09 February 2009

The Homeschooling Mom as the New St. Benedict

The untimely death of Laurie Jackson last week caused me to reflect not only on her tragic passing but upon the heroism of the homeschooling mom.

Now, of course, in nearly every homeschooling home there is the highly necessary counterpart of the homeschooling principal dad, and having both parents supporting the enterprise is a key to success. I also realize that some homeschooling moms are actually homeschooling dads, but let's run with the typical set-up for purposes of shorthand posting.

I submit that the homeschooling mom is the modern equivalent of the great St. Benedict.

St. Benedict was born around A.D. 480, and was the son of a Roman noble. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

His boyhood was spent in Rome, where he lived with his parents and attended the schools until he had reached his higher studies. Then "giving over his books, and forsaking his father's house and wealth, with a mind only to serve God, he sought for some place where he might attain to the desire of his holy purpose..."

...As St. Gregory expresses it, "he was in the world and was free to enjoy the advantages which the world offers, but drew back his foot which he had, as it were, already set forth in the world."...

...He had fled Rome to escape the evils of a great city; he now determined to be poor and to live by his own work. "For God's sake he deliberately chose the hardships of life and the weariness of labour."...

How many homeschoolers left careers--careers that society told them were the goal and cause of the good life, careers that were the source of disposable income, vacations, gadgets-- to embrace the scorn of their friends and invest totally in the formation of their children? The slow martyrdom of sacrificing every moment of the day to the well-being of their family is a vocation from God. Ask any homeschooling mom about the frustration and tedium of any particular day and it would be easy to forget about the cumulative effect of their efforts.

St. Benedict was no stranger to this process. After a series of trials and several failures, he eventually settled down to found the great monastic order that bears his name, and by so doing it is no stretch to state that he saved Western Civilization from the ruins of the Roman Empire. His Rule is a masterpiece of living the Gospels in an hostile worldly environment. Again, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Before studying St. Benedict's Rule it is necessary to point out that it is written for laymen, not for clerics. The saint's purpose was not to institute an order of clerics with clerical duties and offices, but an organization and a set of rules for the domestic life of such laymen as wished to live as fully as possible the type of life presented in the Gospel. "My words", he says, "are addressed to thee, whoever thou art, that, renouncing thine own will, dost put on the strong and bright armour of obedience in order to fight for the Lord Christ, our true King." (Prol. to Rule.)

How important it is to remember that the homeschooling family is not a religious vocation "factory" in its intent, although it is true that due to the proper formation in matters of religion and morals that homeschoolers tend to have higher relative numbers of religious vocations. Instead, the homeschooling parent seeks to provide the best formation in academics, religion and morals that leads to the well-rounded, Christian man or woman. This Christian is in the world, and not of it. He is a force for good and a building block in the rebuilding of Christian culture.

...With Benedict the work of his monks was only a means to goodness of life. The great disciplinary force for human nature is work; idleness is its ruin. The purpose of his Rule was to bring men "back to God by the labour of obedience, from whom they had departed by the idleness of disobedience"...

Homeschoolers understand the spiritual value of work. It is socially active, both within the walls of the home, and in the world outside. It is the ideal Benedictine family:

...The religious life, as conceived by St. Benedict is essentially social... The Rule, therefore, is entirely occupied with regulating the life of a community of men who live and work and pray and eat together, and this is not merely for a course of training, but as a permanent element of life at its best. The Rule conceives the superiors as always present and in constant touch with every member of the government, which is best described as patriarchal, or paternal. The superior is the head of a family; all are the permanent members of a household. Hence, too, much of the spiritual teaching of the Rule is concealed under legislation which seems purely social and domestic organization (ibid. 22-23, 35-41). So intimately connected with domestic life is the whole framework and teaching of the Rule that a Benedictine may be more truly said to enter or join a particular household than to join an order...

...The Benedictine takes no explicit vow of poverty; he only vows obedience according to the Rule. The rule allows all that is necessary to each individual, together with sufficient and varied clothing, abundant food, wine and ample sleep (ibid., 39, 40, 41, 55). Possessions could be held in common, they might be large, but they were to be administered for the furtherance of the work of the community and for the benefit of others. While the individual monk was poor, the monastery was to be in a position to give alms, not to be compelled to seek them. It was to relieve the poor, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to bury the dead, to help the afflicted (ibid., 4), to entertain all strangers (ibid., 3). The poor came to Benedict to get help to pay their debts (Dial. St. Greg., 27); they came for food (ibid., 21, 28)...

