When I was in college, I prayed and discerned a vocation to become a sister or a nun. I was enthralled by the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart, since I had had the honor of working with and forthem at a Catholic School in Florida. Fortunately for me, I was assigned to work with Sister Maria Kolbe who not only directed me and taught me her ways as a model teacher but, more importantly, showed me the joy in following Our Lord Jesus in all we do. I wanted that joy she had SO BAD! But after years of praying, God told me He had other plans for me. Years later, I married a man who also discerned whether or not he had a vocation to the priesthood (to the Fraternity of Saint Peter). We met, fell in love, got married and five children and ten years later, here I am homeschooling. I could not help but wonder what life would have been IF God had called me to become a Carmelite… you know, after all, the grass is always greener on the other side.
Since coming home to educate our five precious blessings, I have struggled with many things and one of those was surrendering to THIS life, the life God had called me to. Always looking to feed the ego, I wanted to be either an amazing teacher (to other people’s children, because society thinks it is more prestigious than teaching my own) OR become a sister in full habit, like the Carmelites. But nooooooo….God had other plans and I was being rebellious and fighting Him about it. Now, I am not an expert at this at all, *even with* my teaching degree…homeschooling? staying home all the time? was He really serious? So the whys and the tantrums that were going on in my head constantly were arguing with the shush I was yearning for in my heart. UNTIL that is, last Frida, when I went to Confession.
My Spiritual Director heard these words come out of my mouth, “I still struggle with being distracted, I yearn for the outside world, I miss my family, I want adult contact and I am so jealous of my husband who gets all of this! It is not fair!” Yes, my dear sisters, I was having a full blown toddler tantrum in the Confessional! Dear Father P. was so sweet; he stopped me with his gentle fatherly manner and said, “Dear child, the Lord has gifted you with your own mini monastery at home with your children. He has entrusted you with five beautiful souls to form! He has taken you OUT of the world and asked you to look inside of yourself and to create a monastic life for your children. The spiritual life that will be ingrained in your children and will be with them Heaven. After all, is not that what you want for them?” AND so it hit me, what I always wanted, to have a contemplative life like the Carmelites had been sitting in my lap all this time and I was fighting it! Dummy! ( Got hit by a 2×4 once again!) Here, I wanted to be just like Saint Therese but God was calling me to be more like Blessed Zelie, her mother!
In the prologue of The Rule of Saint Benedict, the great saint states something that drew me even more towards craving this kind of life for my family, he said:
Listen carefully, my child, to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from one who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice. Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from the heavens that every day calls out this charge: “If you hear God’s voice today, do not harden your hearts (Psalm 95:8).”
Therefore we intend to establish a school for God’s service. In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love. … But as we progress in this way of live and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.
So in my quest for an authentic Catholic life for my children, I have come up with a rule of sort for mothers, on how to create a monastery in my Catholic Homeschool. Since I need to keep it simple or I will set myself up to fail (my temperament), here they are in 10 steps. They are somewhat based on the Rule of Saint Benedict who believed, also, in keeping it simple.
1. Surrender to motherhood. This is the life God has called you to, embrace it with all your might! This is YOUR duty, task, and job, that God has called you to; do it and do it well!
2. Keep outside distractions to a minimum. Turn social media OFF during the hours the children are awake, if possible, or at the very least once everyone is done with school and chores and has earned (YES, earned) free time. Keep phone calls to a minimum. Any electronic device that might distract anyone in the family should also be kept at bay.
3. Pray with your children and as a Family throughout the day. Pray the Rosary EVERY DAY. Say morning prayers, prayers before meals, prayers before bedtime. Make sure they see you praying to help them develop a relationship with God. Pray the Morning and Evening Office. The family that prays together, stays together! Saint Benedict states that prayer was marked by regularity and fidelity, not mood or convenience. In Benedict’s supremely realistic way, the spiritual life was something to be worked at, not merely hoped for.
4. Learn about God and His Roman Catholic Church daily. Not just in Religion class but incorporate Catholicism in your History lessons, in your Reading lessons as well. Our Faith is so vast and rich in so many areas, there is an inexhaustible amount of books and things to learn always.
5. Keep a balance in work and prayer. But work is very important. Children need to work for the sake of the family and your sanity. Chores are super important in developing character and virtues in the home. Rotate chores so that everyone learns how to do them all so that when a brother or sister is ill and unable to fulfill his or her job, other children can jump in and help. I have even used this to discipline my children when they have been uncharitable towards a sibling and they had to complete the chores of the child who was hurt. Manual labor is good for the soul and the child. Saint Benedict stressed the importance of work as the great equalizer. Everyone from the youngest to the oldest, should be engaged in manual labor.
6. Silence is golden. Not just at the movies. Children need to experience some silence throughout the day. Have an hour or so of quiet time. Play chant or classical music, have the children sit in different parts of the room where you can see them. They can sit quietly listening to the music, or no music at all. Or they can bring a book on the life of a saint to read in their little corner of the room. Even non-readers can do picture walks and just look through the images of books.
7. Sleep is important. Children and parents need to sleep, the body needs to rest. Children, depending on their age, need a certain number of hours of sleep per day. Establish a solid routine, bedtime should be by a certain time, do it slow not rushed. Keep bedtime routines and chores quick, simple, and organized.
8. Meals are important. You are what you eat! Keep meals on a schedule, breakfast, lunch and dinner should happen at about the same time each day. Meal planning is helpful in being successful in this, if you can sit down, make a list of your family’s favorite meals and plan at least one week at a time. Vary meals and introduce new foods so that your children acquire a palate for new tastes and start early. Even if they only try something once, then wait a while and reintroduce it again. Also, keep the amount of food your children eat to a minimum, not to overload the stomach and to teach your children moderation. Snacking should be kept at a minimum and only healthy ones, keep junk food OUT of your house. Eat as a family.
9. Discipline is key. Make sure that your husband and you are on the same page on discipline. As the head of the house and a man, fathers are much more stern about things and this is okay. Their role in the home is to lead and guide and discipline. Mothers should complement these rules fathers have set and follow through with them. Make sure that children have a clear understanding that disobeying and obeying a mother, means the same as a father and the same as God. God has given parents the power over their children, so long as parents understand this and discipline like God does, sternly but lovingly. Be fair and just. Also, keep yourself disciplined and keep your home simple and organized, as having order is important in the interior life.
10. Teach your children to have servants’ hears. Service projects as a family are great but having a servant’s heart is much more than big projects. Serving others, as Jesus Christ has called us to do, happens in the little everyday things we do. How we treat our own at home, those we encounter everyday at the grocery store, and what we say or do for others. Be an example of this for your children, this is how they learn best. Volunteer at Church to teach CCD, or clean the basement after an event, but get the children involved as well. Have them train to serve or sing in the Schola/Choir, or help in any way needed.
In the Baltimore Catechism we learn that we must learn about God to love God and then to serve God. That is the basic rule in our home in building a monastery in our everyday lives. We are a work in progress but it is my hope that this little list helps guide you as well as it is helping me in living a happy and holy Catholic life! After all if the only “monastery” we create is our children, let’s personally teach them to love Christ and His Church. If we do, the faith in our families will be a living water, another Holy well to last throughout generations.
This article originally appeared on CatholicSistas and is used with permission.