Friday, December 23, 2016

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

When God forgives us, our sin in gone. He does not "remember" it. This was a theme of discussion on Catholic radio yesterday. And I took it as a sign and went to Confession. This is a Catholic sacrament that is also called Penance or Reconciliation. The faithful must receive this sacrament at least once a year, and Advent is a season in which it is common to go to Confession, as is Lent. Each time I go I wonder that I don't do it more often, as it benefits me spiritually in such a profound way! I want to commit to a monthly practice. I think I will make that a New Year's resolution!

Confession absolves one of sin and cleanses the soul. It is a supreme vehicle for spiritual healing. Sure, we can, should and do ask God for forgiveness of our sins privately, and of course we do this together at every Mass and every time we pray the Our Father. But the sacrament of Reconciliation provides a superabundance of grace, and it is the normative way for the forgiveness of sins, established by Jesus himself (John 20: 21-23).

When we go to Confession, we emerge with a clean soul, like a renewal of our Baptism. And having been absolved of our sins, we are no longer to call them to remembrance. I am realizing with increasing awareness that carrying guilt around for not being perfect puts an obstacle between myself and the Lord. The Holy Spirit can't work in me if I am replaying the same old, painful stories in my mind as if on a loop. They pile up, one upon another, until my shoulders sag. Depression looms, maybe even physical illness comes as a result. The Our Father tells us that we are forgiven by God in the same measure that we forgive those who trespass against us. Whether I fail to forgive myself or hold onto a grudge against another, I cannot be free. I cannot be the person that God has created me to be.

Do not hesitate to go to Confession. I know that sometimes we procrastinate because we are embarrassed about what we must confess. That is where humility comes in. This sacrament is such a treasure of the Church. And remember, not everyone you encounter has access to this superabundance of grace, so be kind and gentle, especially while setting necessary boundaries. Let's go to meet the baby Jesus with clean souls. Allow him to heal you. And let's stop living in the past. It is gone. The birth of Jesus is a great gift that reminds us to live in the present. It is only Satan who wants us to keep looking back over our shoulders, cringing with guilt and remorse.

Brethern, I do not consider that I have laid hold of it already. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind, I strain forward to what is before, I press on towards the goal, to the prize of God's heavenly call in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3: 13-14

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Return of the Light

In two days, on December 21, the Winter Solstice will be upon us. This is both the first day of winter and the return of the light. It marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. In Catholic terms, we might think of the dark night of the soul which opens into grace. The return of the sun becomes the return of the Son.

The sun shines today, as it did yesterday. And yesterday I greeted the morning with a reflection of that light in my soul. Then quickly a darkness fell upon me from without that seeped its way into my bones. The day grew cloudy, literally and metaphorically. I took a long walk in the cold and snow as the sun was setting, almost defying Nature to try and take me. But I was praying a rosary on my way, though my fingers felt that they might freeze stiff. I stopped and sat on a bench in the Rosary Garden, facing statues of an angel and the Blessed Virgin Mary being slowly covered in falling snow. My tears fell. I finally stood again before I became permanently glued to the marble I was sitting on.

A brief return of light eventually came, only to be swallowed in more darkness. I felt the failure of being only human. The limitations of understanding and forgiveness. The hands desiring to pull me into the pit of despair.

Today is a do-over. One day still alive, one day wiser. There are things on earth that Heaven alone can fix. There is very little of life in our control. But how we respond is entirely our own responsibility. Do we choose to blame another? To blame ourselves? To blame God? Or do we choose to do the next right thing? To turn our hearts more completely toward the United Hearts of Jesus and Mary. To lean not unto our own understanding nor to rely upon our own strength. No power in the world or in the abyss of hell can rob us of the joy of the Lord.

Our failures? They are a reminder that our dignity comes from being sons and daughters of Almighty God. Humility lies in surrendering our lives and wills to the Divine plan. Even if it doesn't make sense. Even if it doesn't seem fair.

Perfectionism is the most soul-sucking of modern diseases. Expecting perfection from ourselves or others is a sure path to death of the soul and the destruction of loving relationships. I failed again to speak and act perfectly in my response. But I have grown. I have done my best in my frailty and weakness. Perfectionism is the enemy, and I am a Warrior. A Priestess. A woman made in the image and likeness of God, complete in his eyes even if carrying the wounds of Eve.

