? What better way to put our faith into action than by reaching out to those in need and volunteering? Ask your parish staff or visit this Catholic Charities interactive map for ideas: www.ccwny.org/diocesan-social-services-map.
Make bedtime prayer time a "new" requirement - regardless of the age of your children. Starting a habit of prayer is easier when children are young, but it is not impossible with older children. Start simple - "What should we thank God for today?" "Who might need prayers today?" And, let it grow from there. Sure, your 13 year old will sigh and roll their eyes at you, but do it anyway. They (we) can only grow in our relationship with God if we GROW our relationship with God and praying is one route.
Own your own mistakes and oversights when it comes to practicing the faith as a family. Statements like "I forgot" and "I just got busy" are the real and truthful answers to a child's comment of "I thought we were going to pray every night?" And then, start again. That's one of the best things about our God. God is there always with second chances (and third, and fourth.)
Ask God for help. Make a space in your day for just you and God and ask for what you need as a parent. Just ask. Use your commute time, shower time, or even the ride in the elevator up to your office - wherever and whenever - ask God to help you to bring your children closer to him, and as a result, you will grow closer to him.
No situation is beyond the love and mercy of God. Period. No one is too messed up for God, and no one is too perfect for God. We have been created in God's image - GOD'S IMAGE, not Beyonces' image or Superman's image, or anyone else's image, except for God's. This is a pretty amazing thing when we think of it, and that's all we really have to do is think about it. This is prayer.
This fall, while it is back-to-school time, let's also realize it is "back-to-God" time. No supplies or backpacks are needed, just you, your family and God. Check out a parish near you.