It’s no secret that I love “back to school time.” Since we educate our children at home, I’m not doing a happy dance because they will all leave my house on a big yellow bus. No, I’m delighting in something else. Furthermore, I’ve always loved this time of year, even when I was the student going back to school. I love the smell of new crayons. I love crisp notebooks and books with yet-unbroken backs. I love corduroy jumpers and squeaky shoes. When the air has that faint hint of crispness in the early morning, I smile at the promise of it all. I think I’ve finally pinpointed why I love this time of year so much. To me, back-to-school is the epitome of hope in my calendar year.
It’s a fresh start, a chance to begin again, a chance to do better. It’s joyful confidence in God’s plan for me, even though I do not know the details of that plan. Hope is the virtue that breaks within us in the morning if the day is to have a blessed beginning. Hope says to us, “Press on! Go forth with faithfulness and be diligent in your tasks and then trust the result to God, knowing that God is all good, all the time.” Hope isn’t just something we think about heaven. Hope is for every day.
Like other virtues, hope can be cultivated in our lives and the lives of our children. I think it’s both a gift and a choice. We pray (and we teach our children to pray) for the grace to persevere in our duties, to be faithful to all the other virtues, and then we are blessed with the hope of happiness, both in this mortal life and in an eternal ever-after. In his “decalogue for daily living,” Blessed Pope John XXIII reminds us that we can wake each morning and assert with confidence, “I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.” The certainty! Begin a new school year knowing with certainty that we were created to be happy. That’s very hopeful!”
We can teach our children that when we are a people of hope, God doesn’t promise us that we won’t have to work hard and that we won’t suffer. Instead, He promises that He will be our companion and He will always help us to endure the suffering and the challenges that come with striving to live a holy life.
In “Spe Salvi,” the Holy Father’s encyclical on hope, he writes:
“We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it, and finding meaning through union with Christ who suffered with infinite love.”
The start of a school year brings many new variables to the life of a family. There are new teachers and new coaches, new friends and new social challenges, new academic challenges and new ideas. In reality, with every child venturing forth into this world in the fall, the opportunities to suffer, to be hurt and to be challenged multiply like mushrooms in the rain. So, too, do the opportunities to see God’s goodness and His gracious providence when we need Him in the midst of trials. God will be there in every detail of the new year that lies ready and waiting. And that is why we hope with confidence. That is why we look forward with joy to the newness of it all.