Find that inner stillness and silence today. Just breathe. Anticipate the return of the Light.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Wrapping Up Term I

Next week will be our final week for the first term of our homeschooling year. Following that we will take the week of Thanksgiving off; then the month of December and Term II will commence! Soon it will be Advent, and before we know it, Christmas. Before the frenzy begins, take some time to reflect upon how your fall term has gone and what adjustments you may wish to make going into winter.

I'm very happy with the progress we have made so far in this 6th grade year. I've posted many of our loop schedules so you can see how we've tweaked the layout of things as we've gone along. My key word right now is diligence. Slow and steady wins the race!

There have been a few changes made to the schedule. This year Beezy has been reading Newberry Honor novels for literature. I hit a bump for a couple of weeks trying to find the next book, as she wasn't keen on my choices. She wants to read about girls her age (certainly not younger!). We finally settled on The Wanderer by Sharon Creech, with a 13-year-old female protagonist. 

I took Spanish out of the Daily Core. Not only was it not getting done daily, but the lessons haven't been enjoyed as well as I had hoped. The Everything Kids Learning Spanish Book was helpful for getting us in the groove, but it moves along too quickly. So we have switched to the flash cards set from eeBoo, which offers six categories of words with pictures. Each card contains a complete sentence using the featured word. I think this approach will be more Charlotte Mason aligned.

In addition to the Language Arts Loop, which forms part of the Daily Core, I replaced the "Expanded Loop", which had four items, with a Religion Loop and a Humanities Loop. Each of these has four items, as Spanish is to be looped twice. After getting comfortable with the pared back schedule, I felt ready to add some news things in. 

We finished The Baltimore Catechism, No. 1. Rather than buy No. 2, I decided to see what I could get through the library. To my delight I was able to order Father Connell's No. 3 version, "OFFICIAL REVISED EDITION 1941 OF THE BALTIMORE CATECHISM No. 2 AMPLIFIED WITH SUPPLEMENTAL QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS".

I have decided not to continue with Emma Serl's Primary Language Lessons and instead am reverting back to a more "pure" CM language arts approach. Copy work right now is coming strictly from the cursive writing workbook, as Beezy's printing skills are excellent. We are focusing on dictation for spelling, using poetry and selections from literature, the Bible, saint quotes, etc. 

I put written narrations back into the loop. I don't like the composition assignments found in the CHC grammar workbook. I would rather follow the Charlotte Mason method of having the child do written narrations from her readings. So the CHC book is being used for grammar only. We begin our lessons each day with prayer and finish with a poem from L.M. Montgomery.

If you have any questions regarding the current schedule or how to apply the vintage methods with the living books approach, please ask in the comments!

Daily Core: (open with prayer)

- The Poetry of L.M. Montgomery        
- Hamilton’s Arithmetic
- Piano practice
- The Wanderer by Sharon Creech (Newberry novel)

Language Arts Loop:

- dictation lesson (poetry, Bible, saint quotes, literature)
- grammar (CHC, Language of God, level C)
- cursive writing (Seton Handwriting 3)
- written narration (from literature, history, geography)

Religion Loop:

- The Rosary in Art (Seton): picture studies     
- Bible History for Young Catholics (Seton)
- The Baltimore Catechism
- Catholic and patriotic hymns

Humanities Loop:

- Handbook of Nature Study (Comstock, notebook narrations & illustrations)
- A Child’s Geography of the World (Hillyer); Usborne Essential Atlas of the World
- Spanish Flash Cards (eeBoo, twice per week)

Piano lessons
Religious education class
Nature walk

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Detaching from Charlotte Mason and Returning with Renewed Vigor

view from my upstairs balcony

I have decided to continue my reading of Charlotte Mason's original homeschooling series. Having read volumes 1, 3, and 6, I have moved on to volume 2, Parents and Children. I find that having taken some time to detach myself from Miss Mason's tutelage, I can visit her again with a renewed perspective and fresh vigor. I've been exploring the key to a relaxed approach to her philosophy and method. What does this mean, a relaxed CM home education?