The homeschooling mom focuses not only on academic studies and productive activity, but reinforces the duties of true religion in her children and gives glory to God:

...When a Christian household, a community, has been organized by the willing acceptance of its social duties and responsibilities, by obedience to an authority, and, further, is under the continuous discipline of work and self-denial, the next step in the regeneration of its members in their return to God is prayer...

What the Catholic Encyclopedia rightly points out about the Benedictine Rule of life applies equally to the homeschooling family. It is not a retreat or hiding place from the real world. It is the leaven and the salt of the world:

...From this short examination of the Rule and its system of prayer, it will be obvious that to describe the Benedictine as a contemplative order is misleading, if the word is used in its modern technical sense as excluding active work; the "contemplative" is a form of life framed for different circumstances and with a different object from St. Benedict's...

The homeschooling mom draws and protects life and civilization from the ruins of today's post-Christian, secular anti-civilization. The right to life is no more, yet in her home it is the gold standard. Public and private schools fail to impart knowledge, opting instead for politically-motivated propaganda; in her home, though, children excel in classical academics. The Church and parochial schools have abdicated or otherwise failed to impart the Catholic Faith to their youngest members, but the homeschooling mom is a zealous guardian of the true Faith. From within these quiet walls will come the builders of the new Christendom.

Finally, in Rule 64, St. Benedict himself describes the ideal traits of an abbot. Read this, substituting for abbot the ideal homeschooling mom, and you have the key to the restoration of civilization, beginning in the humble hearth and home:

It beseemeth the abbot to be ever doing some good for his brethren rather than to be presiding over them. He must, therefore, be learned in the law of God, that he may know whence to bring forth things new and old; he must be chaste, sober, and merciful, ever preferring mercy to justice, that he himself may obtain mercy. Let him hate sin and love the brethren. And even in his corrections, let him act with prudence, and not go too far, lest while he seeketh too eagerly to scrape off the rust, the vessel be broken. Let him keep his own frailty ever before his eyes, and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken. And by this we do not mean that he should suffer vices to grow up; but that prudently and with charity he should cut them off, in the way he shall see best for each, as we have already said; and let him study rather to be loved than feared. Let him not be violent nor over anxious, not exacting nor obstinate, not jealous nor prone to suspicion, or else he will never be at rest. In all his commands, whether spiritual or temporal, let him be prudent and considerate. In the works which he imposeth let him be discreet and moderate, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, when he said: 'If I cause my flocks to be overdriven, they will all perish in one day'. Taking, then, such testimonies as are borne by these and the like words to discretion, the mother of virtues, let him so temper all things, that the strong may have something to strive after, and the weak nothing at which to take alarm.

We can see today the good accomplished by those who forsake the standard, worldly template of child-rearing and education; in the days to come, if we manage to survive, they will be hailed as heroines and pioneers. Laurie Jackson was one such heroine and pioneer. She represents many.


Anonymous said...

"the homeschooling parent seeks to provide the best formation in academics, religion and morals that leads to the well-rounded, Christian man or woman."

I think in this sentence, religion and morals should come before academics. Isn't the real reason we homeschool our children is the salvation of their souls? Here is a great quote from St. Thomas More:

“Put virtue in the first place..., learning in the second; and in their studies esteem most whatever may teach them piety towards God, charity to all, and modesty and Christian humility in themselves,” because “the whole fruit [of education] should consist in the testimony of God and a good conscience.”

Anonymous said...

Oh, as a "home schooling mom" I admit to guilt of flattery after reading this........but I am also excited to be counted in the flock of one of St Benedict's followers! May he pray for us and guide us with his rule and example.

And, Laurie, keep us all in your prayers and put in some good words for us remainaing here behind, as we continue to struggle here on earth in our day-to-day challenges and trials.

thanks, timman.
a home-schooling veteran, who continues to learn new things each day

HSMom said...

How humbling, as I consider my vocation in light of St. Benedict!
There is much here to learn and to strive for!

To be able to homeschool is a privilege beyond measure, and one I do not take for granted.

Thanks for this, timman.
St. Benedict, Pray for us!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this fine article. Now I must get back to my little monks. . .

Anonymous said...

I have called my children my Benedictine Bells for a few years now (ok, I copied this from something I read once). When they ring, I respond!

Laurie was just one of those people who was able to touch so many people's lives! I aspired to be just like she was and I'm 8 years her senior! A remarkable woman...

Anonymous said...


I agree that Laurie is remarkable. She may be able to be a greater help and influence in our lives in heaven, just as St. Dominic assured his "family" (order of preachers) before he died.

You are well loved and appreciated by many as well.