Back to School…and the School of Grace {my August column, The Catholic Post}

Following is my August column that appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post.

Now that back-to-school is in full swing, the focus is on getting children ready for school. It’s admirable to want our kids to have a good start to the school year. At the same time, keeping in mind that families are the first “school of Christian life,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, we need to focus.

Parents are meant to take heart the words of the Catechism, “The family home is rightly called “the domestic church,” a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity.” (CCC 1666)

But for those of us who have trouble getting kids to try new vegetables or be diligent in doing their homework, creating a “domestic church” can seem more daunting than inspiring. Fortunately, we don’t have to go it alone. Here’s just a small sample of many new books out to help families in the school of grace.


A Little Book About Confession for Children by Kendra Tierney

Tierney writes and shares designs about family & faith at her blog “Catholic All Year,” and her first book also has this accomplished, encouraging voice.

At first glance, A Little Book About Confession for Children looks like it would be ideal for second graders and other small children preparing for their First Holy Communion. And that is true.

But limiting the book to younger ages would be a mistake, because this book has terrific and simple content for kids of any age, and even adults. The Q&A format of the book lends itself to short discussion or reading. It’s an edifying and enriching read for both parents and children.

Two standouts in A Little Book of Confession: mini-biographies of five saints, including St. Josemaria Escriva, and St. John Bosco, who have a special connection with confession; and two examinations of conscience that provide sensible guidance for kids on how to make a good confession.

The Story of Saint John Paul II: A Boy Who Became Pope by Fabiola Garza.

This book, available in both hardcover and e-book with audio, is a charmingly illustrated biography of one of the church’s newest saints. It looks and reads like a picture book, but it covers Karol Wojtyla’s life from his childhood through to his election as Holy Father, with a tenderness and truth that even older readers will find of interest.

Tell Me About the Catholic Faith: From the Bible to the Sacraments an Ignatius Press/Magnificat book, is part catechism, part almanac about Scripture, Church history, and the current life of the Church. It’s a well-illustrated, interesting, and surprising read, for children ages six and up.

For the youngest readers (ages three to six), there’s a version of Tell Me About the Catholic Faith for Small Children, with even simpler words, more illustrations, but still highly readable and endearing for parents and other grown-ups to read with their children.

Finally, a book not for children specifically, for families, especially those with smaller children around.

The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying In the Home is a superbly designed and right-sized volume on bringing beauty into the home, co-written by David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler.

Clayton, an artist, Catholic convert, and blogger (The Way of Beauty), and Lawler, co-creator of the popular and gorgeous Catholic lifestyle blog “Like Mother, Like Daughter,”  have teamed up to provide a lovely, gentle introduction to the concept of creating a “little oratory” or prayer space, in the home.

Fans of “Auntie Leila” will  find more of Lawler’s directive and yet never scrupulous advice about creating beauty and a spirit of prayer in the home. There are gracefully simple illustrations by Lawler’s daughter, artist Dierdre Folley, sprinkled throughout the book, as well as eight full-color icons, suitable for framing, by David Clayton at the back of the book. It’s a great mixture.

There’s a lot to explore and absorb in The Little Oratory. What feature do I love best? The repeated caution to not try to do everything suggested, or feel inadequate, because of how you are implementing prayer and a life of beauty your own domestic church, e.g.: “So please take all these suggestions as being offered with the utmost respect for the genius of the household—your family’s own creativity.”

For instance, the members of our family (in varying combinations) often do our “lectio divina” of Mass readings while an adult is driving and kids do the reading. Trust me, there’s no pleasingly designed, soothing prayer corner in my minivan, and don’t tell me if there is one in yours. And yet, we have had some great prayer and insights in our traveling domestic church, and in our sometimes-messy home. The goal is always progress, not perfection.

But this book is not just a book about creating a home space for prayer, thought that is primary in the early chapters. It’s also about creating a culture of beauty in the wider world. The appendices, with case studies about applying the principles of beauty in a business setting, to singing Vespers in a Veterans Hospital to bring beauty and prayer to the patients, are intriguing and not to be missed.

Reading a book like The Little Oratory with the right spirit of receptivity (more: “here are some good ideas,” less: “I must do all of this right now!”) can offer a path to making one’s own home, and community, more receptive to beauty. With this foundation, families and individuals have the chance to flourish in grace.

You might also be interested to know:

*If illustrator Deirdre Folley’s name sounds familiar to local women, perhaps it’s because she spoke at this year’s Behold Conference. (She also married a from -Peoria young man).

*For local readers , Leila Lawler will be speaking at St Patrick’s Church in Washington this coming weekend. Here are the details:

Leila Lawler talk announcement