How does Pope Francis’ visit and the World Meeting of Families make the start of this school year different?

In many ways it is the same

The school year brings typical joys and sorrows: the excitement of returning to school, seeing old friends and learning new things. There are also the challenges of homework, quizzes, projects and extracurriculars.

Shows, holidays and changing seasons are on the horizon and are things to look forward to. You can also anticipate parent-teacher conferences, making adjustments at home and new questions as young minds become more curious.

While none of these things are new, it is, in fact, a “new” year and therefore a “new” opportunity, a second chance to rectify problems from last year and begin with new energy, enthusiasm and hope.

Today has never existed and the actions I take today make all the difference to my tomorrow.

In some ways it is different

A pope had not been to our country since 2008. Pope Francis’ visit has sparked a greater conversation about his ideas and his recommendations. In particular, his visit coincides with the World Meeting of Families.

His message on the importance of the family for society and the church must be underscored. One aspect then that can be different as we start this school year is to realize in a greater way the importance of the family.

In the catechesis for the World Meeting of Families (found online at we find an excellent call to individuals and families:

“God works through us. We have a mission. We are in the world for a purpose – to receive God’s love ourselves and to show God’s love to others. God seeks to heal a broken universe. He asks us to be his witnesses.” – Catechesis for the World Meeting of Families.

The family is the place where God begins his work of healing the broken and loving the needy. Within this domestic church we have a sacred space where the mission of God in the world begins to unfold, first among family members and then extending out to others.

The family should not be an afterthought in our discussions of faith or society or education. Quite the contrary, the family is at the center of our faith and how it is lived and passed on; it is at the center of social values and responsible participation in society and it is at the center of the education and formation of children for future generations.

Let the Word of God guide you

A couple of weeks ago, we had an excellent reading during Mass from the Letter to the Colossians 3:12-17, a great way to incorporate the values and recommendations of the Holy Father as we begin this new school year:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

As families of faith, we are called to be the first examples of faith and gratefulness to our children and to each other. We must remember that in some mysterious way God chose us, to be married to this particular person or to be parents to these particular children or to be part of this particular family. Within this milieu, whether it is quiet and serene or loud and chaotic we must choose to put on compassion and kindness, humility and gentleness and patience and forgiveness.

Above all, we must find concrete and myriad ways to express our genuine love, whether through words, service, gifts, time together or a smile and a hug.

Tender love is a salve that heals many wounds and restores the soul. Try to think of a time when someone, perhaps a grandparent, a spouse, a relative or friend, made you feel loved. We need to make others feel this tender love also.  

Whatever we do as a family in public or private, we must do in the name of the Lord Jesus. As Christians, we bear his name and therefore our actions are actions of a steward who responsibly administers the goods of our Lord.

The more we get to know him through his Sacred Scripture, through prayer, service, sacraments and church, the more we will realize our words are supposed to be his words.

Then our words will take on the character of Christ and be words of peace and consolation, as well as words of compassionate admonishment and wisdom.

In a similar way, our actions will take on a Christ-like character as we learn to sacrifice and teach and serve out of a profound love for God the Father and for all humanity. There is something new about this year and perhaps it has to do with how we see our families in the light of faith and our faith in the light of our families.

(Henry, his wife, Dr. Patricia Cabral, and their five children belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. Reyes wears many hats as a business owner, doctoral student and candidate in the deacon formation program for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but he says his most important hat is building his domestic church as a stay-at-home dad and homeschooling his three oldest children.)