Today is the Feast of All Saints, a fitting time to remind ourselves of our primary goal and responsibility as parents in the education of our children. That is, we must be about raising saints. Everything we do will ideally be oriented toward faith formation and getting our children to heaven, and the academics do play an important role in this endeavor. 

I have gotten over my regret that Charlotte Mason was not a Catholic. Yet we can be consoled in the fact that she clearly had certain Catholic sensibilities. She was an Anglican Christian, which in many ways puts her closer to the Catholic Faith than it does to modern forms of Protestant evangelicalism. 

I gave the concerns voiced at the Keeping It Catholic website a fair hearing. I am able to see some of the potential problems with CM for Catholics that Marianna Bartold brought to light. Charlotte Mason was an educational trailblazer, and she was also a product of her times, an era in Europe ripe with ideas of socialism and evolution. Being very well read, she was aware of the scientific and pedagogical philosophies of her day, and these did influence her thinking. But often she was a critic of the failures of those popular ideas and held to traditional Christianity and a reverence for the Bible. A flaming heretic she was not. 

Rather than attempting to "catholicize" Charlotte Mason, we can take her as she is. We can rest in the Lord and thus teach from a state of rest, putting the Catholic Faith always in first place in our considerations. Then we can proceed with what we will to CM. 

Her motto reads, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."  We make the atmosphere of our homes and lives distinctly Catholic. We form in our children habits (a discipline) which conform to the teachings of the Church. And we open them to a life of living ideas, of the things of God and of Nature. In this, we provide a curriculum permeated with the Faith. In her understanding that education is the science of relations, CM puts relationship with our Creator in the primary position. 

So we see that faith formation is the cornerstone and foundation of the building, and that Charlotte Mason can provide certain necessary tools and blocks for building it up. The roof is the domestic church, encompassing the particular lifestyle of each family and the unique personalities and needs of its members. 

Though we can use living books and vintage methods without necessarily following Miss Mason, I come back to her because she has been instrumental in getting my child and family to where we are today. Because her writings are repetitive, steeping oneself in them allows for continued inspiration and the deeper assimilation of her ideas. 

Rather than focusing upon how to label your homeschooling, think in terms of establishing a philosophical methodology filled with wisdom and a concrete way for proceeding toward your goals. Do not become overly scrupulous in designing a replica of what CM did in her schools. Use her as a springboard, taking what works in your homeschool and leaving the rest.

It's okay to relax the parameters. For instance, you may wish to teach less subjects and use fewer books per term, or per year, than what CM suggested. Or you might use some traditional text/workbooks as spines for history from a Catholic perspective, or for whatever might serve your individual children's needs best. Let Charlotte Mason be a model for planning your curriculum, choosing the books you will use, and above all, to assist you in raising your young saints!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fall Term Reflections

 Sauder Village in Ohio

I hope everyone is enjoying the beautiful fall landscape! This time of year always brings out my contemplative side, and with having less extracurricular activities this homeschooling year, I have more time for reflection. I am very pleased with our simpler schedule for lessons, and I've been continuing to think about the theme of recent posts regarding using Charlotte Mason as a springboard, then proceeding to do things in your own way. 

I have been very inspired by my reading of CM's original homeschooling series. There is so much meat there to chew on! But it has always been my nature that, once I have mastered something to my own satisfaction, I need to move on to the next thing. Thanks to Charlotte Mason, I have learned a solid, natural, and delightful method of teaching and learning. It has worked beautifully in conjunction with my Catholic faith. 

But as I have previously written, I saw the wisdom in the classical notion of teaching less subjects and using less books. Loop and block scheduling have been just what I needed to fit in all of the liberal arts feast. Yet that broad and generous curriculum to which serious CM homeschoolers aspire was just too much, if you try to include every possible subject suggested by Miss Mason. I did not feel like I was teaching from rest. And often a subject would only be attended to once every two weeks. I wanted more consistency and to be able to focus more upon each subject. The answer was fewer subjects per term and books that can cover a "family" of subjects. 

For example, the reader from Seton that we are using, A Book of Gratitude, contains poetry, classic literature, and stories of saints. We can use it for narrations, copy work, and dictation. Poems can be memorized and recited. Truth, goodness, beauty, religion, and virtue can all be found in its pages. Historical fiction, such as Island of the Blue Dolphins, which my daughter recently finished reading, sets off several doves from one magic hat. (I thought that was better than the usual "kills two birds with one stone" saying!) If the historical novel is about a saint, you have literature, religion, history, and geography all contained. Some novels will also cover survival skills and natural science. You get the idea.

A particular article in Sarah Mackenzie's blog, "Amongst Lovely Things", kept beckoning me to reread it. She discusses how, in hindsight, she would not have spent so much time reading about and worrying over homeschooling philosophies and methods. At first I disagreed with her, because I felt that it was crucial to have an organized method to work from. I still believe this, but it's also important to observe and follow what works best for your individual children. This is more important than trying to follow the guidelines put down by educational experts and gurus. 

So where does that leave Charlotte Mason? I have to tell you that at times when I was reading her brilliant words, I wished very much that she was Catholic. If only the teaching and traditions of the Church were woven into the fabric of her philosophy, I would be completely happy. 

I went back to an article by Marianna Bartold at the Keeping It Catholic website about using a "living books through eyes of faith" homeschooling approach. She says that this idea is not new to Catholic education, but that Charlotte Mason homeschoolers have popularized it. While I do not believe, as Marianna does, that CM is chock full of heresy, there was one occasion in which I found an anti-Catholic sentiment being expressed. In other places certain influences of evolution theory and Socialism have thrown up little red flags. Some may also question CM's parenting advice. My conclusion has always been that faithful Catholics can take what is good from CM, which is based upon natural law, while keeping to the Church's teaching on education. 

The real problem for many home educators is that they simply don't have time to read CM's books, or even companion books by modern authors. There is too much to assimilate, and it is an overwhelming task to try to incorporate 15 to 20 subjects, especially all in one term. What most seem to need is a basic set of techniques and an understanding of what living books are and how to use them. Catholics also need those resources which will help them to design a curriculum permeated by the Faith. And we desperately need to follow Sarah's Mackenzie's advice in learning to teach from rest. 

So that is where I am right now. I have gleaned what I need from Charlotte Mason. Those key methods used--living books, copy work, narration, dictation, picture study, memory work, observational nature study, a book of centuries, and the like--are common to traditional education (by which I mean as regularly used in the early 20th century, and not only by Catholic schools). We do not need to "Catholicize" Charlotte Mason. Instead, we can design the curriculum using a combination of Catholic resources and living books, apply the traditional methods, simplify the schedule (using looping and/or blocking if they work for you), follow the practice of short lessons, and relax! 

For me at least, it's time to move beyond Charlotte Mason and focus instead on being the best Catholic homeschooler and mother that I can be. And for Catholic parenting advice, We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland is unsurpassed! 

I have included all the titles in our current Lesson Basket. If you would like details about any of them or how they are used, please ask in the comments! By the way, I took written narration out of the language arts loop, because composition is included in the CHC grammar book. Also, letter writing is contained in Primary Language Lessons, and narrations are written into the nature notebook. 

Gymastics class turned out to be no longer an option, but physical education does not have to be formal. My child plays outdoors daily, year round. She climbs trees, walks her dogs, goes for walks in the neighborhood, uses her trampoline, rides her bike, builds snow men, dances with friends, and all that good stuff!

Daily Core: (open with Pure Faith: A Prayer Book for Teens)

- A Book of Gratitude reader, Seton (poetry, stories & saints)        
- Everything Kids' Learning Spanish Book
- Hamilton’s Arithmetic
- Piano practice
- The Baltimore Catechism (10 Commandments memory work)
- Storyteller (Giff, historical fiction)
Language Arts Loop:

- Emma Serl’s Primary Language Lessons
- Language of God grammar & composition workbook (Catholic  Heritage Curricula, Level C)
- Cursive writing (Seton Handwriting 3)

Extended Loop:

- The Rosary in Art(picture studies, Seton): Rosary prayers & New Testament mysteries (Holy Bible, 1952 Catholic Confraternity Edition)
- Bible History 6 for Young Catholics (Seton)
- Handbook of Nature Study (Anna Comstock, notebook narrations & illustrations)
- A Child’s Geography of the World (Hillyer) & Usborne Essential Atlas of the World

Piano lessons
Religious education class